Practice Seven for Anything that Feels Impossibly Scary

Practice Seven: What Physical/Psychological Supports Will Help Me Cope?

Years ago when I was both coach and developer of leadership skills for corporations, I loved the latest trends in physical challenges. I took teams of senior managers to places where we climbed trees, walked tightropes between trees, or learned to row together in impossibly light and delicate sculls in an imaginary competition. We tossed raw eggs across increasing distances in asphalt parking lots to a partner almost sure to catch them on too-fast trajectories (the eggs would break). Mind you, I was never very good at any of these skills, but I was game! And that was the point. In my estimation, you couldn’t ever be a great leader unless you were willing to be vulnerable, even humiliated. And humiliated I was, fairly frequently, though I was never boss to any of them. The managers I took on these jaunts were on the fast track. They were in line to be vice presidents or directors. Mostly they didn’t want to be seen as deficient in any way. You could say encouraging deficiency was my job.

Some of them learned to be leaders, at least in part, by exposing themselves to criticism through a concerted effort to learn from others, — their underlings, their bosses, even from me sometimes. And I learned that I needed to be open and vulnerable with them. Otherwise they wouldn’t come to me when they were in trouble. When they or we are in trouble — any kind of serious trouble, including illness — we need to know who and what we can trust to support us.

I used to trust my physical self. I’ve written about that before. I’m learning that, while I can’t trust my body all of the time, I can make sure that I can trust it some to most of the time if I get enough sleep, eat mostly fruits and vegetables with sparing amounts of bread and chocolate (which, given certain death I might eat exclusively — with an occasional dry martini thrown in for good measure), and challenge myself to continue to exercise even though I mostly don’t want to. If I do these things — sleep, eat, move — I don’t feel the effects of all the medication I’m taking as severely. I still am exhausted by late afternoon, but I’m pretty functional before then.

I can mostly trust my brain. Although aging has certainly affected my ability to retain intellectual content and remember where I put my car keys, I can still do the research I love to do for my adult learning classes, and our Vital Aging Interest Group. I still love to present topics via Zoom and PowerPoint, and, just this week, I had to learn two new technological skills so I could share those PowerPoints. I take a deep breath, then Google the new skill, and give myself time to make a few errors before I can follow the basic directions and Bingo! produce something I didn’t know how to do an hour before.

My daughter Blake is a great support. She helps both my husband and me to do computer things that Google directions just don’t cover or there are too many steps to remember. Blake and I have different learning and teaching styles so I have to remember to bite my tongue when her style is not my preference. We, my husband and I, are lucky to have such a resource geographically nearby. Dr. Louise Aronson, well-known author and UCSF geriatrician wrote in her latest book Elderhood that we need three things: enough money, a working brain, and a proximate and supportive adult child (usually a daughter) or other relative in order to age well. Blake is my proximate and supportive daughter. My husband’s daughter, Judy, is his super-support. She is often mine too.

Then there is Cassandra. In the worst time of my fatigue, perhaps six months ago, I turned to a professional friend at Osher Lifelong Learning, to ask about resources she might know about for guest speakers for our Aging Interest Group. She referred me to a personal friend who is a Geriatric Care Manager (who knew there was such a title?). The Care Manager and I met at my home, not about being a guest speaker (although she referred me to a great one), but about my own needs. She, the Care Manager, referred me to Cassandra, who comes to my house three afternoons a week in her brand new red Toyota, and helps me clean, cook, organize and purge LOTS of extra stuff. She also helps Murray with his exercises so he doesn’t lose more ground in his mobility. She’s thoughtful, smart, cheerful, capable, and willing to do anything I’ve asked her to do so far. I never would have found her without the Care Manager.

We agreed recently that she will come two afternoons a week going forward because she’s done such an excellent job of making my life cleaner, simpler, and more delicious.

Friends and acquaintances helped a great deal with meals before Cassandra came along, and friends continue to be my exercise partners. The Berkeley Public Library has supplied untold numbers of books for those days when I sit in a lump and just read. My beloved grandson and I are planning a trip to Japan, my graduation present to him, for just the two of us. Planning a trip ALWAYS makes me hopeful and stimulates more research. Where to find the best ramen? Which department store in Tokyo has the best food court (and the best kimonos)?

There are plenty of people and reasons for me to feel supported. I know who and where those supports are and I’ve learned to be happily dependent on them.

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Sara Orem

Sara Orem

Sara speaks about and facilitates workshops for older adults about vitality in the aging process . See more about Sara at www.saraorem.com.