I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Leaving languishing behind

Sitting in the feathered seat

Earlier this month, I went with the Senior Trailblazers on a long-ish hike (nine miles and plenty of elevation gain and loss), and when we reached our lunch spot, this wonderful carved seat awaited us. I am sitting in the eagle spot, with two carved ravens on my shoulders. It's a beautiful thing to see, and I was more than happy to sit down and enjoy my lunch with friends before heading back.

This day was the beginning of a bit of a slide into a state that I have learned is labeled as "languishing." Not depressed exactly, but also not in a happy place, either. The other day I listened to a podcast on Hidden Brain about "Why You Feel Empty." It's all about a book written by Corey Keyes, a sociologist at Emory University, on what languishing and flourishing are all about. The full title of the book is "Languishing: How to Feel Alive Again in a World that Wears Us Down." It sure made sense to me when I listened to the podcast. I will order the audio version of the book, once I've finished watching the TED talk that Corey gave earlier this year. It's all available at this website, which I hope works for you, from Penguin Random House, his publisher.

I think the beginning of slipping into this mental state started when I turned eighty. It's a landmark I never actually felt I would reach, since neither of my parents lived anywhere that long, and heart disease is rampant in my family's history. Of course, I was blessed to have been given statins long ago, and I've managed with them, along with diet and exercise, to keep it in check. But I never dreamed about the one health issue I had not given much thought to: going blind. Although I've been dealing with AMD (age-related macular degeneration) for years, it never really bothered me until I lost the central vision in my right eye. I am now legally blind in that eye, but a new treatment has emerged in the past year to slow the progression of the disease. I have now received one injection into each of my eyes, and if all goes well, the left eye will not become blind in the same manner. Or at least not as soon as it would if I didn't get these injections. Nothing can be done to bring back what I've lost, but I am hoping that in seven weeks, when I see the doctor again, there will be signs that it's slowed and he'll give me another left eye jab.

As I've written in here before, it has brought a major change in my life. I am so accustomed to reading and writing that it became hard to imagine that life might still be worth living if I become unable to continue pursuits that feel central to my sense of self. No more blogging, no reading the news, no connecting with my virtual family, so much gone. That began to wear on me, and I fell into a state of languishing. What good would I be to the world? To myself? What would be the point of an octogenarian writer who has become blind?

And then I discovered that there are ways to overcome almost every single one of my concerns, maybe not having things the same, but there is a real challenge here, one I think I can use to my advantage. In his book, Corey lists some things that people who are languishing can do; he calls them "The Five Vitamins of Flourishing."

Vitamin 1: Following your curiosity to learn something new. Well, learning to post a blog without being able to do it directly can be accomplished in several ways. Before the end of this year, I hope to have learned enough to submit at least one Sunday morning post using other methods than typing on my laptop.

Vitamin 2: Build warm and trusting relationships. I already have a fairly good beginning here, since my partner and I have a thirty-year head start on this one. I also have other meaningful relationships filled with mutual trust. Some are fairly new, but others are of long standing. I will work on finding others as needed,

Vitamin 3: Move closer to the sacred, the divine, and the infinite. This vitamin comes rather naturally to me. I have begun a morning meditation practice, now going into a third year, and I will continue to study Buddhist philosophy to augment what I already know, and will remember the wonderful lessons I have learned from Christianity. All sacred texts bring the same message.

Vitamin 4: Have and live your purpose. This one needs some work, since having been retired and no longer being part of any organization that requires my presence, I have become disengaged in ways that can be solved by becoming a volunteer in something that appeals to me. I was a volunteer for more than five years helping people to write their Advance Directive for End-of-Life care. I need to find something else like that.

Vitamin 5: Play! Make time for activities where you enjoy the process, not the outcome. Doesn't that sound like fun? I enjoy Wordle (although I sure want to find the word of the day) and Connections, a game on the New York Times website that gives me lots of pleasure to play. I wonder if these games can be translated into something that a blind person can do, and play. I'll find out. If not, there are others that can serve the same purpose.

So now you know my current situation as well as I do. If you have any ideas of how I might continue to flourish as I navigate another one of life's many dramas, I am certainly willing to listen and ponder how I might move into a more positive frame of mind. Many of us who make it to this age must have come up with some solutions that I haven't thought of quite yet. We octogenarians are resourceful, after all, or we wouldn't have gotten this far, right?

And today is Father's Day here in the US. I'm not sure whether it is observed in other countries, but I have so many memories of my dad that still live in my heart and mind. He died in 1979, so long ago at the age of 62. He was a good father, and when I think of his presence, I remember that he was the one who would get up early and send my sister and me off to school, often with a lunch that he prepared. He was an early riser, like me, while my mother slept in after going to bed much later than he. Daddy was often the one who would wash our hair in the kitchen sink, comb it out, and make us presentable before we caught the bus to school.
If there is any immortality to be had among us human beings, it is certainly only in the love that we leave behind. Fathers like mine don't ever die. —Leo Buscaglia
I will always have memories of my parents, as long as I live. And I was tremendously blessed to have had them raise me to adulthood. Now I am feeling the love for all human beings, and grateful that I had such a good start in life. And with that, I will sign off for today and look forward to another wonderful day where I can still see the sun shine. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, dear friends.


gigi-hawaii said...

In some ways, this is such a sad post. But, there is still hope for the future. You can listen to audio books or even learn Braille. As for blogging, can't you dictate your story to someone, who can then publish your entry on your blog?

Linda Reeder said...

Change happens. While we may not want to embrace it, we do have to deal with it. I am experiencing that too, and "languishing" just might describe what I am experiencing, as getting around gets harder.
I am reminding myself that I can still do things that might be harder but still possible. I hosted a Father's Day dinner party for family on Friday, with Tom's help, of course. The success of that made me feel satisfied and pleased with myself. Yesterday I used a stand up scissors to edge the whole back yard lawn. Yay me. Today we will visit a nearby garden and then hopefully go for a walk somewhere. There will be more yard puttering. Next Saturday I am actually going to a Sounders game at the stadium, since no one else is available to go with Tom. I will wear my big serious looking knee brace, have my stick, and Tom's arm when needed, and people will give me space. I will accomplish this without being knocked over. I am determined.
You will keep "seeing" any way you can, and I will keep moving.

Anvilcloud said...

That's a good post, and you seem to be on as good a track as you can be. Father's and Mother's Days are the same in Canada as the USA. I just looked it up. Many countries celebrate on this day although some countries choose other days.

Rian said...

I agree that this was a great post, DJan. I listened to the Hidden Brain podcast about languishing vs flourishing... and enjoyed it very much. I don't ever experience depression, but have on occasion felt this 'languishing' like 'drifting... waiting'. At these times I try to give myself little goals (things to accomplish that day) or connect with a friend (usually by text). But I think I will continue to listen to these podcasts. I've never done podcasts before, but I know my grandson does. He can help me.
I do know that 'people' are more important to me in my old age... not that they weren't important before... but more so now. And I'm aware how very lucky I am to still have DH as well as my kids and grandkids as support... and my friends (both physical and online). Thank you for this post, DJan. You may not realize it, but you are a great inspiration to many. Take care. I pray every day that your eye treatment is effective and all will be well.

Rita said...

When your body changes on you and, therefore, your life changes on you and becomes more limiting than it was...well, it is a HUGE adjustment. Would be weird if you didn't languish a while. But we can either adapt and learn new ways to approach daily life or...well, there is no other choice other than to give up and become despondent. Many people choose the latter. I can't imagine you doing that and I am glad to hear you are being proactive. I would hope and pray I would choose the same route. (I know deaf, blind, and unable to walk are in the family genes.) We live in an age that offers so many more new options and avenues available to us. You are an inspiration! *love and hugs*

Elephant's Child said...

Curiosity keeps me going. Some of the other points in this wise post need work from me though. A lot of work.
And my addiction to beauty is a huge help. Not just the beauty I see, but the beauty of kindness, of the scent of fresh air, of cool breezes, of bird song...
Much love dear friend - and I cannot see your determination allowing you to languish for long. Hugs.

Marie Smith said...

It sounds like you have come through this dark period, Jan. I love how you worked through this time in your life. Looking at what we can do to prepare for a possibility gives us purpose and direction. Blessing, dear Jan.

Red said...

Aging can certainly bring us the blues. Lots of our medications bring the blues. so we get the blues and don't know what's bringing them. There are natural issues that bring the blues to elders as in your case a lessening of eyesight. You have to recognize you have the blues before you can do something about the situation. You recognize the blues so you can do something about them.

John's Island said...

After reading the earlier comments, I think it's safe to say that you have some loyal followers. When I first started following you, over a decade ago, I wondered what you meant by Eye on the Edge. Over the years, I've come to believe that you do a wonderful job of covering that upper edge of life and all that's involved in aging. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate The Five Vitamins of Flourishing. I'm going to print that part of your post and keep it here on my desk to refer to from time to time. Keeping my fingers crossed for you and SG. John

Far Side of Fifty said...

Have you thought about learning to read braille while you can still see? I am reading All the light we cannot see right now and the little gal reads with her fingers. So I thought of you!
Languishing...some times I think we have to languish...I prefer to think of it as treading water...doing just enough to not drown.
I also think a person has to grieve certain life events...deaths...changes in health...denial, anger, resentment all before acceptance. Sometimes you have to tread water between stages of grief.
One day at time! Do what you can do today as we are not promised tomorrow.
I am headed out to a funeral soon for my Uncle whose goal was to reach 80 years old...he was about 40 days short.

Linda Myers said...

I had a mild virus last week and did some languishing myself. I see myself as mobile and energetic but that's no longer an accurate description, at least physically. I'm almost ready to give up on the idea of "I'll do my PT faithfully and I will be restored to where I was ten years ago." Fortunately, my mind is still active and interested. Still, this aging thing is not fun.