When I was in physical therapy about a year ago, there was a lady on the table next to me who was grunting and groaning and huffing and puffing her way through her exercises. At one point, when it seemed to be particularly hard for her, she looked over at me and said do you know why I do this? I have to stay in shape so that my son doesnít have to take care of me. I donít want him to spend his young life that way. Then, she started huffing and puffing again. Last week, I overheard a conversation between two ladies who were smoking. One told the other that she knew she should quit, but that she had to ďdie of something,Ē and ďhey, I took care of my kids so they have to take care of me,Ē and laughed. I instantly felt bad for people I didnít know. I had images of middle-aged children with jobs, houses and families of their own. And while they were dealing with their day-to-day responsibilities and pressures of life, having to take their mother from doctor appointment to doctor appointment, from treatment to the hospital and home, planning meals and caring for her throughout the week. I felt bad for her too and wondered if she understood the gravity of her statement. I imagine she loves her children and she would not want to take time away from their lives, saddling them with years of taking care of her when it could be avoided. My guess is that she just hasnít thought this through.
It is a beautiful thing when family steps up and supports us in our old age and I believe in that. Accidents happen and weíre also not responsible for things we donít know. Many families have the means and would prefer to take care of their loved ones in their golden years. Thatís not what Iím talking about here. Iím talking about becoming educated while you have time and before you get to that place. Iím also talking about people who know better but do it anyway. Itís a new way of thinking. If you are 60 years old or younger, you are probably aware of the drawbacks of inactivity, eating bad food and indulging in alcohol, tobacco and drugs. There was a time when very little education was available but those times are behind us now. If youíve chosen a sedentary life or you have a problem with food or anything in excess including smoking, drinking and/or drugging, information is available that will give you insight into your potential future. More importantly, help is available.
If youíre a smoker, imagine how mentally empowering it would be to say, ďI quit smoking so I donít get COPD. I wonít have to carry oxygen around and my kids wonít have to take care of me.Ē How good do you think you would feel about yourself if you were pre-diabetic, and before it was too late, you could say, ďI stopped eating ice cream to avoid diabetes so my husband doesnít have to spend his golden years wheeling me around from doctor to doctor?Ē
Whatís the worst thing that could happen if you decide to make today the day to start getting healthy? What if you set an appointment with your doctor to find out what you can do to lose that weight, stop drinking, detoxify and the like? There are physical health programs, mental health professionals, support groups, community centers, books to read and lots of people to help you. Youíre never too old to learn how to take care of yourself.
When you decide to take responsibility for your own health, youíll be on this planet a whole lot longer, youíll feel better physically and mentally and you wonít be a burden to your family. You will be a more valuable member of your family and the community and it feels great to be in control. The more you care for yourself, the more energy and desire you will have to be active physically which will enhance your mental health. Being responsible for your own health is a win-win; you love yourself and your family. Itís double happiness.
A staff member at the Bay Pines VA Hospital from 2006-2013, Dina Meitner, LCSW, is currently in private practice at 2081 Indian Rocks Road.