Living With Polio
More Worry as I Age
From the series, Polio Survivors Ask, by Nancy Baldwin Carter, B.A, M.Ed.Psych, from Omaha, Nebraska, is a polio survivor, a writer, and is founder and former director of Nebraska Polio Survivors Association.
Q: The older I get, the older my friends and families are, and it seems that they have one illness after another. Then there are the kids and grandkids, all with their hectic lives. I worry about them; I worry about the state of the world; I worry about the cost of things; I worry about my money lasting.
All this worrying can’t be good for me. Do you have any suggestions that are practical and realistic?
A. It’s a bit of a double whammy to be worrying about worrying, isn’t it. Our imaginations go berserk. Our fear directs us to limitless apprehension. We lose all perspective. And if anyone doesn’t believe this is bad for our health, Google “illness caused by worry,” and that astounding list should erase all doubt quickly.
So the question becomes what to do about all this stress.
Charlie Brown had a solid idea. Remember the cartoon where he declares he has come up with a new philosophy—from then on he’s only going to dread one day at a time? That’s our Charlie. He’s right about “one day at a time,” though.
I think I get it. These are the facts: I have only right now, today, this minute. I am never going to reach tomorrow, no matter how much I fuss and fume. Furthermore, I will never know what to expect or be able to manipulate all of life’s circumstances to my satisfaction. If what I want is power over everybody and everything, I’m screwed. I’m just not capable of changing other people to make them do what I want. But there is a solution—and here’s the truly big deal—I can change me.
Once I understood this, I found I could be in charge of my attitude and create joy where worry once resided. It’s a decision I make. I can use my energy for positive ventures rather than for anxiety. I can phone people who are sick and tell them I’m thinking of them. I can allow others to determine how they want to live, understand that their frantic lifestyles are their business, not mine, and never criticize or judge them for the choices they make. I can budget my finances, not spend foolishly, and trust I’m doing the best I possibly can. Any of this is an antidote to worry.
When I was a kid my mother taped a little magazine clipping to the mirror above the bathroom sink. On it was written “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”* I read it over and over.
It puzzled me at first. I thought I was supposed to be able to change everything, that I was somehow a failure if I couldn’t make wrong right or bad better (or at least my version of these conditions). I was too young to understand that there are things I merely have to accept as they are. I had to learn how to do my part, how to distinguish what I can change (mostly me) from what I cannot (mostly you) so I don’t drive myself and everyone around me nuts.
Here’s what I discovered: Fretting today is not going to lessen any hardship that may lie ahead. This only adds a day of unpleasantness to my life. That’s not what I’m looking for.
What I do want is peace. Without a doubt, I’ll continue to be faced by challenges. But I have every faith I’ll be able to handle whatever comes along. That’s part of the bargain.
*Serenity Prayer, widely attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr
Source: Post-Polio Health International (www.post-polio.org)