Ed and Independence: On My Own

In my effort to have these monthly missives reflect days or months that are observed annually, I considered Nectarine Month, National Drive Thru Day, Barbie-in-a-Blender Day, Sports Cliché Day, and many others. I fall back, however, to the most obvious- Independence Day.

It made me think about our individual independence. That enviable quality held in such esteem, and so highly thought of, that we venerate those who go to great lengths – and overcome many hardships to reach a place where they can feel truly independent. But really…

What’s so good about being independent?

I understand that if you simply look at the antithesis, the prospect of being “dependent” is not attractive. It implies a loss of control over our lives, and for most people, this is not an enviable state. But, most of us are dependent on others in some ways. If you have a job, you’re dependent on the health of the company and the interests of the people for whom you work. If you’re self-employed, you’re subject to the vagaries of market fluctuations, of which again, you have no control. Only the most narcissistic among us would say they don’t rely on relationships with others to have meaningful human connections. And I really don’t have to say much about our dependence on the internet, do I?

Maybe this actual lack of control is what’s driving the need for a feeling of independence. The danger in going too far to maintain one’s independence is isolation.

When circumstances such as health or emotional issues prevent us from driving, using public transportation, or keeping up with the activities of daily living like shopping or cleaning, we need some assistance to maintain a positive quality of life. Many people will hold on to a perception of “independence”, and become isolated rather than ask for or even acknowledge the need for help. They will simply let the quality of their lives deteriorate while losing their connections to others.

The health risks of isolation are significant. Perceived isolation has been linked to higher blood pressure, more susceptibility to flu and other infectious diseases, loss of impulse control and earlier onset of dementia.

A possible remedy to isolation is present in the Social Portfolio created by Dr. Gene Cohen author of The Creativity and Aging Study. Dr. Cohen suggested that before individuals experience losses in capacities, relationships or work life, that they diversify their activities – conducting some activities with others, other activities by themselves, some requiring high energy, and some less strenuous.

Instructional arts programs in any discipline may provide this balance. Dr. Cohen’s study clearly demonstrates both the physical and emotional benefit of participating in professionally conducted sequential arts instruction programs. We have many anecdotal examples from Lifetime Arts programs of older adults who formed strong social connections (including one marriage) by virtue of taking part in a Creative Aging program. Even those who have been practicing their art form by themselves report a renewed interest in their work in being able to interact with their peers through the creative process.

None of us want to be a burden to our friends and families. But our friends and families want us to have a healthy, happy life. Besides, it makes people feel good to help someone else. So, with apologies to the oft-used public service announcement, “if you need something, say something”.

Ed Friedman

Ed Friedman

Ed is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Lifetime Arts. He has spent over 30 years in parallel careers serving the arts community, and older adults and their families.

Artwork by Lisa Curran
Ed Friedman

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