Learning not to give in

We give in too often. Whether it is to an injury, disease, age, or loneliness, the affliction overwhelms our potential. In such cases, the Latin expression Illigitimi non carborundum, “Don’t let the bastards get you down,” applies to all.

Injury is an opportunity to rehab yourself back to a place better than you were before you were hurt. I use this expression 20 times a day with patients, designing a unique path for each one. The idea is not just to overcome their specific injury, but to change their life by treating themselves the way a professional athlete would. The patients that learn how to train around their injury, keep up daily exercise, hire trainers, use physical therapists, consult nutritionists, carve out time to work on their bodies and have professionals work on their injured parts return to their lives fitter, faster and stronger than before. I know that I have contributed to these peoples’ lives for a lifetime. They have learned not to give in.

Diseases are the same and different in various ways. Some are transient, some debilitating, and some permanent. The psychology of the disease response is often more complicated and sometimes includes accepting lifelong disabilities. Confronting one’s own mortality often comes as a surprise. While at times the remedy for a disease can be the same as that for a specific injury, at other times the response requires a restructuring of daily activities and expectations. Setting new goals is part of the solution while working to defy the odds is another. Willing yourself back to health marshals one’s internal systems that no amount of training can provide.

Aging gracefully is an art form. While country star Toby Keith’s “not letting the old man in” phrase from “The Mule” is part of the picture, holding on to a child’s sense of wonder and curiosity may be equally important. Giving in to aging is often associated with quitting early: resting when you might be active, riding when you could be walking, letting others do for you what you can do for yourself. But it is also a process of losing vigor, determination, drive, and lust. The testosterone, adrenaline, and pheromones associated an active life are somehow withdrawn from the aged, just when they would appreciate them the most.

Loneliness is the accumulation of all these internal processes and behaviors—places where we are succumbing to our perceived fates. We are lonely when we succumb to events and infirmities that seem outside of our control.

While being satisfied that our eyes open again in the morning is wonderful, being aggressive about pushing the envelope of activities and sensory inputs is exciting, too. Giving these activities up leads to decrepitude. We are aged and alone when we leave our senses behind and let the bastards get us down.

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