The Times They Are A-Changin’

By Joe Nelson | February 14, 2007 10:30 am

So what was Bob Dylan referring to when he sang that song in the 1960’s? At the time he was singing about war, racism, relationships, and politics; aging and how it was necessary to do something or get left behind. The 60’s were years of testing out new ways of looking at and living life. Those of us who were emerging into adulthood then were often engaged in struggles over how we were going to act and what we were willing to risk to have the life we felt good about.

Some chose to keep up the fight, but some of us found our way into a relatively conventional and risk-free lifestyle. The irony is that now we are reaching midlife and finding that “the times they are a-changin'” again.


This time, without doing anything, we are finding that our physical “times” are changing. It’s not the older folks who are developing health problems—it’s us.

As I look around, I am seeing so many of my contemporaries learning to deal with a change in health. Heart surgery for my wife’s best friend, diabetes for my brother and brother-in-law, cancer for my friend who already had Type 1 diabetes, major surgeries for two of my good friends, and hip replacement for me a year ago. I suspect that this is the lay of the land for me and my baby boomer friends.

I feel somewhat discouraged by this reality, and there is a part of me that feels a sense of resignation about what lies ahead. But there is a stronger part of me that says, “I’m not going to take this lying down.”

In the 60’s, a peaceful protest took the form of a “sit-in.” We would sit someplace noticeable and obstruct whatever was supposed to be going on until we were arrested or moved from the place. As we face the prospect of chronic disease and dealing with things that only “old people” were supposed to get, we cannot afford to do it sitting down—we must be willing to act once again or risk getting left behind. We always have some control over how to direct our energy and we have the ability to do the work necessary to help our bodies feel better. We can choose to sit and wait for deteriorating health to overtake us or we can choose to be activists for our own well-being and not simply resign ourselves to settling for the status quo.

I’m proud to say that my friend with cancer is fighting a good battle, my wife’s best friend is practicing meditation for the first time to help in her recuperation, my brother-in-law is exercising three times a week, my brother has been educating himself about diabetes, and I am exercising four times a week and walking my dog twice a day (the hip is good).

You don’t have to be a boomer to take action—we all have a choice to either give in and give up, or dig in and get up.

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Joe Nelson: Joe is a psychotherapist in private practice in Minnesota, where he specializes in the psychology of chronic disease and sexual problems and works with couples, families, children, and teens. He has been a Licensed Psychologist since 1985 and has earned a master’s degree from St. Mary’s College Winona, a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota, and an associate’s degree in human services from the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

Joe has worked with troubled youth in Chicago and Minnesota and on a special project on Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. He was the first social worker hired by an affiliate of the American Diabetes Association. He worked at the International Diabetes Center for 20 years, directing psychological services there for 12 years. A Certified Sex Therapist, Joe co-developed the Sexual Health Center at Park Nicollet Clinic.

Having practiced meditation for over 30 years, Joe offers instruction in mindfulness-based meditation to patients in groups and as individuals. Joe is married, has a 23-year-old daughter, and enjoys scuba diving, motorcycling, golf, and being outdoors doing almost anything.

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