As I get older, I realize more and more that growing older is not for wimps. New and unusual hair begins to grow in places that you believed to be bare, and you need a magnifying mirror before you can even begin to pluck it out. I’ve been trying to figure out if our eyes naturally begin to fail in our forties as a way to allow us to not be able to see ourselves as clearly as before for self-preservation purposes, or if their slow demise is a thermometer designed to help you come to terms with the fact that you are getting older.
I now find myself wearing glasses just to work on the computer…or read a menu, recipe, or food label. I have become my mother and have magnifying eyeglasses all over the house (you can buy a three pack at Costco for less than $20 – you’re welcome). I can’t believe that’s now me. I was excited that the new Iphone 6 was coming out not so I could get the latest “gadget”, but because it would have a bigger screen so I could finally read my phone again. It was terribly sad for me when I finally got it to realize that I still couldn’t read the newspaper text on the screen (yes, I realize these are first world problems….and yes, I had already increased the font size).
What a strange phenomena we humans experience to be present as your body ages and you realize that once something starts to slip away IT IS NEVER COMING BACK. My vision will never be restored to the eyesight I enjoyed (without truly appreciating it) in my earlier years. Those of you who follow my blog know that I got injured running a few weeks back. After X-rays came back telling me that all of the impact sports I have been doing (including running) have done damage to my hips, due to the genetic way that my hip-joint and spine curve, I was told to take up some low or no impact sports instead. Who me? You sure Doc? Yes…she was sure.
“Deterioration” is a word that you are hoping not to hear when you are someone who is passionate about all types of activities such as I am. So what do you do with bad news like that? You determinedly decide you are going to take the news with a stoic appreciation for what you have that is still functioning… then I went swimming. While I have recently been spending so much time in the water I’ve been reflecting on the ways in which it is a struggle for us to age in these bodies of ours.
It feels like a blessing and a curse that we humans have mastered the art of living much longer lives. Neanderthals lived to be about 30 years old, maybe they had it better dying while in their primes. Right now we are expected to live to be around 79 (American Men) and 81 (American Women). As a interesting side note, if we live in Japan, we get to add a few more years (82). How wonderful that we have the experience of spending time in our later years with gifts such as grandchildren, retirement and social security benefits. On the flip side is the fact that our human bodies begin to change in ways that we could not possibly understand in our youths with themes more like: fear of Alzheimer’s, investment loss, minimal medical benefits, and strange body changes (while trying to find our misplaced keys for the tenth time that week).
Youth is definitely wasted on the young. You hear that phrase when you are young by your grandparents, but unfortunately, do not really understand it until you are much much older. I get it now.
It takes a lot of courage and wisdom to age well and with grace. For some, the later years will be the first time they experience the true gift of total self acceptance. It will certainly make for a gentler aging process. Fighting with every wrinkle, sag, memory loss, or strange hair will only lead to distress. One true gift of getting older is the new found appreciation I have for older people I meet who share their incredible life stories that are filled with strength and an undeniable sense of humor. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, they tell me when I ask what makes for happiness in this life.
One of my favorite quotes is by Hunter S. Thompson who says:
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”.
This is my goal (and I am well on my way based on my most recent doctor’s X-ray). I want to live fully and messily and wear myself out. I am finally okay with the idea of this being my best body, self and life. After a certain age, there is only one direction your body is going, and it’s not younger. It happens to all of us if we are lucky. Really think about that. If you are struggling with how to come to terms with your aging body, you are fortunate beyond words. You have been able to stay alive in this crazy world of ours and get the privilege of actually living to old age. How cool is that?
Stacey Neil, Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer, can be found at the pool swimming laps along with in her private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.