Don’t be a sponge

loki couch

Loki the dog is great at getting stuck in couch potato mode.

In my work as a freelance writer and editor, I’m currently engaged in a project designed to help unpaid caregivers find more time for themselves and make it easier to do the extra work they do in caring for a loved one. Free time is valuable and hard to come by for so many of us, but for working caregivers who deal with concerns for their loved ones while at work and then again when the return home,  it’s an even more fleeting thing.

As I recently reviewed caregiver news online, I stumbled across this article in Stria, “a media platform for the longevity market.” The piece explores data that shows how interdependence develops between older married/partnered couples. It was interesting to me from a working perspective; maybe it’s something I can do some more research on and write about later, I thought. But as I read, the findings struck me as something that’s applicable to me, now.

“We all know couples that are joined-at-the-hip couch potatoes, enjoying nothing more than streaming a hit show while sharing a loaded pizza,” writes author Kevyn Burger. “Equally familiar are the couples who regularly hit the gym together, then treat themselves by splitting a post-workout protein shake.”

I cringed a bit when I read that.

My TV-loving partner is not responsible for my decisions to sit with him and get sucked onto something terrible like Younger or 9-1-1, and yet…I find myself doing this more often than I’d like over the winter. I could be reading, working out or visiting a friend. Instead… I’m couch-potatoing it. I’ve been mad at myself for doing this in the past, but when I read this article and gained confirmation that negative behaviors like this can have a particular bad psychological effect  as one ages (not to mention the extra physical effects of weight gain, in my case) I felt called to action.

The article notes that researchers are finding that this sponge-like tendency can lead to chronic issues in the future, and cites Courtney Polenick, assistant professor of psychiatry and faculty associate at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

“We need to look at the broader picture and gather information about what each person is managing and also what couples jointly manage,” she is quoted as saying. “This study looks at the impact of chronic conditions across a long time frame. We need additional research about how spouses interact to help one another and how couples jointly manage multiple chronic conditions at a daily level.”

Winter is almost over, I hope, and at the very least we have longer days now. When the dogs, the couch, the blankets and the TV beckon, I’ve been working hard to remind myself that there are other things I could be doing to more purposefully engage my brain and my body.  I have yet to use that time for the treadmill, but I am making my way though a few physical books — and I’ve been writing more!

What are you doing to stay healthy, independent and still connected to your partner?

 

Leaving Thailand

It has taken me two years, but earlier this week, I was finally able to leave Thailand. I found myself  able to think of the papaya,  the fresh seafood and the majesty of the country without feeling eagerness and longing for all that the country represented.  It was 4  a.m. on the first day of summer, and for the first time  that I can remember, I felt like Thailand was just as common a memory as any trip to Nebraska or Colombia. A grand adventure, but a distant one.

I remember the long bus trip– eight hours– from Ko Samui to Bangkok, and the long wait at the US Embassy and then the Thai consulate; I remember the long waits at the airport before I got a new passport and arrived home.  The time spent in between losing my passport, getting a new one and getting back to Chicago felt enormous  while I was caught in it, but I had no idea then that it would take me two years to separate myself from the beauty and disaster that was my past and would be my future if I were to spend it with  Kyle.

There  will probably always be moments in my life when I escape to my memories and find myself sweating, swearing and climbing uphill on our trek through the north country. Or rafting down a river. Or sleeping under the stars, Kyle under my arm.  That’s life, I think. We go back to the good times, even the bad because they are familiar. But the trick is to  keep moving forward.

For the longest time I couldn’t imaging giving up my thoughts of Thailand. Forget the shitty chicken balls that I almost died on after pulling a half-chewed feather from my mouth?  Or the opulence of the temples? Or the craziness of the Red Light District and the Thai mafia? 
No, I can’t forget these things. They mean something! I would think to myself. Now  I know that each of these things while beautiful and charming, each of these things were just stand-ins for what I really wanted. I wanted the beauty and charm and amazement of this life in my every day living. I wanted to have it all– our relationship included.

But that trip for all its amazement was not without self-inflicted disaster. I knew it then like I know it now, but today I finally know it with a stronger sense of conviction.  It’s not that I can’t handle the chaos and the bumps and the sense of baffled wonder (which is unlike grace-inspired wonder) that I was exposed to on that trip, because I can. I enjoy a certain amount of it. But I have learned to think more seriously about my future and what it is I am doing in this moment. And with that comes a sense of understanding.  Understanding that reminds me that  very little in life in in my control, but what I can control, such as my own actions,  is worth it. 

The last time I spent the night with Kyle he told me that he dreamt we were going to  “make babies,” but I added a bunch of stipulations,  specifically that he could no longer do drugs.  First, I thought, ahh, resistance to giving up drugs. That’s a problem now, so it would be a bigger one with a new lifestyle.  I don’t want to have to deal with that- I want my partner to make his own choices becuase he wants to.

Then I thought, oh the occasional joint would be fine, as long as it wasn’t around the children.  

 And then I thought aak! babies! At the heart of my anxiety at his dream, however, was that he would leave, be irresponsible, bind me to another potentially challenging decision.  Well, since I have the power to make a decision now that will prevent his dream from becoming my reality, I guess I’m acting on it.  I can deal with chaos and unpredictability fine on my own, but… not with a child.   And I shouldn’t have to deal with that kind of irresponsibility when I’m trying to move forward with my career and my goals.

So in the end, I  left Thailand tucked behind another whole shelf of memories. And  I’m not sure what you call visions of the future that you leave behind, but I’m working on letting go of these things too.  I left Thailand because as much as I can feel happy about that trip and how it ended now, that’s not the lifestyle I want for my future. Even without children.  And with or without Kyle.