I am grateful to have reached this age. I didn’t think I would, and I nearly didn’t due to stress and other factors in my life. I know a lot of people do not reach their sixties, and that I am lucky. Four people that I used to work with didn’t, and maybe many more that I do not know about, as I have lost touch over the last 9 years.
I still don’t like being old, not because of how I feel (most of the time I still feel 30 in my head and it is a shock when I see myself in the mirror) but because there is a shameful stigma attached to it. Many people even lie about their age. I don’t, as I am proud and grateful to get here. That is not to say I don’t worry about getting older and not being able to do the things that I can do now, which are less than the things that I used to be able to do, which is frustrating sometimes. This isn’t helped when I see services for the old falling apart in the NHS and social care. Those without money seem invisible as they don’t fit the criteria for help. I saw my friend pleading to be taken into a home as he could not look after himself anymore. I saw my Mum wither away in an old people’s home during the lock down, her dementia causing her not to understand why people could only wave through a window and she could not have a hug. I don’t want to go like that. I want to go with a bang, driving over a cliff like Thelma and Louise.
The thing I fear the most is becoming obsolete. My children already talk down to me a bit, and smile indulgently when I can’t cope with the technology that is now needed for every day life. They barely recognise my wisdom, my knowledge, my life experience, whereas in countries like Japan age is respected and the older people in some cultures are cared for by the extended family. Our society in the Western world does not see growing old as a positive experience and we isolate the old and hide them away. Our culture is all geared to beauty and what is on the outside rather than the inside. This is why so many people have cosmetic surgery, colour their hair, and buy anti-aging creams. They don’t want people to realise that they are aging.
I don’t care that I am wrinkled. I have earned every one of them. I decided in my forties when my life could not plunge any lower, that people were going to have to accept me for who I am. I couldn’t pretend any longer to be someone I wasn’t to be accepted. No more people pleasing for me. My hair has been grey since then, I rarely wear make-up, never use beauty creams, and I dress to be comfy rather than to look good. I am happy with that. I am in competition with no one. I intend to embrace my old age and the years I have left. Now that I don’t have to impress any one, I can say what I want, act how I want, and be as stroppy and cantankerous as I want as long as I don’t hurt anyone. That feels like total freedom to me as my wings are no longer clipped by fear of losing a job, or someone not liking or accepting me.
Although since childhood I have never liked birthdays as they were always a big disappointment, I will celebrate every year that I have left. I will try to remind people that life is for living, share my knowledge (whether people are ready to hear it or not), and try to add kindness to the world. I will watch the sunsets, marvel at the seasons in nature, enjoy the sun on my freckled face, and relish the time I can spend with my family. When I can no longer do those things, I will turn the lights out and go to sleep when I choose.
My Mum did this when she found out her partner had died, and my aunty did it when she realised that she would no longer be able to live independently at home. Our minds are wonderful things and many people do not realise how powerful they are, and how we can think ourselves to be ill or well. Part of it is a matter of mindset. We have more choice in what happens to us in our lives than people believe.
Hopefully I have a while to go yet, and I know I have to do more self-care and get rid of some of my bad habits to prolong my time here. I am a bit of a control freak and would like to know how long I actually have left so that I can plan, as I hate being in the dark about it. However, what I do know is that I need to make the most of every day now, and appreciate each day as if it is my last. Am I the only one that thinks about these things, or am I just morbid?