Becoming older

Donna came over late yesterday afternoon, and we went up the road for a coffee and some flourless orange cake. We sent an hour just talking, which has always come easily for us. At one stage, we spent about 20 minutes discussing our various ailments and health in general. I’ve documented my issues, most of which are more annoying than serious. We share an ailment, but generally, I think that Donna’s health is of more concern than mine. In the wash-up though, both of us are okay and what we’re experiencing is probably normal once you become more senior – and a lot of our conversation was about that. After about 20 minutes, though, I said to her with a smile, “you know, we just had an old people’s conversation!”, and we both laughed.

It came after a conversation the night before with my Sydney mate. We went to school together and still catch-up every few days. He’d been to a neurologist and had diagnosed a variation of Tourette’s that affected him physically. Once more I sort of laughed, muttering how we were getting old. He said no, “we are old!” Seems to have happened awfully suddenly, I replied.

Not having experienced this stage of life previously, I don’t really know what is reasonable or how to react to it. The whole experience has likely been thrown out of whack by the COVID episode, and lockdown particularly. I observed, and my hairdresser agreed that I’d become quite a bit greyer between hair cuts (9 months). Donna said the same about herself last night.

In the scheme of things, I’m certainly not so bad. A lot of us went backwards in that time. Now that things are improving, it’s time to reclaim some of what was lost.

I seem to have a handle on the digestive ailments that had beset me. I’ve been sensible, and the medication I’ve prescribed myself seems to be working. I’m getting more exercise now, too. The weekly walk with Cheeseboy has recommenced. Over and above that, I’m doing more exercise around the house, with immediate effect. I only need to look at a set of barbells to put on muscle, and that hasn’t changed as I got older (from a muscular-skeletal sense I’ve probably got the body of someone 10 years younger than me – still limber, powerful, without a wrinkle). The other side of that is that I’ve struggled to bend down the last couple of days after overdoing it on Monday.

I also got a hair cut on the weekend, which is important. It’d been a good 2 1/2 months between cuts and I was looking pretty shaggy again. I walked out of the joint looking a good 70% better than I did walking in. That speaks to my vanity, which perhaps gets more precious as I get older.

I guess everyone has an image, or sense of themselves. A lot of us adopt an image, and maybe that’s the most of it. Regardless, it becomes ingrained over time, but is likely threatened as we get older – the strong become frail, the handsome and beautiful see it fade, and the general sense of capability diminishes. I think this is more true for people like me, and for Donna perhaps also because there is little else to compensate or distract us from the view. We are ourselves only, our physical and mental self, without the carapace of family or duty.

It’s not altogether healthy, and not just because it’s a tad superficial. It’s an image of the self that becomes rigid with time, which is why any variation to it can be troubling. Speaking for myself – and I’m sure it’s true for others – there are occasions when you feel that you must live up to that image because it’s what others – and what you – expect. You feel otherwise, but you project something false. This can become a burden.

Still, I feel reassured to look in the mirror and see someone who reflects that view of myself, the self-image I have built up over time – confident, masculine, calm, strong, attractive, which is the general perception of me by the world. It sounds silly, but there’s an immediate uplift when I feel like myself again, and it’s ridiculous how a simple hair cut can do that. And a bit worrying.

It’s funny how I only ever became aware of this once it was threatened, which is in the last few years. Before that, I hardly wavered from that view. I had no cause to. There was no distinction between what I showed and who I felt myself to be. It’s funny to think. For many years I felt royal. There was a patch I felt bulletproof – and that’s how I appeared to others.

Times change. Life moves on. Things happen, we get old. I may feel better about it now, but I think it wise to begin separating myself from that image because there’s only one way it’s going now, and that’s downhill. I’ll become greyer, one day I may become frail. Chances are, my health will degenerate and – gasp! – I may even develop some wrinkles. My faculties may dim (and that would be hardest of all). Much of that, I can only hope to slow. It’s the stuff inside that doesn’t need to age with me.

I’ll need to find some comfort in the years ahead, the things that compensate or distract, that make the years ahead full of opportunity rather than deterioration. It’s the same old tune really, but it’s a classic.

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