Enhancers, the “Wind Beneath My Wings”

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Enhance: augment, boost, enrich, heighten

Throughout my life I have been blessed with enhancers. They are people who not only noticed qualities or abilities in me that I didn’t see, but go beyond that. They’ve responded to them.

Some enhancers presented me with opportunities to not only use those abilities, but to foster, heighten and augment them in the process. They’ve showed me doors I could enter. And when I was reluctant, nudged me through them, sometimes even joining me in the adventure. They’ve boosted my self-image, self-assurance and growth. They’ve made me feel valued.

This blog would not have happened but for an enhancer. Someone thought my ideas about aging at 95 were worth sharing. She not only nudged me to blog, but offered a support system. I looked at myself with fresh eyes and began learning how to blog. You see the result.   Months later, a son, made a donation to the school with the requirement that it not only be named after me, but required that I be “connected” with it. A belief that at 96 I could still rise to the new demands that project might create for me. I trust his vision of my abilities and am doing my best to be “connected” to the resultant project. Because two people looked at me and my capacities and thought they could be enhanced, my life changed remarkably in my mid-90’s.

Lately I’ve been thinking more about these enhancing behaviors I had experienced, I’ve tried to take them apart and look at them more closely.   It seemed to start with someone noticing and genuinely responding to some quality or capacity in me at whatever level it existed and that triggered a belief that there was something in me that I could enhance.

Then I began to pay more attention to what was happening in less-dramatic, everyday contacts with others that resulted in my feeling enhanced in one way or another.  I recognized that I felt enhanced when people seemed to enjoy something about me. That enjoyment made me feel more secure and capable. The behaviors that triggered my feeling enhanced were those of genuine engagement, even intrigued demeanor (in contrast to patronizing or tolerating attitudes). Questions were linked to exploring what I’d been talking about.   Offers of a different “wrinkle” to an idea I had. Genuinely sharing my concerns without immediately proffering advice. Offering unexpectedly what a former dean of mine called a “warm fuzzy”— a compliment or positive feedback supported by data.   Enhancing, I saw, could be generated by a host of tiny, subtle verbal and nonverbal quiet behaviors.

My responses to enhancing encounters included: trusting myself enough to take on new situations, to take on sometimes uncomfortable new situations.   More frequently in everyday contacts it was confidence-building or feelings of closeness and comfort. Either way, enhancers became welcome “winds beneath my wings” that caused me to feel more like I was soaring, a little or a lot. And certainly in this time of serious aging, soaring is both rare and welcome.

 

Wind Beneath My Wings song Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley, 1982

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Two Different Rivers of Aging

This week’s blog post is made up of three poems written by one of my first blog readers who also provided a comment. We became e-friends sharing the similarities and differences of our lives and our Engaging with Aging. We both worked in the health care field, but in very different ways. She is a young ager, I am old. We both share multiple challenges in our daily living. I with the accumulation and progression of my normal ARCs (age related changes); she with those deriving from painful, progressing peripheral neuropathy.

We both enjoy writing, but she has talents in the art of poetry while I am limited to prose. In this blog posting she has agreed to share three of her poems with EWA’s readers. They each resonate with me and I hope they will with you. Do send your comments to let us know.

Houseboat
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This boat I’m living in
keeps springing leaks,
one hole after another.
I patch one and another
appears, almost immediately.
Meanwhile, I try to keep
the boat dry:
patch, bail, patch, bail…
I’m working as fast as
I can, but I fear we’re
sinking…

 

The Hoarder
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Moving like a habitual hoarder
along a narrow space; bounded by
stacks and stacks of old thoughts,
old ideas, old plans, old ways of
coping. One false move and it
will all tumble, bury me in rubble.
Why do I save this old debris?
Call in the dump truck!
Haul it all out!

Make room for the new!

 

Movement
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If there is movement
there can be
improvement.

These days my body
doesn’t care to move fast.

I only hurry when
jumping
to conclusions.

Must practice patience.

 

Julia Helen Tracy

Help Has Several Faces

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Throughout my life I’ve been involved in helping and being helped. In earlier times I tended to take help more for granted. As a child I received help, some I wanted, some I didn’t. As a nursing student and RN I learned to offer purposeful specific health related types of help. It was what nurses did. As a teacher I learned ways to help my students. In familial and social relationships, I learned other approaches. From all of them I learned about the give and take of different helping relationships, somewhat as a matter of course.

Then came the time and experience of aging where my prevailing situation has become more often that of being the one in need of help, with only limited capacities and resources for helping others or even reciprocating to those who help me. Engaging with this helping element of aging led me to start looking at the basics of this helping business.

I began to see helping as consisting of three options: doing to, doing for and doing with. I looked for examples of each in my daily and found them.

I thought of those whose help involved doing to me.

I consult and use professionals to manage my physical health, e.g. the dentist, dental hygienist and physician who diagnose and prescribe and at times do to me, the pedicurist who keeps my (now distant) toes and feet in shape. Since I take the initiative in consulting them and the extent to which I follow up on their proposals, I still have some options. But I can readily foresee situations and institutionalizations in which the doing to will be increasingly extensive and out of my control.

The next “doing to” is less obvious. These examples involve those who knowingly or unknowingly communicate words and behavior that “do to” my mental and emotional status for good or ill.   But thus far, I sense that I do have some choices in how I use that input. (See Data are Neutral, My Reactions are Not 4/24/19, and Words Make a Difference 5/29/19)

Real, but even harder to detect, is the doing to by known and unknown people, businesses and institutions whose way of functioning or business model includes sharing information about me or purposefully invading my privacy with or without privacy forms (whose language is often so arcane and obfuscating that it’s hard to know what one is signing). They do to me without my knowledge.

I see doing for me as involving help that takes the place of what I would/might wish to do for myself.

Usually it occurs after learning what I need or want, but occasionally is based on what the helper thinks might be best for me. Sometimes it has been helping me to look at situations through “fresh eyes”.   And then there are people doing for me in ways that go beyond what I might have wished for, or even thought possible. And such thoughtfulness is as much a gift as the gift itself.

Finally, there is doing with.

This involves mutual engagement.   Here each of us has a sense of gains in the helping activity. The result feels greater than the “sum of the parts”. I’ll have to admit this is the most satisfying kind of helping I experience as helper or helped.

I find that each type of helping has its place.   Being an EWA-ing help recipient demands that I:

seek help appropriately in terms of when each type is most useful and desired

recognize the type of help that is being afford and respond accordingly

provide helpers with data and information to enable them offer help in ways that are most effective, efficient and satisfying to us both.

Putting One’s Best Foot Forward In a Different Way

From the time my sister and I were very little, mother taught us by word and deed about the need to “put our best foot forward” when we had guests or were guests (though she didn’t use those words). We were taught how to use eating utensils, table manners, greet people and manners in general. As I look back on it, I remember our home as usually neat and clean, but it needed to be especially so when guests were invited. Mother was a good Swedish cook and knew how to prepare a delicious, attractive meal and serve it well. As my sister and I grew up and started families of our own, we tended to continue what we had been taught and enjoyed doing it. It all was unquestionably friendly, but had a certain degree of formality to it.

Fast forward to the present. Aging has not only moved in, but has gradually taken over my capacities to put my best foot forward. My standards and efforts are the same. The friendliness is as present as ever, but formality and execution have flown out the window. I still can set a table, have everything set up and arrange for beverages, but prepare and serve a meal? No way! So guests tend to come bearing food. Once here, everyone pitches in, chaos occasionally reigns.   Service may be buffet style with guests serving themselves from a counter in the kitchen and returning there for “seconds”. And they usually want to help with the cleanup, though I’m still capable of doing the dishes. The casual comradery seems to feel as good to everyone as the genteel service of earlier years.

I don’t go out much for meals, but even at home I may need assistance in serving myself and cutting things into bite size pieces. Once I got over my shyness about this and could accept it neutrally as “this is what it is”, no one else seems to mind at all. As someone once told me, “No use getting your knickers in a knot over it.” So I’m learning to accept who and what I am on any given day, and others do too, thank goodness!

I also look back on my days as a nursing student in a hospital based program where much of our learning took place as we cared for patients for hours each day, and later when I worked as a nurse and head nurse on hospital wards. It seemed to me that patients perked up and tended to want to put their best foot forward when the doctors were making their rounds. And I too on my infrequent doctor visits find myself wanting to do the same.

Still, what’s important for both doctor and patient, or any other care provider and recipient is an honest encounter where accurate data on the actual status becomes available. Putting our best foot forward in this situation now would seem to be preparing ourselves (as our capacities permit) to provide/communicate accurate data on our status in relevant areas rather than try to be seen “at our best”.

In my last checkup visit with the doctor, I had written out a list of my current ARCs so I could quickly, sharply present them (and, in case my short term memory lapses kicked in). After he had asked his questions and done his inspection, I asked if he was interested in the status of my age related changes. He was. I brought out my list, explained why I had one, provided data on each ARC’s status. He asked questions and made notations. He had important data he would not have had if I had not prepared and taken the initiative. I felt I’d put my best foot forward in a new way.

So, I’m learning new best-foot-forward lessons. It’s still fine to try to be the best I can be, but it’s in a new way where it’s truly important to be who and what I currently am, warts and all.

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Attention-Getting ARCs Create Challenges … Quiet Capacities and Assets Await Our Attention

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As my ARCs (age related changes) accumulate and progress, they increasingly resemble the attention-demanding behavior of two year olds. Impossible for me and sometimes others to ignore. On the other hand, my steady, silent capacities and assets just seem to patiently wait their turn to be acknowledged and attended to.   And this seems to be true, not only for me, but for those who help me manage my daily living these days. (Perhaps it’s the same way that more attention is given to our pathology than to our quiet immune systems.)

There’s no question that I need to continue to acknowledge and come to understand each ARC. But (better late than never) I’m seeing the need to pay more attention to acknowledging, understanding and creatively using my capacities and external assets. They are so essential to my well-being. I need to understand them as thoroughly as I do my ARCs. I need to value them. A slight variation on a current chant “Equal pay for equal work” may just need to be my motto as well.   Equal attention for equal work.

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By increasing my underlying knowledge about my capacities and assets in the same way I have my ARCs I may well be able to use them more creatively . In “The Mature Mind” Cohen examines the way agers’ brains change and what is there, available to be used. Some neurons are still growing and so are some connections between areas of the brain.

Obviously I’m at an early stage as I share my thoughts in these areas and plans . What I can share now is that:

I believe I have a responsibility to offer care providers accurate, crisp descriptions of the status of my capacities and assets (strengths and weaknesses as they are relevant to the presenting situation). This way they can anticipate how I will manage what they are asking me to do. e.g. If my physician changes my medication regimen, I need to offer the current status of my short term/working memory. If he were to expect me to change a dressing, I’d need to bring up the status of my clumsy, weak fingers and their potential inability to manipulate tape or dressings.   With my support figures (professional or otherwise) I need to offer data on what I can and cannot do as it is relevant to their desires or expectations.

I’m working on identifying (putting into words) and treasuring specific capacities and assets as they come into play in my adaptations. In my thoughts, I actually talk to them. When they do well in preventing a problem I praise them warmly, put gold stars in their crowns.   I sympathize with them when they try, but have difficulty. When they goof off, I give them black marks of the size and blackness warranted by the degree of failure.

I’m discovering that capacities and assets are like ingredients in my cooking—highly adaptable to be used in multiple ways. All my brain needs to do is figure out how success or lack of it in using them in one situation can be applied to another.  That means I need to know them, well.

As you can see, understanding and using my capacities and assets with greater creativity and effectiveness is a work in progress (like so much of my EWAing has proven to be).

If you readers have any ideas, please comment and share them with me. I can promise you that they will be well received and put to use.

Automaticity, How I Miss It! But . . .

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As the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you had until it’s gone.” I‘d had no idea how much I had been able to take for granted, nor how much I’ve been able to do on auto pilot. If I was going to make breakfast, all I thought about was what I would eat. Then my automaticity took over. It knew where the items were and how to put them together. To dress, I had to decide what to wear, but the rest of the process followed without purposeful thought about how to put the pieces on. And so it would go through much of the day. All this automaticity freed me to address issues, ideas and activities that required purposeful thought and effort. (I read recently that it took only one side of my brain then, but takes two sides now.)

Then ARCs (age related changes) sneakily but surely began taking automaticity away from me. I found myself having to think about how to lift a glass or a jar, depending on its diameter and weight—one hand or two–grasp around the sides or with one hand underneath? For a while, I had to think about how to tie shoelaces until one morning I couldn’t tie them at all. Time for slip-on’s. My comb flipped out of my hand when it encountered a snarl. Adopt a simpler haircut. Stairs required me to rely heavily on a railing or wall in order to climb them and knees threatened to buckle when I descended. My family, standing behind me, finally couldn’t stand watching me and a son proposed (pushed for), a lift that now gets me safely from the house to street level and back. Supportive arms on either side help me manage stairs when no lift or ramps are available. A granddaughter took over the laundry tasks that had to be done in the basement (reached by a circular stairway with no railing). I now live on one floor of my home. A son noticed my difficulty in rising from my recliner, he placed 4” risers under it and later added another 2”. One day while on vacation with my family, I discovered for myself that putting my hands on the back of a wheelchair made me steadier in my walking. I ordered a walker that enabled me to take long walks for years and now keeps me steady here at home. I found that a shopping cart in the market served the same purpose for quite a while until recently that too became unsafe and a neighbor offered to take over the shopping.

And so it has gone from year to year, month to month and recently sometimes day to day. My capacities change and so do my adaptations. Sometimes I’ve been able to see and manage them on my own. Sometimes times others have noticed and stepped in (with my acceptance!) to help me manage.

And there have been times when certain activities simply are no longer possible automatically, intentionally or with adaptations. Then it has been time to simplify my life. I’ve enjoyed baking orange rye bread and Swedish cardamom rolls for me and my family. First I reduced the size of the recipe to weights and size I could handle. Recently that too was beyond me. Fortunately, I’d taught the next two generations how to do it. Now the time had come to pass the tradition on.

Do I miss the things I no longer can do or automaticity? Of course. Still, in the grand scheme of things I’m grateful for all that’s still possible, for family, friends and colleagues who support me and offer adventures within their view of my capabilities (often far more than I can see in myself). When all else fails I call on my mantras of “Sufficient unto the day. . . .” and “To everything there is a season.” And, so far, I’m feeling content with what I still have.

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To Bare or Not To Bare, That is the Question

With apologies to Shakespeare and Hamlet for distorting this notable quotation

For the past nine months this old, cold ager has been staying warm most days by layering long sleeved turtle necks and wearing warm pants and socks. Even then I went to bed with cool arms and legs and cold feet until the end of June.

This spring (even here in our marine climate), we’ve had a week here and there of abnormally high temperatures. Teasers or omens of things to come? The prediction is for a warmer and dryer summer. That means more (usually rare) days in the 90’s and more than usual in the 80’s.

Lore has it that summers here begin on the fifth of July so warm days are coming. I’m fine with days in the low 80’s in the house. But, if we’re going to have consecutively high 80’s and low 90’s days where the home itself warms up and stays warm, I’m going to need to give up even my intermediate weather wear. And this is where my dilemma lies. Long-sleeved turtle necks and slacks cover my wrinkled, droopy, mottled neck, arms and legs. Summer wear exposes them. I have no idea why exposing them seems more repulsive than inescapably exposing old hands and faces, but it does.

Nor have I any idea why I feel more concerned this year. Last year I wore sleeveless tank tops and skorts without much regret and I was out and about more than I am now. This year my neck and arms seem to me to be parts of me I’d rather keep covered. Admittedly, the skin is a bit more mottled, the muscles more shrunken and sagging, wrinkles more numerous and deeper. But at 97, even if I’d opted for plastic surgery, or exercised faithfully, I’d be abnormal if they weren’t like that.

Those of you who follow my blog notice that I try to include free images to enhance the writing. I tried hard to find images, even of just the bare arms or legs of old people let alone old people in clothing that showed them. Couldn’t find any!   Old folks walking on hot sunny beaches were all wearing long pants, tops with sleeves or dresses with sleeves.   Could it be that I’m not alone in not wanting to expose aging neck, arms and legs to others?

In the end I expect that I’ll be sensible and dress for summer with the summer clothes I‘ve worn for years. People seem to be very accepting of the old person I am in many other respects. So it’s probably more my problem than one anyone else will have about me.   People who drop in on me will find me as I am. But when I have planned visits, I wager I’ll be wearing lightweight pants and a top over my sleeveless tanks.

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