My latest The HuffPost Blog was published on March 7, 2016
Living with a chronic illness, as I do, is not always about managing big issues like medications and treatment options or about maintenance of adequate health to accomplish activities of daily living. Sometimes small issues become the focus, and mastering them by being open to change is the objective. This is what got me contemplating Nancy Reagan and learning to appreciate her.
Since I’m a hard-core liberal, her husband, Ronald Reagan, is not my favorite president. I could rant about him for pages, but that’s not the point. Nancy received many bad raps she didn’t deserve. Baby boomers may remember her being savaged for updating the White House china, even though the old china badly needed replacing, and private donations completely funded the new set. Similarly the media mocked her for consulting a psychic after someone tried to assassinate the president and came close to succeeding. The public might have exercised compassion and cut her some slack regarding her ventures into the supernatural world. Her campaign to stop drug abuse woefully lacked an understanding of the causes and nature of addiction, but at least she cared about people many others disparaged or avoided. Nancy could have chosen an easier topic, like Lady Bird Johnson’s campaign for highway beautification, well intended but not as gritty as drug abuse. Nancy didn’t deserve most of the bad press she received. But I haven’t been focusing on those issues. I’ve been grooving on her use of hairspray.
Why focus on hairspray? Because this former first lady never had a hair out of place. Yet it didn’t look sculpted or shellacked. Well known for favoring Bill Blass clothing, she always appeared polished. Until recently, I did not use hairspray. A child of the sixties, I’ve never jettisoned the natural look that was abundantly evident in my tween years. Anything chemical was bad. But during the last year, as I’ve publicized my first book, Living Well with Chronic Illness, I’ve thought carefully about how I choose to present myself to a public larger than my intimate circle of colleagues, friends, and family. Our current first lady is wildly stylish. She is so dazzling, however, that I feel inadequate even contemplating her level of poise and good looks. Instead, I aspire to appear as polished as Nancy Reagan. When I pay my hair stylist twenty-five dollars to wash and style my hair for photo shoots, book launches, and public readings, I want those hairs to stay put.
Even in the deep, dark depths of middle age, while managing numerous, long-term medical issues, it’s important to examine my beliefs and habits instead of thoughtlessly proceeding as usual. Every life has some degree of unavoidable stress. When we live with chronic illness, stress exacerbates our health issues, so stress reduction is always a goal. Now when I take off my glasses, shield my eyes, and shower my head with hairspray as I set out to sell or celebrate my book, I know there’s one less thing I need to worry about. I could be King Lear on the heath, invoking the winds to blow, and my hair will stay in place.
I’ve moved out of the rigid doctrines of my youth into a more practical embrace of my current needs. Thanks go to Nancy Reagan for being my role model. I discounted her when she was in her prime. But I can look back now and glean lessons I’m still capable of learning. I grew up, and she helped me.