We often find that things aren’t as they seem. Things in the mirror are closer than they seem. Your eyes can deceive you. In my case, it isn’t my eyes or a mirror deceiving me. It’s my own mind. There is a big dichotomy that has developed in the last few years between my mind’s version of who I am and what I am capable of doing and the version that is reality.
I don’t feel like I am an old person. Okay, I’ve got some creaks and all, but I still don’t think I’m old. I am old.
There are days that I have the same mind and spirit and enthusiasm I had in my twenties. I make plans. I think I can do all sorts of projects. I can lift that, move those, fix whatever, and take this project on. I can fit in with a bunch of young people. I fill a day with activities and places to be. My alarm goes off early some days to get me where I need to be and I’m up late with Colbert and Fallon. I am ready to take on anything!
There are many things about aging that do not faze me. I know that I am smarter and more settled than I was at a younger age. I have gained a modicum of wisdom and perspective over my younger self. I know that I am not old in spirit. I don’t think, act, dress, or view things as some old timer unable to keep up with today. You won’t hear me going on about “kids these days.” While I have my own tastes in music, I can appreciate the merits of all music and recognize what is good in each genre. I am no Luddite when it comes to computers, technology in my daily life, and new innovations. I’m willing to look at new ways of doing things, different perspectives than I grew up with, and alternative styles and lives.
That doesn’t mean I jump on every bandwagon that passes by. I don’t have to accept everything new that comes along if it contradicts my values or my experience. I am not buying every new trend or style that comes along because some just don’t fit my life. I remember the adage that if you remember the style from the first time it came around you are too old for it the second time. Many of the clothing styles today would not work for my age and body. I looked good in a mini-skirt back in the late 60s and early 70s…but I’m not going there now. I could probably carry off wearing one of the jumpsuits now in style, but I remember what a pain they were to wear from days gone by. I don’t want to fully undress to go to the bathroom and worry about how to keep clothing off of a public restroom floor!
Having said all of this, there are times that my age shows. And even then it mostly it doesn’t make a difference. There are times I look at the fashion of today and do the old lady head shake and make my grandma’s noise (some call it “sucking her teeth” others call it “tsk-tsk-tsk”). The homecoming and prom dresses I see today seem to me to make very young girls look like they are dressing like someone older going to a nightclub – they seem over-the-top sexy and even slutty to me for someone that young. And maybe that’s old-fashioned of me or maybe it’s me having lived a long time hearing “and what were you wearing the night you were raped.” Whatever the reason, I am dismayed by what too many of these young girls are wearing. (And I’d add that I really don’t like seeing underwear – his, hers, it doesn’t make a difference. It’s called underwear because you wear it under your clothes). Does my judgment make a difference? Nope.
Then there are days when reality starts smacking me around forcing me to admit that I have limitations. I look down at the hands typing this and wonder when they became an old person’s hands. I think about going upstairs to get something and decide I don’t really need it. I get up out of a chair with sound effects. I have grey hair and wrinkles and sore feet and a back that doesn’t allow me to move in certain ways.
In the last few months I was sure it wouldn’t be a big deal to do some remodels in the house and plan a party for my father’s birthday at the same time. Even when the flood happened and destroyed floors, I was philosophical and was certain I could ride it out, fix some things, get the remodeling done, and be ready to host a party. Then it came down to two weeks to get the work finished. When workmen failed to show up or came late and left early, I jumped in thinking “I don’t need these people. I’ve done these things before and I can do them now.”
I can’t go up and down a ladder repeatedly. I more often make a mess trying to do DIY projects than succeeding. I’m not as flexible or as strong as I once was. Where I once got down under the sink to fix a drain, I now find that I can’t always maneuver around and do what needs to be done. It also involves stopping part way through in exasperation. I awkwardly get down on the floor to do something, and then I look around to see what else I can do while I’m down there before executing a plan for getting back up. I used to paint rooms, hang wallpaper, and do other projects around the house. Now I painted a bathroom on my own and had a workman comment on the “paint effect” used in there. There was no special effect. It was just proof that reaching over and around obstacles like the shower, the vanity, and the tub isn’t part of my repertoire any more.
And this all leads to what bothers me about getting old. I raised a child as a single mother. I worked full time, took classes, ran him to football or wrestling or baseball practices and games. I paid the bills, cleaned the house, and did the daily chores. As I said before, I painted and put up wallpaper. I fixed drains, repaired toilets, built shelving, and I maintained a house including doing repairs as they were needed. And I did it myself. My son helped with some chores as he and any child should. As he grew, he often lent a hand lifting heavy things. Before that and since he moved out, I have used many creative ways to do that myself. And I never liked asking for help, didn’t ask for help, and still don’t want to ask for help. Unfortunately I am finding that I need the help more and more.
I tried to hang curtain rods when I got new curtains, and ended up calling my grandson. The next time came during the remodel and a friend came to help because I couldn’t bear to go up and down the ladder one more time. Early this summer I took all of the art down from the walls, moved all of the furniture, and stowed away things on top of the furniture so the painter (who was already proof that I couldn’t do something I once did) could do his job. I packed for a vacation where you had to bring everything for the kitchen, linens, etc. And then turned around to undo all of that at the completion. That cost me more than a month of extreme pain, an inability to move or get up from a chair, and numerous trips to a chiropractor. And I must admit that a part of the pain was the mental anguish caused by the fact that I couldn’t do these things anymore.
When workers didn’t show up or finish jobs during the remodel, I got angry and threw myself into trying to complete the work myself. Eventually I had to admit several things. First, I shouldn’t be jumping into a job in anger because I will do physical harm to myself and the project. Second, if I delay admitting my limitations I will eventually crash and burn, lose it, hit the wall, fall apart or whatever you want to call it. That day will be ugly – it will destroy me emotionally, be harmful to my spirit, and will take no prisoners with anyone in my wake. And then finally, when I reach the point where I have no choice but to crawl sobbing, swearing, and falling apart to someone for help, I feel like such a loser, a failure. It takes a considerable toll on me.
I am already forced to ask for help more than anyone I know because, as a person living alone, I often need a ride back from the car garage, the hospital, a medical procedure. Uber has helped that problem for some things but not when the ride is for a medical reason. There are times when things aren’t a one-person job (especially when the one person is old) and I find myself forced into accepting help from my next door neighbor or friends. And having to ask is what makes me feel old, incompetent, and needy when I want to be strong, independent, and capable.
I’ve heard that old age isn’t for sissies. That’s true. It often comes when you are alone. There are aches and pains that accompany aging. There are physical changes that are painful, threatening, and limiting. And now I’m very conscious of the mental toll the limitations take on people. I spent the last few days with my 90-year-old father who still golfs, has a girlfriend, and goes out a great deal but has had to admit that he really can’t do stairs any more and can’t walk distances. I’m very conscious of the toll it is taking on his spirit and his mental health. Most of the time he is the same man he always was but there are other days where he becomes the proverbial grumpy old man. These reflections have brought me to an awareness that I need to have patience with those who face limitations. I need to be sure to treat them with respect and learn to pay attention to the help needed so they don’t have to ask.