I want to write about aging. How it’s not a matter of attitude or “you’re as young as you think” or it’s all a state of mind. It’s NOT.
Perhaps it’s that I and my friends are so different from our parents’ generation. We define a“new normal.” We are women who have loved and embraced being healthy and active. We have eagerly obeyed all tenets of good longevity. NO, not obeisance, we simply did it naturally.
We have luxuriated in the use of our physical selves, enjoying our activities. Among us we have pursued the following addictions in our continual hedonistic pursuit of pleasure: downhill skiing, cross country skiing, skate skiing, kayaking, distance swimming, long distance cycling, mountain biking, yoga, backpacking, mountaineering, running (ah yes, much running), hiking, tennis, ice skating.
Initially we did it for pleasure, and if it kept us in shape along the way, so much the better. In our 50’s and 60’s we looked around us and felt smug – we’d been doing all the things touted on media to promote: brain health, healthy aging, longevity, avoid cancer, avoid heart disease, avoid high blood pressure.
We also ate healthy, very healthy, lots of fruits and veggies, little to no saturated fat, keeping our BMI’s in acceptable range, limiting our sugars, lots of yogurt, for some no additives and/or being vegetarian or vegan.
We women are all of above average intelligence and 99% college educated +, (more than one Ph.D. in the mix), successful in our careers and our child rearing. We are financially comfortable. Some of us are still married to our original husbands, some are happily divorced, some simply happily (or not) single. 99% of us are politically aware if not politically active, we are engaged in the present. We’re spiritual people, some of us meditate regularly. We drink wine occasionally, if at all. None of us do drugs or even marijuana (even though it’s legal in my state). I’m the only one who welcomes pain killers and prescription solutions to my problems. We practice compassion, forgiveness, and optimism. We have strong social networks and many of us have strong family ties.
Most of us are now retired. Some retired long before 65, some right at 65 (e.g. myself – less than one month post 65), some waited a few years, some are still working (by choice) past 70.
I’m 70. Age range of the women I’m thinking of is 57 – 80.
So, how are we doing? Physically, not well.
I’m about to have my second major surgery in less than 2 years (first back, now shoulder). I developed high blood pressure less than a year ago. I creak and I often hurt. Yesterday one of my teeth simply broke in half (yes, I do take calcium). I have osteopenia. Word retrieval is increasingly frustrating and embarrassing. Sometimes I simply do not remember an event that happened recently. And insomnia – don’t get me started.
A number of friends have had foot surgeries, something not to be welcomed, and no guarantee of success. Some have had eye surgeries, knee replacements, hand surgeries. The shoulder surgery I’m about to have has already been experienced by at least 4 of the women I’m thinking of – at least that one has a good outcome (after 6 months of first pain then extreme limitation) if you’re faithful in your rehab program. At least 2 of my uber-active friends experience chronic pain, one from a life-long undiagnosed condition, another from a simple fall 2 years ago while on a mountain bike. Many of us experience pain while doing the activities we love and refuse to give up – unless forced to by the knowledge that it will now damage us (e.g. I can no longer ride my bike). And oh yes, the cancers. We certainly are not immune to that.
I guess if you did a research study and compared we-who-have-been-active with those who have not, we’re doing better, and “better” seems to have been the traditional dependent variable – of the researchers.
NOT of us. Our dependent variables are: feeling well, having energy, ability to continue doing what we love, being pain-free or if that’s too grand, then pain-manageable.
Well, given how poorly we’re meeting our criteria of success, we might as well go eat a vat of salt/sugar/fat.
Yes, we approach life differently from our parents’ generation. We feel entitled to feel good, and have luxuriated in being active. The numbers of women like us is huge in the U.S. and very likely in all of the “first” world.
So, now I hate it that I had to cancel my trip to Bali & Borneo in order to have this surgery (I would have left today). I hate it that I could not be sure I could hike up Mount Kinabalu in Borneo (part of the tour I had to cancel) because I can no longer count on my body to do that for which I have trained. I hate that even the smallest injury cannot be counted upon to heal, or to not develop into something uglier. I hate that symptoms never before encountered simply appear unbidden and for no reason, like the intestinal plague I experienced for one month (and yes, I did take full bore probiotics to help it) despite my life-long cast-iron stomach (never got stomach sick during my years of international travel).
I’ve scheduled a trip five months hence, September 2016. trekking in the Dolomites for ten days with a friend. This will require carrying a 20 lb pack. Will I able to do it? Who knows? Whereas once I would anticipate this trip with certainty, now I reckon it’s about 50/50.
So yes, I do feel cheated. I followed the rules of good health and longevity. They did not work. The aging process is much more powerful than a positive mind-set and years of healthy practice.
It’s even possible that all that activity wore out my body parts and now l have more problems than someone who did not run or bike long distances or take all those spills while skiing.
If that’s the case, would I change anything if I had it to do over again? Well, I might have started my yoga practice earlier, and replaced my running shoes sooner, and not run on pavement so much. I certainly would have learned more about how to protect my rotator cuff. I would have run in more races while I could (I used to love 10K’s – may well have gone up to half-marathons and who knows what else). I would have gone on more bike tours while I could.
Well, folks, I welcome your comments – especially ones that agree with me.
With much fondness to you all,