I refuse to be an old lady. After all, I enjoy many aspects of being in my 60s. I feel confident that I can handle any curveball life throws my way because so many have grazed by and I’ve always managed to avoid a direct hit. While I was never a candidate for Miss Congeniality, as the years tick by, I’m even less concerned with other people’s opinions of me. I’m a tell-it-like-it-is New Yorker and not everyone, particularly in California, likes my bluntness. In the same vein, I’m now confident enough to expose my unvarnished self to the world, blemishes and all.
Physical Degradation is Tough
Despite these mental and emotional upsides, there is the grim reality of the physical degradation associated with getting older. As a Gerontologist, I’m familiar with the brutal truth that the human body is primed for its childbearing years and then programmed for slow decline and death. I’ve now reached a time in life when I am definitely feeling my age and not exactly doing cartwheels about it. In fact, I’m still a bit shocked to see a wrinkly old lady staring back at me when I look in the mirror. That visage creates a strange juxtaposition with my mental image of myself which hasn’t aged since I was in my 30s.
In addition to the wrinkling and sagging, other inauspicious changes have begun to spring up. The first oddity was that hairs sprouted in unwanted places while disappearing from the more desirable locations. When I look at my hands, I see that my fingernails have acquired ridges like Ruffles Potato Chips and worse yet, have begun to curl inward like a diploma that’s spent too long in a mailing tube. The next aging insult became apparent when I looked down at my arm one day and noticed an inexplicable ugly black and blue mark. I must have bumped it on something but the blow was so insignificant I didn’t even recall the incident.
My old lady body demands a lot more TLC just to keep it functioning and to get through the day without being in pain or compromising my activities. As boring as it is, stretching has become my go-to for warding off debilitating bouts of occasional back pain and frozen shoulder. I dread injuring myself when I’m working out, knowing that the recovery process will take as long as becoming fluent in Mandarin. Even getting out of bed must now be done slowly and gingerly like a grizzly awakening from a winter hibernation. Why hasn’t someone invented a WD-40 for human bodies?
The Aging Process Can Be Trying
In comparison to most people my age, I suffer from very few infirmities. To date, I’ve only had to cope with a mind that is easily distracted and has trouble pulling up movie titles and the names of famous people, an inability to put in 12-hour days at the office, arthritic hands that make it challenging to grip and open things, and ankles that resemble tree trunks by the end of the day. I know these are relatively minor issues and that there are many more unpleasant surprises in store for me. But at this point, any new pain or skin growth can trigger a full-blown panic. After all, it might just be the first symptom of a deadly cancer that will spell my doom.
There’s no doubt that aging yields a continuing onslaught of gut punches that can take you down for the count. The important thing is to deal with your consternation and get past it rather than wallowing in self-pity. After all, this is normal life and the only work-around is to make an early exit which most of us aren’t anxious to do. So, why choose to give yourself a miserable old age by obsessing about the lifestyle compromises that come with being a bit past your prime?
Just Refuse to Be an Old Lady
I’ve decided that rather than join the ranks of kvetching old people, I’ll just take it as it comes and stop tormenting myself by being hyper-sensitive to my body and the physical assaults of aging. While I realize that some people haven’t even made it as far as I, I take some credit for having exercised the discipline to live a healthy lifestyle, which is the best anyone can do to stave off decrepitude as long as possible. A catch-phrase I coined several years ago to describe my vision of a good life is apropos here: “Healthy, Healthy, Healthy, Healthy, Dead.”
I absolutely refuse to act like an old lady or join the over-50 community of whiners. Instead, I’ve decided to adopt an attitude of positivity and to take joy and pride in the physical things that make me feel vibrant.
Four times a week, I take a challenging 50-minute spin class that requires climbing imaginary mountains and then pedaling as fast as my legs can move while careening down steep hills. I always reserve a bike right in front of the mirror so I can admire my abilities as the instructor takes us through a grueling regimen that I could never force myself to do on my own. If the 20-something next to me poops out while I’m still going strong, it makes my day. The fact that that she may be dogging it because she’s sleep-deprived or hungover doesn’t matter. I’m killing it and someone 40 years my junior is sitting on the bike next to me, taking a break and panting in an effort to catch her breath.
The pandemic forced me to break out of my habit of going to the gym at the crack of down every day which had been my workout pattern for 25 years. I surprised myself by boldly deciding to start running, which I’d given up more than 20 years earlier fearing that I’d blow out my knees. I started slow and am happy to report that I’ve now built up to a routine of running 30-minutes three times a week. I’m not a fast runner, but then again, I never was.
The irony is that running was my primary form of exercise for decades and I never really enjoyed it all that much. In a strange twist of fate, I love it now. It makes me feel young because I’m still perfectly capable of doing it without any pain. It’s become my best mood lifter.
So, if you’ve reached the age where you’re feeling it, join me and just refuse to be an old lady. It’s the better course of action.