I just celebrated my 69th birthday. I should say “acknowledged” rather than “celebrated.” I try to put on a certain insouciance about my age but sometimes getting older is just plain discouraging. In fact, discouragement is the great bugaboo of aging. Discouragement, which can stretch out into depression, can make you feel really, really old.
Discouragement is just an emotion, however, and you can do something about emotions if you understand them. My discouragement often stems from comparing myself to others and to my former self.
I have just been at the Y, walking my three miles on the track. This is a prime spot for comparing myself to other people. I do not compare myself to the runners and joggers–well, yes, a little. I notice, for example, that a typical runner passes me every lap, which means that he or she is moving twice as fast as I am. But I am more likely to pay attention to my fellow walkers. Are they older or younger? Fatter or thinner? And, of course, faster or slower?
Today a remarkable number of walkers seemed to be older and faster than me, though several were older and slower. One was younger, fatter, and faster. Some were younger and slower and then they started running and were much, much faster. The pair of women who walk faster than me while talking nonstop were not there today, but another pair–younger, plumper, and even talkier–strolled the 1/10-mile oval like they owned it, ignoring the runners and the faster walkers, including me, who edged by them. They weren’t paying attention to anybody else. Why should I?
It’s just a way of entertaining myself, I suppose, but being with other people also helps me step up my pace. And keeping my butt moving is one way of overcoming the sloggy discouragement that goes with noticing my declining physical powers. Plus it also retards that decline.
Before that I had been to the radiology department of the clinic for a bone scan. Talk about comparisons. I measured 1/4 inch shorter than three years ago. Yikes. I won’t know the results of the scan for another week but it will probably show some decline in bone density. It goes with my genes, gender, and age. I can slow that decline with the walking, calcium, D, etc., but I expect to have a debate with the doctor about trying to reverse it with medication. The proliferating bottles of prescription medication on our shelves are discouraging signs of aging.
I suppose comparison can also be a source of encouragement. On the Y track I cruise past the obese walkers. Other women who were waiting with me in the radiology department were in wheelchairs. But I don’t feel superior to these people; only compassion–and respect for those who are trying their best. One woman was wheeled into the office in a wheelchair but got up and walked when she was called into the treatment room. I don’t think I’d consent to a wheelchair until absolutely necessary. I am grateful to be in pretty good shape. I’m pleased that, although I am shrinking in height (not good), I have also shrunk in weight (good).
One thing that I have observed about the aging/comparison/discouragement syndrome is that, as I age, I require increasing recovery time from almost any kind of injury or stress. Where injury is concerned, this can be discouraging. I dealt with plantar fasciitis in my right foot for three years before it finally went away.
The stress of travel, or planning a worship service, or hosting overnight guests–all of which I have been doing lately–often leaves me feeling inadequate and thus, discouraged. But then I realize that I am just tired. I was feeling discouraged yesterday. Then I had an introverty evening alone, watching my current favorite TV series on Netflix (the French crime drama Spiral); a good night’s sleep; those three miles this morning; and time to reflect on it all.
I’m not discouraged, tired, or even old any more. I am just 69.