Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Health Obsession Spiral

This blog is written by Lee Gale Gruen to help Baby Boomers and seniors find joy, excitement, and satisfaction in their lives after retirement whether from a job, career, parenting, etc. Her public lectures on this subject are titled, “Reinventing Yourself in Your Senior Years.” Her memoir, available on Amazon.com, is: Adventures with Dad: A Father and Daughter’s Journey Through a Senior Acting Class (Website:  AdventuresWithDadTheBook.com)

Obsessing about IllnessAre you obsessed about your health or that of someone else such as your child, spouse, parent, etc? Do you always manage to work it into the conversation?  People spend so much time focusing on health issues: thinking about them, reading about them, discussing them, going to doctors, taking medicine, getting treatments, and on and on.

I’m not saying people don’t have legitimate conditions and concerns. Sometimes health issues totally interrupt our lives. I’m talking about becoming obsessive about it—making it into your whole life.

I don’t want to use the H word (that’s hypochondriac to you), but some people are or come pretty close. Maybe they learned that behavior as children from some influential adult in their lives who behaved that way.  Or, maybe they found that they got a lot of sympathy and attention when they had ailments, and now it has just become a lifestyle without their realizing it. Those who obsess about the health of another may get attention onto themselves that way, too (shades of Munchausen by Proxy?).

People who engage in this obsessive behavior seem to think that subject is also fascinating to others. One day, as she waxed on about her husband’s latest health issue, a friend started discussing his bowel movements. “Okay, stop right there,” I screamed. That snapped her back to the moment. She hadn’t even realized how inappropriate her discussion had become, and that most people are simply not interested in hearing about other people’s elimination patterns.

It always amazes me how often sickly people rally when there’s something fun or interesting to do. They manage to get themselves dressed and to an event, and don’t seem to think about their health issues until the event is over.

The constant discussion of health issues weighs on me, whether my own or the health of others. Does it on you? Or, are you the one who discusses it ad nauseum, totally ignoring those raised eyebrows or glazed looks in the eyes of anyone within the sound of your voice?

When I was a young mother, much of my conversation centered around my children including their health issues. I’d discuss with other mothers things like pediatricians, shots, typical childhood illnesses, etc. It often got to be a subtle pissing contest of “my pediatrician is better than your pediatrician.” I learned then that those types of discussions become tiresome, to me anyway. As people get older, many focus more on their own health, and play a version of “my health problems are worse than your health problems.” Another popular game is “my therapist said” as I get often from a relative who uses it as her weapon of choice to beat any opponent into submission.  Therapy can be very beneficial.  However, used in that manner, it is counterproductive.

Then there’s the crowd that focuses on the health of their pets.  I was at a luncheon recently, and some of the women there lapsed into discussing the size and consistency of their dogs’ poop. Although I love dogs and all animals for that matter, there are some issues about them I’m not interested in discussing.

In her final years, my mother’s only focus became her declining health. It was all she wanted to talk about, and she’d get angry if we didn’t want to discuss it constantly. On the other hand, there was my friend, Priscilla. She refused to give in to her cancer; she rarely discussed it. Four months before she died, I went on a trip to Alaska with her and another friend. Yes, Priscilla had to rest more than we did. Yes, she was sometimes quiet. However, she participated in activities to the best of her ability and got real joy from the beauty around her. I have another friend with serious Parkinson’s disease. She calls me to give me book recommendations. When I ask her how she is, her answer is usually, “fine.”

When my dog and I were a pet therapy team visiting patients at a local hospital, the patients usually perked up when we came in and forgot about their health issues for the five or ten minutes we were there. The diversion took their minds off their conditions. If you have health issues, you don’t have to moan and dump on others as a regular practice. You can create your own diversionary activities and make yourself into someone people want to visit and be with rather than avoid.

I’m not implying that health issues aren’t important nor advocating ignoring them. What I’m saying is that there must be something else of value in life than just that. Certainly talk about your health briefly from time to time, but be sensitive to whether others want to hear long, detailed discussions about it. Consider the reverse: are you really interested in a constant diet of hearing that type of information from them?

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Filed under Baby boomers, gerontology, longevity, retirement, seniors, wellness

Being a Good Listener

This blog is written by Lee Gale Gruen to help Baby Boomers and seniors find joy, excitement, and satisfaction in their lives after retirement from a job, career, parenting, etc. Her public lectures on this subject are entitled, “Reinventing Yourself in Your Senior Years.” Her memoir, available on Amazon.com, is: Adventures with Dad: A Father and Daughter’s Journey Through a Senior Acting Class (Click here for website link: http://AdventuresWithDadTheBook.com)

NEWS: The interview I announced on my last blog has been temporarily postponed.  I’ll post it again when it’s rescheduled.

Now, on to my blog:

EarAre we all buzzing around on send-mode but rarely on receive-mode?  My forty-four-year-old son taught me this distinction. One time, when he was upset about something and was telling me about it, I immediately segued into my problem solving role. He became irritated and defensive.  “Mom, I don’t want you to fix it. I just want you to listen.”

I’m definitely a problem solver–the “fix-it” type.  Are you that type?  Do you find that when you’re just trying to help someone with your sage advice, worldly wisdom, or unsolicited opinion, they become defensive and suddenly dump all their anger on you?  Maybe they don’t want your advice, wisdom, or opinion.  Maybe they just need to rant.

Learning to be a good listener is an art.  That’s why counselors, therapists, life-coaches, etc. get paid the big bucks.  They have mastered the art of just listening with an occasional “oh,” or “uh-huh,” or “I see.”

Occasionally, we all need a sounding board.  There isn’t necessarily a solution to what we’re upset about.  We just want to verbalize it.  Somehow, doing so to the wall or a chair just doesn’t cut it.  Why an inert human being hearing our angry commentary seems so comforting is a mystery.  Maybe it just makes us feel valid that another sentient being, preferably a human one, cares enough to spend time with us and just listen.

Now, when my son discusses something that is bothering him and I slip into fix-it mode, I try hard to remember to ask, “do you want my input, or do you just want me to be a good listener?” I don’t always catch myself and am still a work-in-progress, but when I do, it has avoided so many arguments, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings. I show that I’m being supportive, that I respect him for being able to handle it himself, and that I’m not being intrusive.

Try it, even if you have to put a piece of tape over your mouth while you’re doing so.  It may save a lot of friction in your relationships.

Please pass my blog along to anyone else who might be interested and post it on your Facebook, Twitter and other social media. If you want to be automatically notified when I post a new blog, click on the “Follow” button in the upper right corner of this page and fill in the information. To read my other blog posts, scroll down on this page or click on “Recent Posts” or “Archives” under the Follow button.

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Filed under active seniors, Baby boomers, healthy aging, longevity, older adults, reinvention, retirement, second acts, seniors