Growing Old Is Not For Wimps

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As I get older, I realize more and more that growing older is not for wimps. New and unusual hair begins to grow in places that you believed to be bare, and you need a magnifying mirror before you can even begin to pluck it out. I’ve been trying to figure out if our eyes naturally begin to fail in our forties as a way to allow us to not be able to see ourselves as clearly as before for self-preservation purposes, or if their slow demise is a thermometer designed to help you come to terms with the fact that you are getting older.

I now find myself wearing glasses just to work on the computer…or read a menu, recipe, or food label. I have become my mother and have magnifying eyeglasses all over the house (you can buy a three pack at Costco for less than $20 – you’re welcome). I can’t believe that’s now me. I was excited that the new Iphone 6 was coming out not so I could get the latest “gadget”, but because it would have a bigger screen so I could finally read my phone again. It was terribly sad for me when I finally got it to realize that I still couldn’t read the newspaper text on the screen (yes, I realize these are first world problems….and yes, I had already increased the font size).

What a strange phenomena we humans experience to be present as your body ages and you realize that once something starts to slip away IT IS NEVER COMING BACK. My vision will never be restored to the eyesight I enjoyed (without truly appreciating it) in my earlier years. Those of you who follow my blog know that I got injured running a few weeks back. After X-rays came back telling me that all of the impact sports I have been doing (including running) have done damage to my hips, due to the genetic way that my hip-joint and spine curve, I was told to take up some low or no impact sports instead. Who me? You sure Doc? Yes…she was sure.

“Deterioration” is a word that you are hoping not to hear when you are someone who is passionate about all types of activities such as I am. So what do you do with bad news like that? You determinedly decide you are going to take the news with a stoic appreciation for what you have that is still functioning… then I went swimming. While I have recently been spending so much time in the water I’ve been reflecting on the ways in which it is a struggle for us to age in these bodies of ours.

It feels like a blessing and a curse that we humans have mastered the art of living much longer lives. Neanderthals lived to be about 30 years old, maybe they had it better dying while in their primes. Right now we are expected to live to be around 79 (American Men) and 81 (American Women). As a interesting side note, if we live in Japan, we get to add a few more years (82). How wonderful that we have the experience of spending time in our later years with gifts such as grandchildren, retirement and social security benefits. On the flip side is the fact that our human bodies begin to change in ways that we could not possibly understand in our youths with themes more like: fear of Alzheimer’s, investment loss, minimal medical benefits, and strange body changes (while trying to find our misplaced keys for the tenth time that week).

Youth is definitely wasted on the young. You hear that phrase when you are young by your grandparents, but unfortunately, do not really understand it until you are much much older. I get it now.

It takes a lot of courage and wisdom to age well and with grace. For some, the later years will be the first time they experience the true gift of total self acceptance. It will certainly make for a gentler aging process. Fighting with every wrinkle, sag, memory loss, or strange hair will only lead to distress. One true gift of getting older is the new found appreciation I have for older people I meet who share their incredible life stories that are filled with strength and an undeniable sense of humor. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, they tell me when I ask what makes for happiness in this life.

One of my favorite quotes is by Hunter S. Thompson who says:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”.

This is my goal (and I am well on my way based on my most recent doctor’s X-ray). I want to live fully and messily and wear myself out. I am finally okay with the idea of this being my best body, self and life. After a certain age, there is only one direction your body is going, and it’s not younger. It happens to all of us if we are lucky. Really think about that. If you are struggling with how to come to terms with your aging body, you are fortunate beyond words. You have been able to stay alive in this crazy world of ours and get the privilege of actually living to old age. How cool is that?

Stacey Neil, Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer, can be found at the pool swimming laps along with in her private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

Surrender Without Quitting: Accept What Is

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I have been contemplating a new wrist tattoo that has a dandelion with the word “surrender” floating away as if set free in a wish. This concept of letting go seems to go against every bit of my type A personality’s desire to “power it out” and “get it done”. However, I would suggest to you that surrendering is the hardest skill to learn of them all. How do we learn how to let go and just be? How can we ignore societies ongoing messages that drive us to achieve, achieve, achieve? I suggest to you that to letting go is the opposite of driving through your life at 110% of capacity…that the truth to living a fulfilling life filled with mindful presence is to actually take a deep breath, exhale it out, and surrender.

There is resistance around the idea of surrendering as it can feel like quitting. Surrendering is not quitting. Surrendering is allowing yourself to live in the moment of your life and to realize that in this very moment this is as good as it gets. If you can learn how to let go and be fully present in your life, you can surrender the anxieties that surround all of the “what ifs” that we all tend to ruminate about in our heads. What if I lose my job? What if my spouse cheats on me? What if I never lose these 20 pounds? What if I get cancer? What if my son doesn’t get into that college he is fighting for? Quitting is rolling over and allowing your life to run you; it has nothing to do with surrender. Surrendering is allowing space to just be, as is.

You can surrender and decide you are never willing to quit. You never “quit” trying to be mindful, eat healthier, improve upon your body, learn to relax, living fully and with passion, etc.. Never give up in fighting for the things you want in your life whatever that means for you. To give up self-care is to give up on yourself. Always do your best…and then surrender to what you currently experience as your life. Know that for this very second, what you see is what you get. There is no purpose in feelings of bitterness for what you may or may not have in this second. Surrender to your reality as is.

Why does this matter?

I am always sharing different themes around our internalized myths about what we believe to be in our control (everything) when in fact what we control is very little (almost nothing). We control our own individual words, actions and behaviors. We have no control over how other’s perceive us, what other’s say to us, or how our bosses act. The more we try to control our external environment, the more frustrated we become and the less present we are in our lives. We become focused on the future, potential catastrophic anxiety inducing worries that may happen, or we hold on to past vulnerabilities and pains. What we don’t tend to do is be present in this very moment breath by breath.

Sometimes when a client comes in for therapy, they work really hard at trying to task through the work of becoming more aware of their own internal processes by getting mad at themselves or frustrated by their thoughts or the way they feel. They despise their own judging minds and thoughts. If this ever happens to you, I suggest you try to imagine letting go instead of criticizing yourself. Your thoughts can spiral out of control and you can choose to non judgmentally notice that they are present, then surrender and not engage in the emotions that will only fuel the fire of your judgements. Give yourself permission to be just who you are and allow that to be good enough. Let go of all of the ways in which you feel you are not doing what you “should” be doing according to some internal judgement of yourself and be free. Be good enough. Surrender. It is so much less effort to let yourself go in this way.

What can you do right this second as you read this to let go? Surrendering sets you free. Be free.

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

When Body & Mind Don’t Agree: Four Things My Injury Is Telling Me

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The best laid plans…. There is nothing more frustrating, when training for an event, than to do everything as prescribed and get injured anyway. I have been struggling with a recent injury after 5 months of a perfectly laid out running plan for my latest 1/2 marathon, only to get completely derailed three weeks prior to the event. As this has happened to me several times before including summit attempts up Mt. Whitney (3) that had to be aborted 1 mile from the peak, or other adventure type challenges where I had sob inducing spasms 8 miles in…injury is a part of the process of pushing your body, getting older, and being stubborn. It happens to everyone who tends to push themselves at some point or another.

The stubbornness comes into play from my sheer unadulterated ability to be in denial when something starts to go south in my body. The most distressing part of the entire struggle for me is that I tend to get injured only when I feel at my complete and total best. Like a true ATHLETE (love this word). There have been three different times in my life when I have really felt strong, fit, and able, that are perfect examples of this phenomena. These moments are pinnacle training times in my life where all of the hours, sweat, and focus came together and I felt unstoppable. Ironically, these are the exact three times I have gotten the most injured. The first time I had been working out hard as a gym rat and cross training like a professional and I felt great. So I decided to return to my childhood sport of soccer (for the first time in 15 years) in my early thirties. I joined a local women’s league, bought myself some cleats, and went to my first practice (seriously the FIRST one). Running (as if my life depended on it) to save a ball from rolling back into our practice goal, I stepped into a gopher hole and blew out my ACL, tore my meniscus, and bruised my femur. I was in surgery 2 days later. I was laid up on modified exercise for 6 months. Did get this cool leg stretchy machine I got to hook up too, but I digress…

The second time I was doing our bootcamp program every morning and pushing my cross training and fitness to the test. I took on every workout as if it were a personal challenge against myself. I was on fire. One particular morning I was doing burpee circuits and I threw my heart into atrial fibrillation and ended up in the ER with probes strapped onto my chest. Instead of surgery, this got me a hypothyroid diagnosis and many heart tests (was told my heart is healthy as an athlete!). Had to go on thyroid medication (for the rest of my life). This final time was two weeks ago. As some of you readers know, I am training for another 1/2 marathon after my training partner (and dear friend) asked me to celebrate her Birthday with her by doing her first 1/2. Being a good friend, I created the most thoughtful, slow, gentle training plan to get her and I ready to go injury free…and it worked amazing (right up until it didn’t) and I got injured. But it wasn’t the plan that caused the injury, it was my head deciding that I felt like a real runner for the first time in my life and I was the fastest, strongest runner I had ever been. It was literally to the point that I was thinking I could pull off a full marathon a few months post 1/2 if I kept training. I felt unstoppable. I kept speeding up my pace because it felt SO good to my body (coincidentally, this was NOT on the plan). My new speedy running attitude worked right up to a 10K we did together as a charity race where I ran the fastest 10K I had ever done (by A LOT). Got a PR! I was so fired up….and that’s what did it. I pushed too hard. I messed up my TFL and piriformis. Now I cannot walk without pain. Sigh.

Those of you who do not love working out may be confirming your suspicions right now that this is why exercise is evil and you should just stay on the couch! But this is not at all the case. Do not be fooled…it is still the best thing for both mind & body. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of seeing what my body can do through exercise. Sometimes, however, my head and my body don’t agree. When this happens I get injured. I have learned a few things from my injury that I would like to share with you:

1) Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously – There is no point in stressing out about missing a race I have signed up for, or even worse, needing to walk. I’m not Lolo Jones, I wasn’t going to win. I can go out there on race day and do my very best…whatever that looks like that day. There will ALWAYS be other races/events/challenges.

2) Keep Perspective – Your healthy body demands to be your number one priority. You realize this the minute something happens where you get sick or hurt; however, maybe being mindful of this when things are going well is equally (if not more so) important.

3) Don’t Always Power It Out – You shouldn’t ignore the small little twinges and warnings that your body is telling you along the way. Injuries can happen out of nowhere (like in an accident such as my gopher hole scenario), but often your body is talking to in little whispers before it starts to yell. This is where my head tends to tells my body to be quiet and keeps running, when maybe I should have slowed down my pace, took a few days off and rested my injury two weeks ago when I first started to feel it. Instead I tried to push through. Just because your head may be able to do this, does not mean your body can pull it off.

4) Get Help – I am ridiculously STUBBORN when it comes to seeking medical help for injuries. Yes, dear spouse, I can admit this. I have no idea the root of my absolute certainty that I do NOT need to go to the doctor, chiropractor or massage therapist to work it out and get help when I am hurt. My cocky, ego ridden, personal trainer self is just sure I can use the tools I already know to get better. If you are like me, save yourself a few extra weeks (or months) of injury and seek expert help. Anti-inflammatory drugs and R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) do NOT cure everything. Trust me..wish they did, but they do not.

I imagine an injury as a little monster messing with your body. I see it as a little black scrunchy thing with a wicked smile and a pokey spear. It can feel like it is mocking me..right when I feel my best. The truth is, getting hurt is your bodies way of telling you to back off, change what you are doing, or slow down. I don’t tend to pay attention until it is too late and I end up hurt pretty bad. I have been getting frustrated with my body because it won’t do what I want it to do; when the truth is, my head is what needs to change. My body is doing an amazing job keeping me alive and allowing me to do everything I love. My head needs to understand how to be patient, compassionate, and mindful of what my body is telling me along the way. The little monster can really my friend if I learn how to embrace it.

Stacey Neil, LMFT, CPT is a Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer who is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139 where she is layed up on ice.