The Mind-Body Image Discrepancy

I am steadily improving after my knee surgery this week. I shifted from crutches to a cane and anticipate soon being able to walk on my own. Yesterday, I ventured out of the house for the first time to go grocery shopping with my husband. I felt proud to be able to walk up and down the aisles and even carry one object at a time to place in the cart. The looks or avoidance I got from my fellow shoppers, however, made me very aware of the discrepancy between how we look to others and how we feel.

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Out for a brief stroll on a beautiful day!

To people who don’t know me and understand that this is only a temporary setback, I must look like the victim of a car accident and may even be permanently handicapped. To my family and friends, I am a brave, resilient woman making an amazing recovery from an injury that started four months ago. Most of the time, though, it doesn’t take anything remarkable to cause this mind-body discrepancy, just age. Therefore, I would like to share this short tribute to a special person whom I only knew as an old man, but who obviously saw himself much differently.

When I first met Harry, he was already approaching the ripe old age of 90. He didn’t move as quickly as his grandsons, but his mind was still sharp and he played a good game of chess. I was invited to go camping with “the boys” that summer.

The Boys

The Boys


We spent six days paddling down river, setting up tents, fishing and swimming and Grandpa Harry certainly pulled his share of the work. Looking back, I feel extremely privileged to have been part of that guy-bonding trip.

By the time my daughter, his first great-grandchild, was born, Harry was no longer up for that level of activity; but that didn’t stop him from gardening and getting down to her level to teach her what he knew.

Gardening lesson

Gardening lesson

He still loved to fish and wore his favorite hat, although he now needed a cane to climb in and out of the boat. Even though his body weakened, he enjoyed life to the end. Sadly, he passed away before either of my children could form coherent memories of him.

Years later, in an effort to downsize (see saving family heirlooms ) , my mother-in-law, Harry’s daughter, passed on his fishing hat and cane to my children -sad but meaningful tokens to them.

Four generations

Four generations

In spite of the fact that my son never met Grandpa Harry, he always knows it is his cane. The other day, he came home from school to see me walking and his face lit up as he proclaimed:”You’re using Grandpa Harry’s cane, mom! He would like that!”

It amazes me how a cane, which Harry only used for a few of his 94 years, has served as a bridge between him and his great grandson. Even though it is a symbol of weakness and old age- certainly not how he saw himself until the very end- it has become a way to keep Harry’s memory alive at whatever age we knew him. So, as I walk with the aid of his cane I think of him and smile. Some people might see me as weak, but they don’t know the strength of the spirit behind this cane.

Time for the middle generation

Similarly to many of you, I spend my days and weeks and months doing things for others. Whether it is driving my children to activities, visiting an elderly friend or transporting her to an appointment, or just routine errands to keep the family organized – I have to make an effort to do something for myself, the middle generation.
I usually am able to carveout some personal time each week to destress with my yoga class. Either a hair cut or pedicure happens every other month- although it lessens my guilt factor if I think of it as necessary maintenance instead of an indulgence.
Eventually though, maintenance doesn’t work and things do break down. I recently replaced my old couch with a shiny new one. I sent my wool carpet for a professional cleaning and I hired an upholstery shop to recover my torn cushions. In the midst of all this home maintenance, I realized I better follow the instructions of the airlines: “put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.”
You see, all this time I have been suffering from what I assumed was a pulled muscle on the inside of my knee. I figured if I didn’t push myself too hard, it would heal on its own. Well, four months later and the regret of having missed opportunities to play tennis with my husband, take a boot camp class with my sisters, or hike down to a waterfall with my daughter finally convinced me to take care of it.
The orthopedist determined I had a torn meniscus. After so much time, he felt that arthoscopic surgery was my best option. Because I had done some research, as well as spoken to family members who had had the procedure, I decided to schedule the operation.
Of course, that meant I spent the days leading up to it stocking groceries, doing loads of laundry and rescheduling lessons or carpool arrangements so that I could be “off duty” for several days.
But here I am, sitting on the couch, not worrying about cleaning up dishes or making dinner or picking anyone up from school because this is my time to be cared for. My husband set me up with a carafe of coffee and my ice packs before he left for work, members of my family from across the US have called or emailed to check on my progress (besides, they probably see this as a great chance to catch up since I won’t be running off anywhere anytime soon) and my kids have offered to bring me drinks or snacks or help with the driving while I am out of commission.
So as much as I enjoy my independence and being able to help others, I am glad I have put myself first and allowed myself to ask for help. Thankfully it should only be a few days, but I have to remember I deserve this special treatment and enjoy it while it lasts.