During the years of Lev’s declining health, I simply could not deal with my own health. It was not just a lack of time. I had more doctors’ appointments on my calendar than I wanted to think about. I was worried and stressed about him. I coped best by simply denying that I needed to take care of myself. I knew then that my thinking was irrational—that it was more important than ever to take care of myself—but I didn’t care.
After Lev’s death, I was swamped with work learning his business, moving his office home and settling his estate. I did not have time to worry about myself. I saw my doctor about my anxiety—tight throat, tight chest, insomnia—but I walked out of the cardiologist’s office when I was sent there for an echo-cardiogram and stress test. I had flashbacks of all the times I had been there with Lev.
Dr. Helen Harris, grief expert at the School of Social Work, Baylor University, reminded me that grief has many dimensions: physical, psychological, social and spiritual…. She said that she always advises those she counsels to get a complete physical. Our immune system is compromised. If hormones are too low or too high, clinical depression can set in. For weeks or even months, we have cognitive issues: We simply don’t remember things. Diet is important.
The four dimensions of grief overlap. We cannot approach a single part of our grief in isolation from the others. I have blogged frequently about different aspects of grief, and last week I wrote about my spiritual struggles in a blog titled Wanted: A Church to Call Home. Next week: “We Are All Bereaved” and the following week, “Ready to Party?”
With medical advances and the growing evidence that much of what we have thought of as “emotional” or “will power” or “character” is neurological. Our behavior and reactions can be explained to a great degree by how our brains are wired. Our physical health affects us psychologically, and mental health issues can make us physically sick.
Don’t make the mistake I made. When we are caregivers—and when we grieve—we need to make a special effort to stay healthy. Start with the obvious: regular physicals; pneumonia, flu and shingles vaccines; healthy diet; physical activity; and adequate rest.
By all means, talk to your doctor about your risk for osteoporosis. Falls are all too common, and hip fractures often lead to permanent disability. I was fortunate. When I turned 40, my OB-GYN ordered my first bone density test, explaining that I had every risk factor for osteoporosis. He started me on a routine of preventative medicines, calcium supplements and weight-bearing exercise, which continues with only minor modifications today. I am celebrating 36 years of osteopenia!
Three articles with good advice about taking care of ourselves as we age:
Lev died in 2009, and I did not start taking my health and fitness seriously until 2015. About the same time I started blogging, I started dieting; and I have blogged occasionally on health, fitness and diet:
What’s your experience in maintaining health and fitness in times of stress, anxiety, depression?
Ella’s memoir, RECLAIMING JOY, is scheduled for publication in 2018 by the Baylor University Press.