My experiences with aging, disability and my own mental health

I’ve been thinking a lot about aging and mental health lately, so I looked up the topic. According to an article from our National Institutes of Health:

“The most common mental disorders in older people include depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Mental disorders are associated with increased healthcare costs, mortality and suicide, along with interference with daily living, and a reduction in quality of life.”

From my own experiences, this makes perfect sense. As our health declines, so does our ability to feel good about our lives, and then there are those predictable thoughts about how we’ve lived our lives and what it must feel like to die. One thing I experience is the daily differences in how I feel about my life, but I’m not certain how much of that is caused by my head injuries. Some days I feel almost like I used to, happy and ready to get out and try new things. Other times I can barely get out of bed and face the day. The problem is I cannot predict what will happen each day, so it’s difficult to plan ahead.

Mike has observed this unpredictability and also wondered what causes it. Now I believe part of it is a natural response to losses later in life. Some days I see little future for myself and so I feel depressed. I do not want to drag him down, because there is no need for both of us to suffer. Other days I feel that old optimism and then I can’t believe I was so low yesterday.

What could be more natural than our ability to confront our own aging and disabilities better on some days than others? Also it takes time to adjust to such major changes in health and abilities…

Realistically my ability to travel very far or go anywhere I want to is limited. But also my desire to travel has become less with age and with so many fantastic travel videos to be enjoyed on Youtube. The place Mike and I most want to visit now is Patagonia. There’s a very good chance I won’t ever get there, but I love watching travel videos and dreaming… Now that’s something previous generations did not have! We really are very lucky, even in our old age. I appreciate that everyday!

“Even in seemingly dormant times, we are in transition. Losses and gains are in constant play. We are the change-agent, and we are changed. Even without toil, we transform. So, wisdom advises us to open our hearts to transition; to honor fully what is passing, to learn from all that unfolds, and to welcome what arrives at our door each day with courage and curiosity.”

Morning in “Be-Here-Now” Land

After almost two years living in the foothills a few miles west of Walsenberg Colorado, I still struggle to find a way to help you understand how living here is so amazingly different from the suburbs of Fort Collins. Possibly you can imagine, this has been culture shock after culture shock for a couple of city people. 

In fact, I wake up every morning and wonder for just a moment or so, where am I? Then I look out my glass doors at this:

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…and I know this is no dream. This is one larger-than-life reality!

I try to explain to my friends who are still up in Fort Collins working, how this lifestyle change has changed me. But since they only come down for a day or two at a time, they cannot really understand how living here feels.

At first I was mainly freaked out. This world is so very different than what I’m used to that it scared me, especially since we had essentially put all our eggs in one basket on this one!

I see now why it was so hard for my original, stressed-out self to deal with this place. This is a whole world away from what most consider “life in America.” We have very few chain stores, and no reason to go shopping unless you need a few groceries. We have one movie theater showing one movie three times a week.

At times I feel like I moved to a different country (especially since this ridiculous presidential campaign started!) Now when I watch the national news I think, “Wow, those people are crazy… what a horrible way to live!”

Recently I heard someone down here say:

Most people don’t realize how much stress they have until they slow down enough to lose some of it.

That’s where I’m at now.

Mike at home

I get up most days and take a hike around our house, looking for interesting animal tracks. I’ve just started getting into bird watching, my cat is encouraging me. I have finally slowed down enough to have the time to think a lot about what I need to do before I die, and seeing the world is not on that list at present. I’d rather spend the rest of my life directly experiencing the American Southwest.

Although I’ve always had Buddhist leanings, I now feel more drawn to Native American philosophies. I imagine them travelling through the valley below us on their way to Bent’s Fort to sell animal pelts and get the latest news. I love to imagine someone from the 1800’s walking into our home now, and being shocked by the modern conveniences of today. But we should not let our easy lives convince us that we are more wise than those who came before us. Perhaps we are the idiots who will ruin the best life ever experienced on planet earth…I certainly hope not.

I am filled with gratitude that I can now live like this forever.  Please go learn more about our move from Fort Collins to here in my new memoir!