And I am afraid of who’s going to win.
I woke up this morning feeling racked with pain in every muscle, joint, and bone in my body. It was my day to go to the gym to exercise, so I had to ignore the pain, instead of giving in to it. I used my asthma/COPD inhaler, ate my breakfast, used my nebulizer, fed the fish and dogs and went off to the gym. This is my routine three times a week. There are days that I have little energy or desire to work out, but I do. I have to. I have no choice, as the alternative is unacceptable, at least at this time in life.
The gym I belong to is part of a physical therapy facility where there are a fully outfitted gym and an exercise room, for both patients and the general public. However, most non-patient members are retired people or those close to retirement whose Medicare supplement plans offer reduced membership fees. One of the perks I guess of getting old.
I enter the gym and greet the regulars I have gotten to know who have the same workout schedule as I do. Everyone is usually jokingly in agreement about winning half the battle by just showing up at the gym. At 71, I am one of the younger members, while a couple of people are in their mid-eighties. There was one gentleman who was 92, but I haven’t seen him in a very long time. I think I know why I haven’t seen him in a while! When any of the oldsters don’t show up I always wonder if they gave up on life or life gave up on them.
After a few minutes, the regulars leave and I am left to myself, my pain, my thoughts, and my hopes and dreams. Sitting at one of the machines waiting for the next set of pulldowns I unconsciously begin to focus on a series of inspirational posters lining the walls. I can’t help but see the irony in the posters of fit athletes running, mountain climbing, cycling, and skiing. I have not seen anyone working out in that room who could come near accomplishing anything close to those physical feats. Maybe 40 or 50 years ago. I suffered from asthma during my youth, so participating in strenuous physical activities has always been beyond my reach. The motivational purpose of those posters was lost on me and for that matter, most everyone exercising in that room.
I have always been a gym member, even after I retired I managed to find a gym to my liking. But now working out has become a serious battle. Over the past 10 or so years, my ability to breathe has slowly, but steadily become impaired. I have been diagnosed with chronic sinusitis, COPD, asthma, and chronic rhinitis, but no physician I’ve seen is completely sure which of these conditions causes my shortness of breath. I also have “stiff heart” syndrome, which can be a cause of shortness of breath and exercise-induced asthma. None of the COPD or asthma medications have any effect on my breathing. Inhalers and nasal sprays do nothing for my symptoms. I cannot depend on medical science to help me.
Taking a short rest from my exercise I sit and check out Facebook on my iPhone and let my mind wander yet again. Seeing photos of my friends and their children frolicking on the beach at Cape Cod and scrolling through photos of lakes and camping sites in the Adirondacks, I recall the times in my youth when I too enjoyed these beautiful areas. I begin to feel melancholic because I can no longer enjoy such adventures. It’s not just at the gym, in this particular moment in time, that I feel this deep sadness. Even at home, working in the yard, while struggling to breathe, I can’t help but think how much I enjoyed camping and hiking in the Adirondacks and traveling through Switzerland and Bavaria.
For a while I allow myself to enjoy the reminiscences of my earlier life, but I don’t allow myself to wallow in self-pity. I quickly change the frame of mind I have settled into and with a renewed sense of urgency and some newfound energy, I hit the weights and machines again. One aspect of my health condition that I know for sure can be reversed by aerobic exercise is my “stiff heart”. So in that situation, there is some hope and I am determined to continue working with the treadmill and stationary bike to return my heart to normal. Finally, my time in the gym comes at an end for this day and somewhat both tired and reenergized I head home. I’m not sure if I accomplished much, but hey, I’m still upright!
The next day I awaken to the same aches and pains and go through the same routines with my inhalers and nebulizer. I have to. While caring for my medical conditions, I also have to pay attention to my mental state. To be honest I have not accepted the fact that because of my respiratory problems I can longer do what I used to do. There are many people older than I who are extremely physically active, so why can’t I be? My own worst enemy is my own body. My mind says I can recover and become more active, regardless of what my body says. It’s like a constant battle between mind and body.
My days are filled with ups and downs, emotionally. Every time I watch a travel program showcasing the beauties of various countries of the world or I begin to follow reality shows centering on people who are living off the grid in Alaska, I want to take part. Sometimes I become depressed because I know my body wouldn’t allow me to do it, especially when I get winded going up and down the stairs in my own home! But I figure maybe I should be more realistic and aim for something simpler, like being able to ride a bicycle around the neighborhood or take a walk through the woods on a crisp fall day. Lowering my goals at least gives me some hope. Besides with my luck, I’d probably be attacked by a grizzly bear in Alaska.
I still want to go camping, and hiking through the Adirondacks. I still want to go back to Switzerland and Bavaria to breathe in the fresh air and once again marvel at the beauty of the Alps, so I can’t give up trying. I have to force myself into the battle that is constantly waging between my mind and my body. If I can work hard enough to strengthen my aging muscles and joints I can beat the defeatist attitude that engulfs the minds of people my age. I may not be able to perform physically like a twenty-year-old, but I’ll still be alive, with a youthful mind. I look around me and I see older people who have given up, because “it hurts” to lift weights or exercise, and they sit on the couch and wait for the inevitable, which oftentimes comes a little sooner than expected. I may be fooling myself, but I’m not going down without a fight.
Originally Published in Your Voice Counts on Medium.com