It’s official. I’m now in my seventh decade. Last Friday was my birthday, the big 6-0.
I’ve actually been looking forward to this milestone. First of all, 60 doesn’t seem nearly as old as it once did. Funny how that works—when you finally get here, the view is longer, deeper, more nuanced, not the caricature of feebleness that I envisioned when I was young. (Of course, my twenty-something daughters have had a field day, teasing me about senior moments. Mostly, I’ve laughed.)
Second of all, 60 feels like an accomplishment. I’ve been living with scleroderma for more than half my years, now. It is certainly wearing, exhausting and painful at times, frustrating, angering to feel gradually more limited in how much I can do with my hands or accomplish in a day. Each year brings new medical challenges.
But I’ve beat the odds on longevity and developed strong coping skills and plenty of resilience. I may have achieved this, anyway, with age, but I believe this complex disease has also taught me a lot about patience and persistence that I might not have learned otherwise. For a 60-year-old with scleroderma, I’m doing damn well, thank you very much, and I intend to do my best to keep it that way, whatever this disease throws my way.
So, I was looking forward to a celebratory day off on Friday, devoted to art—my own fiction writing and a trip to the Worcester Art Museum.
My body, however, had other ideas. Thursday afternoon, on my way home from a routine check-up with my Boston Medical rheumatologist, my joints began aching and I was flashing hot and cold in the car. My stomach had been irritated all day, from, I assumed, too much matzo for Passover.
I ascribed the joint pain to skipping my Ibuprofen due to the irritated stomach. After a light meal, I felt a bit better. That is, until evening, when I was dozing on the couch and suddenly felt like I was going to pass out. Thankfully, Al was home to help.
And that is why I spent my birthday flat on my back, sipping only water, trying to let my GI tract heal from what was by then, obviously, a virus. This was not the day I had planned.
I was determined, however, not to let a most unwelcome stomach virus ruin everything. So I wrote on my laptop and finished revising a short story that had been languishing for more than a year. That, plus greetings and gifts from family and friends, two beautiful hydrangeas that Al had brought home the night before and a cuddly stuffed turtle that he gave me that evening (nothing like being babied when you’re feeling crummy) helped to salvage the day.
I’m writing on Sunday, sitting at my desk again, able to eat very bland foods, looking forward to joining a group of good friends for dinner tonight as we begin the last two days of the Passover holiday. The art museum is closed for Easter Sunday, so I’ll postpone that visit a bit longer, keep it as something to look forward to. In May, Al and I will celebrate my birthday with a weekend in Manhattan.
Much as I wish it had all gone differently, somehow, it seems, this is what 60 is all about—taking the imperfections in stride, making the most of each day, whatever your state of health, appreciating the love of family and friends. And, for me, making art. Time to get over the fear-of-rejection hurdle and start sending out those short stories for publication.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.