Life Reflections this Week

For those who follow me regularly, you might have seen me miss a week posting.  I was on a visit with my 88-year-old mom, which took up a lot of my mind-space.  It was a lovely visit, but it also offered a couple of moments of deep reflection.

Isolation in so many ways

I’ve become even more aware of why I am pushing so hard to have a “tribe”.  Visiting with my mom this week has heightened my understanding of social isolation and increased my fear of that being in my future. But her isolation is more than not having a tribe of people and I’ve realized isolation can be more than the physical environment. 

I think I’ve always known it, but it was an even more pronounced awareness this week.  My mom (and dad when he was living) never really had a tribe.  They had us, their kids, but not much of an extended biological-family and very limited extended chosen-family either.  Not good nor bad, just how it was. Now, my mom has an extremely limited social network, which COVID has reduced even more. With no kids, I’m very aware of my need for an extended chosen-family in my life.

Cognitive decline has erased so many of my mom’s memories.  When you can no longer reminisce and re-savor your experiences, it adds to the feeling of isolation. She struggles with short-term memory as well, so learning a new skill like using a TV Fire-stick is impossible, compounding the isolation.

And her hearing is greatly impaired (and no, she will not get hearing aids), and so her engagement when there are others around is again limited as she often can’t hear what’s being talked about.  Lip reading becomes impossible with mask wearing! Sound isolation is one I will make sure I avoid; I got my first baseline-hearing test this year. And, I’m happy that hubby is getting hearing aids to avoid this future issue.

All the research agrees that social isolation is a significant negative factor in healthy longevity. So I will continue to work on creating my tribe.  I will also get into “muscle memory” how to use the TV!  Yes, I’m incompetent there as I rarely watch it but really do need that skill before I can’t learn a new skill.

What are you doing now to avoid isolation in the future?

Low-Level Anxiety

While I am no longer dealing with the high level stress of working, I’ve realized I do have a great deal of low-level anxiety.  One probably unique to me is the fear of someone close to me dying suddenly.  You might be reacting, “What?!”  This is a holdover from being with my dad in his last days and wondering if every breath was his last.  I realize I feel that fear when my hubby is napping/sleeping … is he still breathing?  I definitely felt it with my mom repeatedly this past week, and noticed I also feel that fear every time I call and she doesn’t answer the phone.

And then there is COVID-anxiety (am I doing the right/wrong things to stay safe?), non-belonging anxiety (will I be alone and isolated?), and even expectations-anxiety (am I meeting others expectations? – yes, I’m trying to eliminate this one but it’s still there!)  The current social expectation I am feeling is travel planning – everyone seems to be back to flying here and there.  My inner voice keeps pushing me to make travel plans (it makes me think of the song “Let’s Do It”, everybody else is doing it!) and then my COVID-anxiety increases! 

I guess awareness of the sources of anxiety, even low-level, is a helpful first step in alleviating them!

An Apt Metaphor for Life

Driving back from my mom’s house this week, the interstate highway was completely shut down in northern Florida.  I decided to go cross-country back-roads instead of waiting for it to reopen, which ended up being a good idea as the road was completely shut down for 4 hours! However, I was too stressed in not really knowing where I was heading that I failed to appreciate the new area I was driving through.  Yes, much of it was brown, dry scrubland, but there was also majestic live oaks with Spanish moss, small towns with delightful antique stores, and miles of pine trees.   I realized that the afternoon was unfortunately an apt metaphor for my life – so worried about finding the “right” path that I didn’t enjoy where I was at the moment. I was not enjoying the journey!  This has got to change!

So that was my week!  How was yours?

Photo credit: me – the sky this evening!

23 thoughts on “Life Reflections this Week

  1. well Pat, thank you again for a great post with which I could identify. I understand the low level of anxiety and spend times reeling it back in when I sense it.
    My Dad, 97, is in Sydney, living independently but with failing eyesight. The people where he lives care about him. He is sensible and wears a medic alert and he has used in a few times. My brother lives 15 minutes away. I actually have no interest in physically caring for him but we chat once a week and now lockdown is over, I drive 2 hours there and back to have a morning tea with him (I supply) and fill his freezer with home cooked meals from me. I have few friends if any of my age. I now meet up with people I meet via social media if they live in the area and get out and about. We are renting and I ‘hate’ the lack of secure tenure but have to live with it because money is tight.
    I always find so much of interest in your posts and am so glad you link up regularly too.
    Great to catch up with your blog post after linking it to #LifeThisWeek on Denyse Whelan Blogs. Next week, hard to believe, is the 2nd last Monday link up for 2021.
    Hope to see you then! I will be sharing my snaps. Denyse.

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  2. I have a very limited tribe at the moment as well. I have close friends from my school years who I catch up with from time to time and three close friends who still live where I moved from when I made my seachange 9yrs ago.

    I’ve not really found people I really connect with here. I have some friends and we share stuff but it’s more a circumstance thing I think.

    Thankfully I have my mother at the moment but I know that won’t be forever.

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    1. I actually have no close friends from growing up, nor even from my college years. But I have a few women now who are my go-to-talk-to friends – the bare-your-soul close friendships. All are distance now. But I have many friends that are “circumstance friends” and I appreciate them just as much! Maybe one or 2 of them will turn into close friends over time.

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  3. As a full-time remote worker I spend most of my days alone with my dog in my office – I haven’t seen any of my work colleagues since 2019. My tribe is some on-line buddies I spend time with virtually each week. Without them I think I’d be having more anxiety issues than I do.

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    1. I think work-from-home folks develop a whole different set of skills for connecting. As do people who move cities/states/countries regularly. I’ve got none of those skills! But I’m learning to love (and maintain) my virtual connections and learning how to create new connections in a new place. Hopefully these new skills will stay with me as I age.

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  4. Hi Pat, living with my MIL has highlighted this topic in a very personal way. At 92 she defies the Blue Zone logic for living a long and healthy life. What I have long ago labeled ‘existing’ she embraces as contentment. Her life would never work for me and mine seems foreign to her. I think personality has a lot to do with individual joy and contentment and busy or not busy are choices we make within the framework of who we are.

    I have groups like my tennis league, photography club, mahjongg group, book club, and blogger buddies that provide human connection beyond family and close friends. The faces are constantly changing but as long as interactions are satisfying I’ll keep joining. I see this pattern continuing into the next decade, but I know there will have to be adjustments. Hopefully, mind and body will cooperate for years to come.

    I have a post coming out in January titled – Things I Will Do When I Get Old that I think you will enjoy. Thanks for opening up this topic today. Lots to think about.

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    1. I appreciate the comment about the “faces are constantly changing” but the interactions staying satisfying. It lends a very different perspective to having a tribe…. not necessarily a BFF, but a morphing group of like-minded folks. I’m working on that now – garden club and book club are my starts! Blogging buddies have been consistent..and yeah, they have morphed over the years. I look forward to your January post!

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  5. I think you were reading my mail when you wrote this post. I deal with some low-level anxiety and there’s a constant banter in my head. I keep going back to what one fellow said – you’re worrying because you have nothing to worry about. And that’s very true in the moment. My mom is 88 yrs old, living in a lodge setting (housekeeping & meals & personal assistance from home care nursing). She experiences many of the physical declines of aging, like your mom. It’s been an interesting journey. I’m not convinced she’s particularly lonely in her inner world. I think that’s a sentiment that I feel from my perspective. In fact, she often comments on the frequent interruptions from lodge/home care staff. My visits with her often end with her telling me, “You can go now.” Part of the aging process includes a withdrawal from socializing. I attempt to stay in the moment and quell that incessant worry wart in my brain.

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    1. “Quelling the incessant worry wart”… yes! I joke that I was raised to be a worrier and it’s a hard habit to break.

      One of the things that’s been hard for me is my mom has said that she is lonely and bored. But she also would not do anything about it (I’ve suggested things) and now I realize that with her cognitive decline, she really just can’t do them. Covid-isolation just made everything worse. At least she is back to going out every other week to a church gathering, monthly lunch out with the ladies, and regular trips shopping and the library. It’s not much, but it is better than a few months ago!

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  6. I definitely relate to this. I never thought of it as anxiety but I think you’ve nailed it. After what we’ve gone through with my parents, I can’t help but think about my own future and fear it’s affecting my enjoyment of life right now. I know that my dad is always on my mind and it affects the freedom I should have with retirement. He’s lonely but I’ve come to realize we can only do so much to alleviate that. He actually has many friends who call him regularly but he isn’t inclined to reach out to them. Hearing and other physical ailments definitely affect his interest in doing things and like you, I want to try to avoid those same issues. But I’m sure some of it is inevitable. I lived alone for so many years, I don’t worry about being alone.

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    1. For me, seeing the isolation with my mom solidified thinking around my own possible choices in the future. I do not think it’s affecting my joy in the moment. Although I do worry about my mom’s isolation, I live 500 miles away and can only do so much there. [I try and call her multiple times a week, am getting her better cable TV, and have made sure a church friend stops in physically to see her at least twice a week. And If I can think of something else I can do from a distance, I’ll do it!]

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  7. Good topic! I try to keep my mind in the moment and not worry too much about all the things that probably won’t happen. But I hear you about social isolation. I remember my folks in their final years. They lived a long fruitful lives, into their 90s, but they outlived their siblings, and most of their friends, and in the end they were mostly by themselves. My wife and I — my wife is better at it than I am — are trying to keep our friendships vital and thriving, and even trying to make new friends (yes, younger ones!) who will stick with us until the end.

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    1. Tom, I am better at it (making connections) than my hubby as well and that really does worry me. What will happen if I’m not able to do that for him any longer? We have both agreed however that at some point we will seriously consider a retirement community, for the specific reason of having “built in” connections. It’s (hopefully) years away as we are active and able at the moment. But is something we’ve agreed on, so it eases my anxiety!

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  8. Really enjoyed your reflections as I’m beginning a similar journey with my own parents. I appreciate you sharing. And back road treks are the best for creating space and appreciation in an otherwise hectic life!

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  9. Hi Pat – glad you could spend some time with your mum. It’s interesting what you were saying because my husband and I were talking about similar things this morning – I wonder how I’ll be if I outlive him – will I be lonely? Will my kids make any more effort than they do now? Will I leave any kind of legacy? etc. I had to pull myself back and be present in the “now” – overthinking it does nothing to change the future – I can only live the life I’m comfortable with atm – trying to stretch myself too far to accommodate future events is just too much and is counterproductive for me. I guess I’m getting better at the idea of “worry about it when it happens” these days. It’s a tough one if you think about it too much x

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    1. Leanne, I don’t think I’m stressing too much about the future, but it certainly made me aware of choices I might/will have to make in the future…like moving into a retirement community living situation at some point or getting hearing aids (and not being vain or worry about the cost). Or making sure I have skills really imbedded in me – like how to make connections with others, how to use the TV (!). Seeing the outcome of these choices with someone else adds to the pros/cons when I might be making a similar choice.

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  10. Your observation about low-level anxiety hits the mark for many of us. After retirement and leaving a high-stress job, I felt free. Yet, as the years pass, I find myself worrying about all kinds of things that may never happen to me or mine. I’m not sure that many retirees recognize that low-level stress can be a debilitating as the stress that often comes with workplace responsibility.

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    1. I saw the term covid-anxiety recently and it clicked. Even though the impact on me personally has not been as great as many (no job loss, no having to deal with home schooling, no learning how to work from home effectively, no-one i know personally dying, etc.), I do still feel the stress of the pandemic. And then I realized other things stress me, too. I’m hoping awareness of them makes them less debilitating!

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  11. This was interesting to read Pat and a good reflection on your inner feelings, so thank you for being honest and showing your vulnerability through your words. I understand the anxiety and applaud you on taking steps now to learn new skills and looking ahead. All the best and keep writing as bloggers are often our tribe, even though we don’t know them in ‘real life’.

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    1. Deb, I hesitate (big time) every time I write a post like this (very personal, very vulnerable) and then I get such positive feedback from all my blogging buddies… yeah, you are part of my tribe for sure! Thanks for being there in the virtual space with me.

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  12. Excellent post. Yes I do think about this. And it is a good watchout for those that make their kids/grandkids their “life”. Thanks to your blogs, I try to be more proactive about making connections. I’ve used Meet-up to find a knitting/crochet group and used Ravelry (knitters website) to create a knitting group here in North Naples. Sadly I see my Cincinnati knitting group start to dissolve which alerts me to try to attend knitters nights at local yarn shops in the hope of finding new knitting friends. I will be rejoining the Y in the hopes of rekindling some preCovid “friendships”. I’m thankful I’ve been wearing hearing aids for 4 years already so there will be no vanity thing for me about admitting I don’t hear well. Sudden death is real. Sadly a Florida friend is dealing with her husband dying suddenly in Oct after just moving to Naples in August. So glad to be down here now with her but it will be lonely in April when we all head back north.

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    1. Wow. I’m really honored that you’ve related your connecting to my blogging! And glad to see you’ve got a Florida knitting group. I’m starting to feel like I’ve got connections here in Florida… I know it was a rougher start this summer than I had hoped for. Those too-high expectations again! Building the skills to continually make connections is another thing I’m learning from my mom’s situation – she’s lost the few friends she did have – some to end of life, others to moves away. So yeah, having the skills to build new connections is important.

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