Originally written by Jeff – retold by Bobbe
Like other babyboomer couples, Jeff and I have been stacking life’s changes: empty nest, aging careers, aging parents, aging food in the fridge and how all of these factors affect us as an aging couple. The empty nest is okay, the career horizon is a bit foggy and the aging parent deal is a doozie. The only thing normal is the aging food in the fridge. Then the abnormal changed our normal forever.
In February, 2013, Jeff lost right eye vision. No reason. It was just gone. In his personal struggle to adjust to myriad changes, he spent a lot of time alone doing things that had long ago given him pleasure, but which he’d abandoned while we raised children, advanced careers and dealt with busy lives. His activity often occurred in the woods or with wood. He sawed, chopped, and nailed pieces into forms. He squirrel hunted, target practiced, or just walked in the woods, which proved to be tricky. It was in this environment that Jeff regained balance between his mind-chatter and fantasies. I was a bit uneasy at first, with the word, “fantasy”. He was surprised by my immediate jump to a definition that he’d not intended. Informal polls indicated others jumped to the sex connotation too. We sought to find a synonym, but nothing worked better. Feel free to use a synonym, it it makes you comfortable. That way, I can rest easier, knowing that that you aren’t envisioning me pole-dancing in the bedroom or at a sleazy night club. However, I suppose my stage name could be “White Trash…”
Mind-chatter and fantasy are universal human traits, in fact, 90% of every day is spent on one of the two. On days when the mind-chatter runs rampant, we stress more and sleep less. Jeff found out that by learning to turn off the chatter and allowing more fantasy time, his happiness greatly increased. He is beginning to see his loss as a gift.
Mind-chatter Vs. Fantasy Mind-chatter is our internal rules system. Fantasies offer us the illusion of emotional safety. Mind chatter guides us away from our heart and the things we love to do. Fantasy offers us reasons to overcome chatter and create life happiness. Mind-chatter will tempt you with its relentless reminders of past failures and future fears, resulting in a heightened state of worry and unhappiness. Oh boy, no joy. As we age, we allow mind chatter (rules maker) to become more intense. We learn this at an early age. Over the years, we equate happiness with how other people react to us. Negative chatter can make us afraid to express ourselves, or ask for what we want. It limits our potential and hinders our ability to express love for others. The most detrimental aspect of mind chatter occurs as we approach mid-life; the chatter is rife with self-criticism. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for the human mind to turn chatter off, or even down a notch.
Fantasies mostly involve the future; they reflect the essence of one’s personality. Fantasies help us solve or address problems, concerns and prepare us for future events. In the rare times fantasies are past-tense, they would be a form of analysis, as to what we should or shouldn’t have done, but (and this is a BIG but) without the guilt, which mind-chatter implies. Fantasy helps comfort, encourage and reinforce ourselves when impending decisions are going to be difficult. In a state of fantasy, we allow our minds to develop guidelines for a more positive outcome, providing clarity to our concerns. Fantasies allow us to change preconceived deficiencies to strengths.
Psychological well-being is directly related to our ability to fantasize. If we then act on those concepts we can reinforce relationships, improve health and turn down the mind-chatter volume. Jeff decided to employ some fantasies with me. Before your imagination runs wild, let me explain that these acts were simple and basic. In essence, we started dating again. He actually phoned to ask, “Want to go on a date?” He was afraid I’d decline the invitation and was relieved I’d accepted. This from a tough guy, who is afraid of NOTHING! He became more attentive, less argumentative. He asked for additional dates. We talked. A lot. (And he listened!) He complimented me when I got dressed up. (That was the best improvement!)
Like millions of couples, we’d put our relationship on auto-pilot for years; we hadn’t nurtured the most important thing we possessed. My own mind-chatter had reduced my self-image to seeing myself as a frumpy, middle-aged, boring wife/woman. You see, mind-chatter tarnishes how we see ourselves and others. Jeff’s fantasy was to reverse 37 year-old habits, using creative thought to facilitate positive change.
This newfound attention was a bit overwhelming at times, I must say. Our comfortable, predictable approach to an old marriage was not a bad thing at all, but the positive changes will sustain us much better, as we enter our retirement years. The home climate became more positive. I felt like a queen. It seemed that the adage, “Marriage is a marathon, not a race,” did not apply. Jeff was trying to make up for lost time, at full sprint. It was both weird and wonderful. I realized that if we didn’t stop the mind-chatter and pay attention, life would move on without us fully participating in it. How sad.
Before one of our dates, I was soaking my feet in a foot-spa the kids had given me last Christmas. Jeff saw I needed new polish and offered to do it for me. I said yes, but was unsure. This seemed a bit kookie. “Better not tell the kids about this one!” I said. Mind-chatter had kicked in hard and fast and was working overtime, robbing us of a simple gesture because of an empty pre-conceived notion. He explained that, as a little boy, his mom allowed him to paint her nails, on occasion. Being one of six children, one-on-one activities were precious and probably few. It seemed that if his mother permitted a polish, it was okay for me to accept the same treatment. And our kids might even think it was okay, too.
The important part is that when the innocence of wanting to paint my toes was disrupted by mind-chatter, Jeff empowered his fantasy to continue a nice gesture. These spontaneous self-generated thoughts only become reality when we turn the chatter off long enough to allow us choices that will make us happier in life. One thing is for sure, his sight will never be the same, but he sees many things much clearer now. We both do. Isn’t it ironic that his loss has become a gift? What a great Thanksgiving blessing. bw