A TGB READER STORY: Not Here
Happy 95 Years, Darlene Costner

Fearing Old Age plus The Alex and Ronni Show

It has been seven or eight years now since I last did this, but there was a time when I regularly clicked around the web to read Facebook and blog posts by young people - late teens and twenties interested me the most.

The one that got me started was from a young women lamenting the approach of her 30th birthday. She was so distraught that I could almost see the tears running down my computer screen as she wrote about being over the hill, losing her looks and her sorrow that men, she believed, would no longer be interested in her.

These were always women - I didn't find any young men writing on this topic - and it was a surprisingly large number who wrote about being afraid to get older with lots of agreement from others in the comment sections.

There was no talk of dying, that was not the issue. It was about how awful growing old is - getting wrinkles and gray hair, becoming “ugly” (that word turned up a lot).

That 30-year-old I mentioned? She was the oldest I encountered on this topic. Most were 23, 24, 27 or so. Where do you suppose these young women get the idea that turning 30 – or, in a couple of cases, 25 - might as well be a death sentence?

How about living in a profoundly ageist culture. That would probably do it.

Last week, a long-time TGB reader and friend, Laura Gordon Giannozzi, sent me a link to an interesting story in The Guardian> by Australian novelist Charlotte Wood asking, “What are we really afraid of when we think of old age?”

After ruminating on the question, Wood, who is 55, comes down on this:

”I think the deepest dread is of being reduced, simplified. We’re afraid that, to paraphrase British psychologist and writer Susie Orbach, we’ll be 'robbed of the richness of who we are' – our complexity stripped away by forces beyond our control.

“This reduction is already happening with the cheerleaders on one side, the catastrophisers on the other. Ours is an all-or-nothing, black-and-white-thinking culture; we picture ourselves as either relentlessly active, plank posing and Camino walking and cycling into our 90s, or dribbling in a nursing-home chair, waiting for death.”

In general, we don't have much say as to which kind of old age we have. Nobody knows how to prevent dementia, cancer and many of the afflictions of old age. And even if different choices when we were younger might have changed our old age outcome, it's too late, once we're there, to do anything about it.

Of Wood's two types of old people, I find the cheerleaders more annoying than the doomsayers. They are usually the young-old who have won (so far) the disease and debility lottery who exhort us, as Wood points out, to go, go, go as if we were still 27.

These days I know all too well how foolish that is and I have found, even before cancer and COPD reduced my capabilities, that the best any of us can do in old age is adapt.

And that's not so bad. I've been doing it by listening to all the old people I've run into while studying aging for this blog over 16 years, and to the many smart people who leave comments here.

Woods appears to have discovered the imperative to adapt at a younger age than many of us:

”...maybe we don’t have to choose either extreme to dwell on...,” she concludes. “Perhaps, instead of capitulating to reduction, we can keep adding to our concept of how to age – turn our thinking about oldness into an art, and keep exploring it. Doing something to it, and doing something else.”

There are other interesting ideas in Charlotte Wood's essay and as I said above, worth your time to read. Let us know what you think.

There should have been a new Alex and Ronni Show last week but my latest medical prognosis, which I wrote about here, was still new and weighing heavily on my mind so Alex let me off the hook.

Now, here is the latest episode of the show, recorded yesterday, talking about the virus. (Is there anything else to talk about these days?)

Comments

I can't tell you how ridiculous I found my husband's dread of getting older when he turned 30. One would have thought the end of the world had come. And...just think...he turned 30, 53 years ago! It wasn't until age 75 that, suddenly, people started thinking that we couldn't be trusted with the large responsibilities he and I had taken on as volunteers, so one can see that Hunky Husband panicked about 45 years too soon.

When I was 30, a friend's husband said to me: "Emily, you're over the hill!" I still remember that, 50 years later . . .

Seems to me it is more about money.
I never worried about turning 30 or 50 or even 60 but I have to admit when I turned 70 I thought now, I am old.
But nowadays kids are having plastic surgery in high school and grow up with a heavy emphasis on how one looks and the trend today is, one must look young.
That kind of thinking comes from a wealth obsessed culture.
And then, of course there is always ageism.

Hey, what's bad about being reduced and simplified, or, for that matter magnified and complicated. However people see me now is probably no more or less true than it ever was. And it doesn't matter. The truth is that I have always wanted to simplify my life in good ways. The wanting heart is always wanting, that takes up a lot of space. I feel a lot of sympathy for young women who are ensnared in the most superficial aspect of themselves.
I hope there is a sea change for them, that they come to see and know themselves as always beautiful.

Ronni, this is profound. I have been attempting to adapt for years, and have somewhat succeeded, though not always. The toughest obstacle for me is that my very own sister - three years younger, at 65 - is one of those "relentlessly active" types. She still skis, bikes in the Pyrenees, hikes at Machu Picchu, etc. while I am sidelined dealing with multiple health issues.
Just before reading TGB today I read in our local paper an article about 2 'grandmas' (they look to be in their 60s) who have made it a goal during quarantine to hike all 200 miles of the trail system in our city's foothills. They've almost completed it. The article was full of praise for these 'old' ladies who could do this, holding them up as an example we should all follow. Mad is the emotion it brought out in me - a little mad that I can't do it, but mostly mad that they're touted as the ideal, while the rest of us are deemed to be just lazy or 'have let ourselves go.'
My mantra is to focus on what I CAN do, rather than on what I can't. Hard sometimes, as my brain still fools me into thinking things are possible when my body simply can't.
Your column today is one I will file away and bring out to read often as I think of planning a trip or taking a walk. Thank you.

Suggest the books by Judith Viorst, who has her latest book Nearing 90 just out, wrote about each of the decades, and with a serious and funny side... and an interview she just did at Temple Emanu-El New York's site on ZOOM videos... m

Ronni, I often forward your columns to a small group of women in my community (with whom I used to meet monthly before corona virus raised its ugly head). We call our group Aging with Awareness (AWA) and the virus has added a new chapter to our challenges of aging. We too have decried the black/white perceptions of aging, and I like to think of myself as in that middle camp, neither drooling (yet) or climbing mountains, but proud to say I got thru my to-do list at the end of the day. A mighty triumph. Who knows how many -isms will be affected by this pandemic, but if there's any chance of ageism disappearing, I'm all for it!

Thank you for sharing Charlotte Wood’s article. I think the thing that scares me the most about aging is the unknown about what life threatening health problems I could have spring up at any moment! I’m 67 now and healthy, but “what if, whenever” some illness strikes? I’m due for a mammogram and colonoscopy and I dread them both because “what if” there is a problem. I had to have a breast biopsy years ago and everything turned out fine, but I have never experienced so much anxiety as I did waiting for the results. I know health issues can happen at any age, but at my current age, this is what I worry about!

The two "marker" birthdays that have been hardest for me were 30 and 70. At 30 I was still unmarried and living in a Midwestern town where the prospects were pretty bleak. My fear as I passed that milestone was that "all the good ones are taken" and that I would never marry, would end up alone and lonely. As it turned out, I met a "good one" at 38 and married him just before I turned 40, which meant that turning 40 was not a crisis.

I found 70 hard because it meant I was no longer "getting old." I was old. And what I was afraid of then was loss. My husband and best friend are both five years older than I am and their health is not as good as mine. So, I reasoned then and still reason today, at 72, that they are likely to die before I do, which is scary. It isn't being old that bothers me so much; it's losing the people I love best.

Thank you, Martha, for the Judith Viorst recommendation. My library has her 80-year old edition, written in 2010, so I asked for it. Hopefully her latest will show up soon, but for now, I will check out her feelings on being 80.

Adaptation seems the key to me. It has been required of me my entire life by circumstances--sometimes out of my control--and now I see it was actually a gift. Never lived with the expectation that anything was owed to me and experienced just enough health issues from my 20s through my 60s (though none life threatening) to understand that whatever represents a good life one day, may not be so the next.
The lock down has given everyone (who experienced it and paid attention) a glimpse of what it means to lose access to daily, taken-for-granted routines. Sound familiar to the older of us? Good practice for old age? Perhaps. Certainly provides folks of all ages plenty of opportunities to learn how to adapt to unforeseen and unwanted circumstances.

I actually feel younger now at 67 then I did at 30. I think at 30 you keep pushing yourself to do everything because you are “only” 30 and you are not suppose to have limitations. At 67 I’m my own person, I do as much as I can and don’t feel like I have to make excuses as to why I can’t do something. It’s a bit liberating to not look like a fool when I say I’m going to take a nap. I’m much more comfortable with myself. I know longer worry if someone is watching me and I make a fool of myself. Now it’s just expected and I could act like an ass if I want too. My concentration has shifted to just keeping my balance. I would not want to go back to being 30. I’m too comfortable in my old age.

I really enjoyed the Charlotte Wood article. It’s a keeper along with many of yours, Ronni. Thank you.

To be honest, I often feel unqualified to post comments here (outside of the weekend columns) because I’m still a year from turning 60, but I admit I have some real fears of what lies ahead. My parents both died young from cancer (Dad was 63, Mom was 64) and up until 4 years ago, outside of the dentist I’d never been to a doctor or hospital in my adult life. Then suddenly—the ER 11 times, 2 operations & now wrestling with a chronic medical condition. I’m just hoping this has been a ‘hiccup’ and in a year or so I can be my old self again... my hair has turned almost all white, but at least I still have it.

Hey I wanted to add a thank you to this week’s Alex & Ronnie Show. I very much enjoyed the exchange of honest thoughts, particularly when Alex admitted how afraid he was of venturing outside. I love you guys.

I'm a retired professor, age 75. I’ve always been busy with my clubs (book, fiber art, art to wear) and volunteering with the Red Cross and hospice. I’ve also been a Guardian ad Litem volunteer for 17 years. I’ve always said that I’m busier now, in retirement, than when I was working.

Then came Covid-19. All club meetings, volunteer contact and social engagement have stopped. I'm sheltering at home with nothing on the calendar. And the truth is that I feel free - free to read, to create art, to cook favorite dishes, and to sleep in as long as I like. I’ve come to realize that being busy has its downside and that I'll have joy in my life when I’m no longer able to leave the house.

Perhaps now more than before (COVID-19), it is what it is. . .

I remember panicking about getting old and being over the hill when I was 21!

Of course that sounds ridiculous, and is, but I realized then that much of the manufactured culture we live in is marketed to and sold to the under-21 crowd, especially in music, film, etc.

Part of the feeling of being passed-by by culture was because I was a consumer of the manufactured pre-packaged culture. We all at the time defined ourselves by which musical groups and people we felt entralled by, which movies we went to, which restaurants we went to, etc. It was a echo of the childhood defining myself by which television programs I preferred.

Over the years I have more and more ignored the manufactured culture. I became more of myself, not what is spewed at me by corporate culture factories.

I'm 71 now and I don't feel old at all. In fact, the wonderous joy in being retired have enlivened me in the last few years.

This is in response to your talk with Alex re the question of "evil" . I remember when I read M.Scott Peck's book, People of the Lie: the hope for healing human evil. And yes, as I recall, he did conclude there are truly evil people.

Also, when I turned 30, 50 years ago, the expression "Don't trust anyone over 30" was making the rounds. So I felt that birthday as a milestone more than others as I turned 40 , then 50. At the age of almost 50 I graduated from a masters program in Clinical Art Therapy and went on to work in the field for over 20 years.

I do feel my age especially after a day of working in the garden. My arthritis kicks me in the butt after bending and stooping pulling weeds, etc. And I have to take a rest the next day. If I cannot complete my "to do" list, that's O.K., tomorrow is another day... full of those things I cannot put off. Also I need to remember to smell the roses, to be grateful for my many blessings and to focus on the things I CAN DO.

You're looking good, Ronni, I like you in red.

Ageing has never been particularly of concern to me. I recall being pleased when I became 21, took note of the first year of each succeeding decade — sometimes with wonder that I actually was 30, 40, 60, etc. My decade older brother did startle me when I was in my mid-twenties by admonishing his children with words, “You better be nice to your old maid aunt.......”. What? Just because I had chosen not to wed I’m an “old maid” at 23 years?

This ageing topic appearing here again sounds so familiar — one I once thought might result in more resolution if only more people were made aware of the issues since all are faced with them sooner or later. Wrong! I’ve just been too impatient — not accepting how long social change generally takes. Also, we see with this virus how many are willing to accommodate their lives with consideration for the welfare of older generations so we know their priorities.

I guess I’ve become jaded in my thinking our culture will ever come to grips with ageism in the U.S. Given the prevalence of commercialism, the worship of celebrity beginning with younger generations, it seems to be expected selling anything and everything youth-oriented would prevail as it increasingly has in my lifetime. Whether or not such attitudes present in so many change I expect to take a hundred years or so at best, if we keep hammering away on the topic.

Seems so simple that everyone ages, therefore all generations might want to create an environment desirable for them to enter into when they become older. There’s a disconnect in thinking of so many it seems, somewhere along the way.

I loved this article...thanks so much for recommending it...the James Hillman book on character and ageing is a profound and thought provoking and delightful
resource...
Take care
Nancy Rogers

Aging doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m 73 and still in good health, but I do know, if I began to have a life in constant pain, disabled in some ways, serious heart or cancer problems or the starting of Alzheimers, I’d be ready to go. Life is good when it’s good.

As far as the sky diving elder types, let them have at it! I’d much rather read a good book, take a walk in nature, work in my garden, paint and generally enjoy a peaceful serene introspective life.

I actually find aging freeing from our youthful culture's criteria and priorities. I’m freer and happier than I have ever been.

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