Our guest author today has some fascinating perspective on aging. If you’re past 40, or close to someone who is, you can certainly relate.
When I see older people who are hobbling around with a cane or in a wheelchair, I always swear that I will never get to that point. I would not like being unable to move around freely, in fact it would be like death to me. I wonder how they got in that condition. Was it disease, bad luck or that they just didn’t take care of themselves earlier in their life? Sometimes your health goes to hell despite all your best efforts. Sometimes you can limit the damage with good eating habits and exercise. You like to assume that you have some control over how you age so that you don’t end up looking at yourself in the mirror and wondering what the hell happened to me? It gives you a measure of sanity, even if it is an illusion.
Time snuck up on me when I was trying to ignore it. I am now fifty-six, which seems kind of old, but not real old. I assumed I would always be married, would never move again, would never get seriously ill and I would always be continent. The first two are wrong assumptions, but so far I am not sick nor wear diapers. My face and some body parts seem a little more saggy than they used to be.
I had a child late in life, but now she’s graduating high school in a semester, so babyhood is far behind me. I will be an empty nester soon. I have lived longer than my older sister and in about three years, I will have lived longer than my father. It kind of sucks to outlast your parents, which is natural and your sibling, which is not. I don’t have much other family, only have one aunt and uncle at opposite ends of the country. I envy people who still have their parents around.
I also envy the energy, optimism and prettiness of youth, but I wouldn’t want to go back there. I learned life lessons from painful experiences that I wouldn’t want to re-live. How to deal with an alcoholic, how to deal with a parent with Alzheimers, how to deal with a family member’s terminal cancer. These are experiences that teach you about yourself and others, but they are damned painful lessons. When you are young, you assume you and your family member will never die, nothing will ever go wrong, no one will betray you and nothing really bad will happen to you. Life has other ideas. With age, you learn how to deal with the bad stuff. You make peace with yourself, but you get a little sad and cynical.
I wouldn’t mind having a younger body. After I run a hard race or a triathlon, I am deeply exhausted and it takes me a long time to recover. Most people my age don’t bother to race hard or even to exercise, but I like getting painfully out of breath and making my muscles hurt. I feel like I am defying time. It’s kind of life affirming to move hard and fast, and I get a smug sense of satisfaction when I can run faster than someone in their twenties.
I can’t train as hard as a younger person. I probably am not as fast as I would have been even ten years ago, if I had been in the shape I am in now. I have to work harder just to be slower than someone younger than me, but I am still faster than I ever was in my life. Age doesn’t stop you from improving, if you work at it. It also doesn’t stop you from doing remarkable things. The recent broadcast of Ironman Hawaii had an eighty year old competitor who intended to keep at it until he could no longer do it, like say age 120. He wasn’t fast, but he was tough. I hope to be that physically tough when I am that age.
It takes more work to maintain the body when I am older. I need more medication, more yearly medical tests, more doctor visits. Colonoscopys are not fun. Neither are mamograms. I could never figure out why a round body part has to be squashed flat in order make a film of it. I can’t eat as much as when I was young, nor can I eat food like cheese without dire consequences. My digestive system starting going down hill in my thirties. My thyroid started going downhill
in my forties. Who knows what this decade will bring. Besides menopause, that is, which is bad enough on its own. Who knew that the lack of hormones could make you lose sleep, make you mentally deficient and REALLY irritable? It’s like reverse adolescence, only I am deteriorating, not growing up.
So I am hoping that my body will age slowly and my mind even slower. I don’t want to become rigid in my thinking and never take risks, any more than I want to be in a wheel chair. Assuming that dementia doesn’t overtake me, I want to keep learning about the world and myself. I want to keep stepping into the uncomfortable areas of my mind. And I want to keep trying to outrun twenty year olds.
Thanks to Joan for her post on "old age". Keep running, girl!