Transitions: Molting

It usually occurs in a semi-annual rhythm, that time when our two pet birds shed old feathers as new ones grow in. We often know when they are in a molting phase because their cage bottoms are decorated with scores of tiny, discarded feathers. I imagine their skins being pricked with the pointy ends of feather shafts as they pierce through that ugly pink covering that hides under their beautiful plumage, pushing out the old feathers like decidious teeth in childhood.
It is usually an uncomfortable time, especially for our cockatiel Sobie. My husband will rub his little yellow head, and if he hits one of these nascent feathers just wrong, Sobie will give a loud shriek, expressing his discomfort. We’ve noticed that he does a lot more preening during these periods, adjusting and readjusting the feather shafts as they grow in, sometimes at awkward angles. His normally-smooth plumage takes on a ratty experiences, as if he was trying out dreadlocks, but later the new feathers open up and become part of the already-colorful landscape of his body.

In some ways, we humans molt also. Not like birds with their feathers, or snakes with their skins. We cast away old hobbies, beliefs, jobs, friends, eating habits. Often we learn to take these transitions in stride, accommodating their presence in our lives, discarding old ways to make room for the new, the way some disciplined people perform spring and fall cleaning in their homes. Sometimes, though, these transitions, while necessary, are not always comfortable, especially if they involve leaving behind something that has become familiar and “safe” in our estimation.

I thought about this as I prepare to begin a new job at a local hospital, something I didn’t think I would ever do again. I have just come through eight-and-a-half years of working as a “homecare” Respiratory Therapist, a very different environment where weekends and holidays are not spent at work (unlike the hospital setting, where weekends and holidays are spent at work). I have left behind home care in order to be home with my husband, contributing to our own community (instead of those communities in other states, where my most recent job took me every week), and taking classes at a local university in order to pursue other passions alongside the Respiratory career I’ve had for over 18 years. It is definitely a transition that I was not expecting to make right now, but God has mysteriously opened up the opportunity for it to begin. Instead of a molt lasting a few weeks, it will last a few years.

But I am excited for the new plumage that awaits at the end of this molt.


Age With Grace (Or Kick It In The Face)

I’ve never been the type to worry about aging.  I marveled at friends who approached their milestone birthdays with fear and trembling.  To me, the adage held true: “you’re as old as you feel“.  I pretty much believed that, going through my days focusing on other issues, thinking that as long as I exercised and ate healthy I would be okay for a very long time.

My confidence partly came from comparing my current self with my 20-something self a decade ago.  I was overweight then, not so healthy, eating lots of junk even though I was a vegetarian.  My husband, who was my boyfriend back then, fondly reminisces of that time with me as our “traveling fat couple” years.  My knees ached a lot from eating too much sugar, my menstrual cramps were strong and painful at times, and my general health was not so great.  In 2006, while in my late 20s, the weight began to drop as I was finishing my bachelor’s degree and preparing for my wedding at the same time.  In January 2010, I jumped into the vegan world, which brought further improvements to my health.

Once I turned 35, though, I was confronted with the aging process. My belief “you’re as old as you feel” was unexpectedly challenged.

I was relatively sure that I wouldn’t have to deal with gray hair for quite some time. I never looked for them, and none came to my attention. My husband was the one who noticed my first gray hairs when I was 35, which is ironic because he is not the most observant guy when it comes to changes in my hair.

I also noticed my metabolism change … significantly. I’ve never been thin, but I’ve been pretty healthy since 2006. However, I’ve noticed that doing the same type and amount of exercise no longer has the same effect. I have a muffin top now; I’ve never had one of those. My arms are getting flabby. I’ve always had big hips and a very round butt, but I’ve always been much smaller above the waist. Once I turned 35, and ever since, I’ve noticed extra padding above the waist.

Perhaps the worst reminder of the aging process came last year, in February 2014, when I injured my back while at work. Up until this injury, I had considered myself to be a pretty strong girl, certainly not weak. I was used to carrying decent loads and politely declined help from men when they offered it. I was used to hauling heavier oxygen equipment in and out of my car and into patients’ homes when necessary. The back injury not only weakened me physically, but mentally as well. I began to see myself in a very different way.

Part of the reason for this is because the recovery took such a very long time. Even 15 months later, I am still not 100% recovered. Before the injury, I used to be able to bend over with legs straight (no bend in the knees), feet together, and put my palms mostly flat on the ground in front of my feet. Now I am lucky if I can get my fingertips to touch in front of my feet with slightly-bent knees. A week ago, I held a 10-pound baby for 20 minutes while standing, and my back ached the rest of the day. Not only that, but long workdays sitting in a chair causes aches. Long car trips (and I do lots of these for work), not exercising and eating crappy food will also exacerbate my injury. It has been like this off and on for the last 15 months, except it was much worse for the first six to ten months after the injury.

I thought I would have until my 60s before I needed to worry about gray hair, weakening muscles, lower metabolism, and menopause-induced weight-gain. Perhaps these “premature” reminders are here to jolt me out of abeyance. Maybe I’m just getting a sneak-peak into what could be in my journey ahead if I don’t take better care of myself. I thought I was doing okay, but maybe all of these indicators are a slap from reality – “No, you weren’t doing okay.”

Whatever the case, though I am often tempted to feel sorry for myself, I know that ultimately doing so will not help. It’s time to kick aging in the face and show it how strong I really am … even if I’m bluffing a little.

(C) 2014. Please do not use without permission.
(C) 2014. Please do not use without permission.

Peeking my head out from under the snow drift…

I’ll never forget what a friend said to me a few years back when I was crying to her about my sadness over leaving a job I loved. She asked me what my least favorite season was, and without hesitation I answered that it was winter. She looked at me and said, “You are going through a winter season in your life. Hang in there, because all winters eventually come to an end.”

It would take two years before that particular “winter” season ended, but she was right. I  never forgot her words. I remember them each time I find myself dipping into a “season” that leaves me feeling the brittle, skeletal coldness that only a winter can bring.

At the very end of 2013 I decided to give blogging a try. Actually, I started this blog four months before that winter solstice of my soul faded into a glorious springtime. My contributions here have been anemic at best. As I’m sitting here in early March, feeling the damp cold in my feet, after being buried in seven inches of Kentucky snow, I wonder when the real spring will arrive, and I look forward to the green and warmth that signals the end of another long, hard winter.

Likewise, here at Taciturn Alchemy, I have decided to take the Blogging101 courses offered by WordPress, finally resolving to pick this thing up off the ground after laying in abeyance for over six months. My hope is to finally peek my head out from under the snow drift of my life that has kept me afraid of failing at something I was hoping I’d love. I’m ready to move from the winter of my blogging into spring. I’m still learning that winter can’t last forever…