Dear Anne: Q: Nora Ephron wrote about how everything changes when you head into your sixties. So a question that is on my mind is how does one deal with poor health, illness, and the bad diagnosis with grace? There must be something between whiny self-absorption and lock-jawed denial, but sometimes it seems hard to identify. Where and how does one locate the humor, wit, limited acceptance, a bit of self-pity but not too much, a sense of realism, courage, and whatever other qualities are in demand at such times? In need of guidance, Alison
Boy, have you lobbed a tough one. I think this is one of the most difficult balancing acts we face. I have a dear friend with whom I’ve vowed that I will not become one of those old people who does nothing but compare notes with her friends about what’s our new illness of
the week. I genuinely think that if we dwell on our deteriorating condition(s) we’ll end up focusing only on the grim and wind up chronically depressed. But beyond that I’m also convinced that even family members find too much detail about one’s personal physical condition b-o-r-i-n-g. No one really cares about anyone else’s travails until one has walked in similar steps. And even then there’s a healthy limit.
That being said, there are definitely times to reach out for help. Good friends do want and need to know when we’re dealing with something big. I’d suggest letting them know and then be specific about what you need or expect from them so that they don’t have to feel the burden of asking each time. You can say, “I promise, I’ll let you know when I need you to do something for me.”
I also think that one of the best ways one can deal with the inevitable health challenges we’re all going to face is to try to find ways to nourish yourself. If you’re able to, walk, dance, sing. Go to afternoon matinees. Get out of the house and surround yourself with people doing good things. Volunteer. We’ve all read the data about how helping other people is the best possible tool for lifting our spirits.
And hold your friends tight.
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