One of my favorite trails is the one on the Blue Ridge Parkway that goes up to Mt. Pisgah. It’s been a few years, but, in my mind, I frequently re-visit the last time I hiked it because of a man and woman I encountered along the way. I would guess that they were in their 80s and the picture of health. While my hiking buddy and I were struggling up the mountain, they sailed past us. And while we were still struggling up the mountain, they met us again as they were headed back down. I have no idea who they were or what their story was, but of all the older people I have known, they are the ones who have inspired me the most. That morning on the trail up the mountain I vowed to myself that someday I was going to be just like them. Lately, I’ve been thinking about them a lot because I can barely walk around the block without becoming exhausted.
What is going on? A year ago the only challenge I faced in the morning was waking up early enough to run before it got too hot. Now the slightest exercise is an effort for me. There’s this crazy weakness in my arms and legs that I first noticed last October while I was contra-dancing at LEAF. It’s really been cramping my style and I want it to stop! But despite what I may want, it’s getting worse. I hate it hate it hate it.
The last thing I want to become is one of those people whose whole life revolves around their illness. And yet, that’s what’s happening. As I’ve come to realize that this affliction isn’t going to disappear just as mysteriously as it first appeared, I’ve been going after it with a vengeance. I’m spending a lot of time searching the internet for answers. My primary care physician has been running every test known to medical science on me, some at her suggestion and others per my request. Altogether, I would guess that 40 some vials of blood have been taken and tested. And just about every square inch of my body has been imaged in one way or another. Now I’m also seeing a rheumatologist and he’s running more tests. In the meanwhile, I haven’t been sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I’ve been trying all kinds of things. I went off all my medications to see if that was causing it. Nothing. I’ve gone without dairy, gluten, wheat. Each time, nothing. Recently I started seeing a woman who practices alternative medicine and I have to say that I feel better than I have in many years. I love this woman and what she’s doing for me. But, so far, the heaviness in my arms and legs continues to get worse.
This makes no sense to me. In my spirit, I’ve got the energy to climb mountains and dance all night, but in my body it just ain’t gonna happen. I’ve been making plans for myself that don’t allow for this crap and thought that surely I would be well by now. This week I had to cancel my registration to a dance weekend in Asheville that I was so looking forward to. It broke my heart to face the reality that I just wouldn’t be able to do it. Now, the next big thing I have planned is my trip to the Grand Canyon at the beginning of August and I’m thinking that I just have to be well by then. We’ll find out what’s causing this, deal with it, and I’ll be good to go. But there is a fine line between optimistic thinking and facing reality and I’m starting to wonder if I’ve been living in denial.
Whenever I am struggling in my life, I try to find meaning in my experience. That way it’s never for nothing. Certainly, through all of this, I’ve become more empathetic toward people who deal with ongoing illnesses. Confronting physical limitations is never something we anticipate when we’re healthy. We have to be smacked in the face with a physical limitation before we’ll even acknowledge it as a possibility for us, and then, once we do, it’s hard not to let our minds go wild. I don’t suspect this is going to be the death of me, and I have every hope that it can be cured, but still, I’ve allowed myself to think the worst from time to time. I know that sometimes the worst happens; that’s part of the deal. And it sucks. These days I have a better understanding of what it feels like to go through that, as many of those who are near and dear to me have.
I’ve also learned not to take my body for granted as I have in the past. I know that I’ve abused it in many ways over the years and like any victim of abuse, eventually my body couldn’t take it anymore and said, “enough is enough.” I need to be kinder to my body and listen to what it’s telling me. And so, I promise that when I get better I will take my health more seriously. I know that’s the only way I’ll be able to climb Mt. Pisgah on my 80th birthday. But wait a minute. Does this mean that I’ve gone from denial to bargaining?