Tag Archives: aging

Does Anyone Else Feel Old?

I‘m having one of those, “Can this really be happening?” weeks. Yes, it can, and yes, it is.   This week was the double whammy of a sudden death in the family and the potential for much worse endings, pending a few tests. I feel old.   Mom and Dad have been careful about when to call me with news. They expect me to break down while I’m driving or whatnot, so they wait until I’m sitting on a couch with my husband nearby to tell me whatever it is they have to say. Then they marvel at my ability to just hear it.   I guess I grew up.

I’ve noticed lately that I keep thinking that I’m forty-six, even though I’m forty-five. In fact, for the past year, I’ve considered myself closer to fifty than I really am. Why is that? Why am I making myself old, rushing through the remainder of my forties?   Maybe it’s because the forties kinda suck. I just have this feeling that the forties are gonna go down in my history as the decade I lost everyone.

I’ll explain: My favorite uncle had a stroke on the operating table and died exactly a week later. We all thought it was gonna be a quick and easy operation. We all expected this summer to be the worst of his trials. Not even close. I don’t think anyone was prepared for an end. My father sure wasn’t. He lost his little brother, his closest sibling, and his greatest ally. This uncle and I spent weeks together while my mother and father were in the hospital or recuperating from one illness or the next. He was always there to help. I thought my mom was being morbid when she alluded to his last visit, while he was still on chemo, as a potential final hurrah. Damn, these people in their seventies who are so starkly aware of death.

And that’s one bit of bad news that has colored my week. There’s more, but the test results aren’t in, and I’m still allowed hope. Hope feels very different lately. It’s not a positive or a negative, it’s just an unknown. Sometimes, the unknown is better. For a little while anyway, while we process what we do know.

Embracing Rock-Bottom

Although the forties are the new forties in many more ways than one, sometimes we get snagged on one feature that plagues us throughout the decade, like alcoholism has me now. And while these snags are not just a forties thing, I suspect they’re a distinct characteristic of the forties in the Western world. The Washington Post recently published an article titled, “Under 50? You still haven’t hit rock-bottom, happiness-wise,” in its “Wonkblog” section (soooo millennial… the blog AND the title). The writer contends that our general sense of happiness reaches its nadir in our forties, supporting the claim with evidence from a survey designed to determine the life-satisfaction of over a million subjects. In one more line, I can summarize his point: people in their forties are the most unhappy people in the Western world.

A line graph attached to the article makes it easier to digest this generalization—our lives seem to follow a U pattern—first, life’s one big party—all the wavy lines are at the top of the graph; then we hit rock-bottom; finally, we turn fifty, and all the wavy lines rise again to the top of the graph, like a middle-aged phoenix soaring from its ashes—life becomes one big party again. How nifty.

Ordinarily, I would ignore or vehemently argue against such conjectures, i.e., the whole point of this blog; however, we experience some pretty heavy stuff during our forties, enough for us to question our own life satisfaction and possibly admit doubts on a survey designed to assess our “happiness levels.” Here’s what I know: the forties are humbling. It’s the decade when we finally start to see life for what it really is—a finite series of choices that we make, choices with results that could affect us for the remainder of our lives. I was unhappy with my job in my thirties, but I was too busy being a born-again single lady to notice. I ignored the really big choice—staying at my job—for the simple choices like where to go for Sunday brunch. I dreaded going to work five days a week, but I lived it up on the weekends, and I thought that was happiness. That’s not being happy. That’s just being delusional. If a representative from the “General Social Survey” had asked me about my happiness levels when I was, say, 33, I might have responded, “Yeah, all good here,” even though I didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about.

The other side of this spectrum takes a different, yet no less delusional, approach to its life satisfaction. Have you ever asked an elderly person how it’s going? How often do we hear something like of “Oh, can’t complain!” That’s right. Once you’ve already faced your life’s choices, once you’ve recognized your own mortality, and your friends and family start dying off, you might feel fortunate to still be breathing. At that age, it’s probably easier to frame the definition of happiness in an “I’m still standing, so what?” kind of attitude. Life isn’t one big party on the young or old sides of the line graph, life is just one big fantasy to get us through our days.

Our forties tend to be the years when we face those life snags, when we start ruminating over questions like, “How much longer do I have with my parents?” or “Is this really the only career I’m ever going to have?” or “Did I really sign up to spend the rest of my days with this asshole?” The term “mid-life crisis” had to come from somewhere. I’ve ruminated over those questions, except for maybe the last one because I chose wisely the second time around the marriage-go-round. These thoughts become big, existential dilemmas in our forties. Rather than considering the forties our time of greatest unhappiness, I would rather consider it our time of greatest introspection.

It takes a lot of strength to confront reality. I think that if you can come to grips with your choices, attempt to solve your problems without ignoring them, and find peace with whatever you can’t change (like crepe-neck or aging parents), then you have a right to label yourself “satisfied” or “happy” or whatever it is that the young and old are saying on this survey. To paraphrase Dickens, it’s quite possible that our forties could be the worst of times and also the best of times.

2017, Meh.

2017, Meh.

That about describes it—“meh.” It’s more than just a word. It’s how I felt ringing in a new year that I didn’t look forward to. Everyone around me was saying, “2016 just needs to be over! 2016 sucked!” I don’t feel that way. So yeah, in 2016, the historical pendulum swung into outer space and a contentious president was elected. Sure, in 2016, a few childhood icons died. Regardless, 2016 was my peak. It was one big party that I didn’t document. I welcomed it at the craziest one I ever attended—the party that made my husband and I say to each other in the wee hours of January 1, 2016, “This will be our year.”

So fast forward to now. What did we say to each other this year?

“I am going to control my road rage,” he mumbled in the wee hour of January 1, 2017. He must’ve dug deep into the pits of avoidance to come up with that one. I didn’t even bother: I couldn’t think of anything except all the ones I broke last year. My husband brought up one of our shared resolutions, and then I wondered, “Maybe I have peaked. Maybe this year that I am tossing out right now was my last good year.”

And that was that. Happy New Year! My mother-in-law gave us blue sparkly top hats and noisemakers that I tried to hide from the kids. Shortly after the ball came down (which, incidentally, only about 1/3 of us actually saw—the ball drop has cheapened since Dick Clark), we all went to bed.

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Falling

Mom fell today.

I had been dreading an incident like that.  She’s hearing-impaired, easily distracted, and clumsy.  I spent the first twenty years of my life hearing a “thump” and then “Owwww!” and then “Shit, shit, SHIT!” (Mom never said anything worse than “shit.”)  She was always walking into doorways or falling up stairs or bumping her toes on the furniture.  So I just knew that one of these days, on my watch, she was gonna fall flat on her face in public.

And so she did, at a busy intersection in front of a bus stop.  Fifteen seconds earlier she’d decided she wanted to walk the six blocks back to my car rather than sit on a bench and wait in a nearby park.  She’s stubborn like that.  Then, right in the middle of a conversation about what a great day we’d had shopping…  Blam!  Her bags fell out of her hands as she tried to catch herself, and I threw mine in a half-assed attempt to catch her.  Our stuff rolled all over the sidewalk. A guy in full Navy sailor regalia picked up her canister of silver cupcake topping and stuffed it back into the wrong bag and handed it to me.  Two ladies gave us their packet of tissues and stared for a second before shuffling off.  Another man ran into a nearby restaurant and grabbed a bunch of napkins for her bleeding nose, which turned out to be her bleeding lip.  Someone even offered to call 911, but there was nothing anyone could really do.  I knew by her reaction that she looked worse than she felt. Nothing was broken, or she would have been screaming, “Owwww!  Shit, shit, SHIT!”  She wasn’t broken, just embarrassed.

Later she said she felt bad for me.  But I wasn’t embarrassed.  I don’t give three shits how I looked on that sidewalk, cradling a seventy-something’s head in my lap .  The moment was all hers.  And apparently it made a lot of bad memories surface because she had never told me before that her own mother had caused her anxiety by doing the same things–by falling or getting sick or just losing her life-long poise.  It must suck to get old.

And that brings me to my purpose:  I’m not there yet.  I’m 43, and I’m not young, but I’m not old.  I’m not old old.  I’m in that place where my memories of the first twenty years of my life are a bunch of blurred images of random events; and my memories thereafter are just the highs and lows of adulthood, the boring stuff.  I’ve been “lucky” enough to have taken a bit longer to mature than your average adult and consequently burned through a marriage and lived a sort of renaissance for awhile–which added to the color and texture of my adult memories–but ultimately my adult memories consist of a few highs and lows and a whole lot of static.  Ask me to recall the most exciting moment at my job of twelve years, and it might take me a moment or two to scrape up an insincere answer.

I’m at some new stage in life that I know I didn’t experience in my thirties.  In my thirties, I was busy contemplating why I’d dated most of the men I had.  And in my thirties, I was looking for better.  In my thirties, I started looking at myself through a different lense.  In my forties, I just sit around and wonder random things like what it would be like to sit in my childroom bedroom, or to hang out with my parents when they were young.  I get a chill just thinking about what a conversation with my mother would be like if she could actually hear what was being said to her.  I think about the frailty of human life, and I think about death.  You know.  Stuff.

I appear to be a little younger than I actually am–some of that comes from my aforementioned late-blooming maturity, and some of that comes from decades of moisturizer and sun screen, and good genes–but at the end of the day today, I’m still 43. My mother falls on her face.  My father carries a cane around with him everywhere he goes that expands into a seat.  I’m facing retirement, cancer, kids making bad choices; and a  workout and some revitalizing face cream isn’t gonna wipe that away.

I call my forties the “new forties” because they’re new to me, just as they’re new to any woman who just spent her day in roll-reversal, sitting in a plastic chair in a doctor’s examination room while Mom sits on the table looking uncomfortable.  This kind of stuff didn’t happen in my thirties, or my twenties, or ever before now.  These are the forties, and women’s magazines and the beauty industry might help us to look younger, to act younger; the economy might force us to recreate ourselves again and again, to compete with younger, to think younger; our freedom to make choices for ourselves might allow us live a lifestyle that our mothers’ generation and every one before that couldn’t have imagined. But we’re not  younger.  We’re women in our forties, pragmatically staring at age and death.

Before this decade came along, I thought I really could live in whatever age I managed to sustain.  My thirties were the new twenties, with a few revisions.  But this decade, the forties, it’ll never be the new thirties.  I’m getting old. My knee hurts, I chipped a tooth, and my mom has started falling.  These are the new 40s.