How to keep rolling with the punches as time goes by
“I don’t believe in ageing. I believe in forever altering one’s aspect to the sun. Hence my optimism. And to alter now, cleanly and sanely, I want to shuffle off this loose living randomness: people; reviews; fame; all the glittering scales; and be withdrawn, and concentrated.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary
It is true: when you get older, you become less flexible, both in the literal and the figurative sense.
Though overweight for most of my life (I was already too heavy as a toddler), I once prided myself on being extremely flexible — partly due to my ‘loose joints’, as an orthopaedist once insensitively pointed out. A physical therapist I had to see regularly as a child once told me I was nimble as a rubber ball.
I used to enjoy yoga without any restrictions.
These days, I’m having trouble lifting my legs up high enough to put on my pants. The way I fumble around these days would be laughable if it wasn’t so annoying.
Jealously I observe my husband, who is able to squat down with the drop of a hat to be closer to our dog of to fix something. I haven’t been able to squat in years, much to my continued frustration. My knees have had quite a beating over the years — I hurt the right one falling on the ice trying to skate as a kid. The left one has gotten stuck in a serious car accident and occasionally goes numb. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe some nerves have been damaged in that accident — I don’t have to visit a doctor for that (nor do I want to ). Nowadays, running and jumping seem to be a thing of the past (not that that was ever my strong suit as a book worm with little aptitude for physical activity).
In my dreams, I recreate myself. I star in my own movie as a slimmer, fitter, more flexible version of myself. Of course I am drop-dead gorgeous and somehow I don’t have my trademark curls either (with which I have always had a love/hate relationship — but that’s another story). Waking up to my mirror image can be quite a disillusion. As I trundle to my wardrobe door to grab my bathrobe, I catch myself in the mirror and have to admit to myself I look exactly like my mother at about the same age. Nope. It’s not a pretty picture.
Apart from accepting the situation there is little I can do. Quitting smoking (apparently in the nick of time before The Change came knocking) as well as embarking on The Change have left me packing the 40 extra pounds again I had so painstakingly lost only a few years ago. Of course, I exercised much more then. We used to take beach walks with our Amstaff every day (we lived within 5 minutes of the beach), I used to go swimming once a week and I even attended a weekly gym class for (as it turned out, very fanatic) elderly. I took the bike more often and was altogether much more active.
Then grief struck — in its many shapes. First, we lost my mother-in-law to cancer. Because of our living situation we sort of skipped grieving then. It is rather hard to feel anything when you’re fighting for survival, living on adrenaline (but that’s another story). Only a few months later we had to put our beloved cat to sleep. Yet another hit. Our living situation got progressively worse. We felt trapped in our house, unable to change our situation due to lack of funds. Things didn’t get any better when I had to shut down my business (one of the hardest things I ever had to do, but that too is another story). Then, I got the call that my mother had to be taken to hospital because of a heart incident. Everything changed. Fast. I rolled with the punches as best I could and tried to adapt to whatever came my way. I tried to just be flexible — pun intended.
Having lived in this Healing House for almost two years now, picking up the pieces of our lives the best we can, I feel as if I have aged more than I should have. Grief can do that to you, but the effects of The Change cannot be underestimated either. I’ve outlined the general complaints I’ve had to learn to live with in this post. Not to complain, but to clarify.
Mother Nature, it seems, is not without some sense of irony. In many ways, I am living better than I ever have: I don’t smoke, don’t drink (except on rare special occasions — when I don’t need that much to reach my limit), don’t use drugs or any medication, don’t eat meat, drink more water, take supplements, take more rest — in all, take better care of myself and allow Husband to take better care of me (he’s in charge of our daily meals). But despite all that, I often feel so worn out. My muscles hurt, as well as my joints. I feel I could sleep forever, though after about 6 hours in bed, aches and pains compel me to get up. My feet — particularly my ankles — hurt practically all the time now. I can’t seem to get up “just like that” any more. I have to stretch my muscles and straighten my back before I can even attempt walking away. When did I get this old?!
It’s not fair. If I’m doing everything right, I expect to feel better.
Figuratively as well as literally, flexibility proves to be an issue these days. Some time ago, before I landed the “gig” I am currently working on, I still actively searched for jobs, convinced a “steady job” (as if there’s even still such a thing nowadays) would be our ticket to financial stability and peace of mind. I had done it before, so there was no reason why I could not just take a job somewhere.
Well, actually, there were several reasons.
First and foremost, when you’re 50-something, apparently you’re not that interesting to employers any longer. Never mind the adage that 50 is the new 30. Never mind your years of experience, your insight and your vision. Employers are looking for young, pliable, able bodies willing to “play along”. And believe me: there comes a time you just don’t want to any more. At some point, you’re just done playing games. You know what you want and, more importantly, what you don’t want (any more).
When you’re “of a certain age” employers seem to expect you to be a headstrong know-it-all which they take pains to avoid. Combine this with that many years as an entrepreneur and employers will give you a wide birth (at least in this country). Way too bothersome.
Another reason you won’t make it to many interviews is that you have become too expensive — or employers fear that you have. You could take a pay cut, but in order to demonstrate your willingness to do that, you’d have to make it to an interview. With supply (of equally suitable candidates) higher than demand (the number of vacancies in a certain area), you won’t even make it to an interview.
On top of this, reading vacancy texts, I’m sure I’m not flexible enough these days to comply with the often ridiculous demands asked of the candidates. More often than not, I catch myself thinking: I so am not going to do that, or a simple: Hell, no. At 53, I find myself unwilling to bend myself over backwards for the whim of some future employer. So not playing that game any more. I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt. I paid my dues.
So, what to do? Am I doomed to become an unemployed old crone? Hell, no. It’s way too soon for that.
In the end, it’s all a matter of attitude. And a little help.
“A writer’s age at the time of a work’s composition is never irrelevant.”
― Margaret Atwood, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination
When it came to finding work, all that was needed turned out to be a pro-active approach. I applied to this vacancy for an editor with an editing service. When I checked out their website, I found their services touched on many aspects of my career. I felt the company and I would be a great fit and made sure to mention this in my motivation. Unfortunately, the first try did not pan out as they were looking for someone based in the near vicinity of the company’s head office (while I live 130 km. away). I indicated my willingness to commute or relocate, to no avail. Sometime later, the same company posted another job. This time I knew up front I would not be considered, but I took the opportunity anyway to let the company know I was still interested in working with them. Their third vacancy, some time later again, seemed a perfect fit and I applied again, not really expecting anything. I was surprised when they reached out and invited me for an interview at their office. I was asked how many hours I would be available as a freelancer, editing from home, and the very same week I received both a contract and my first assignment.
As for my physical flexibility, I’ve discovered I have options. Taking supplements like glucosamine and a combination of calcium, magnesium and zinc actually helps my aching joints and muscles. There’s fewer nightly cramps and spasms (so better sleep) and I get up a little easier every morning. I have started exercising again as well, because when I am this stiff already at 53, I shudder to think what I am going to be like 10, 20 years down the road. I have rediscovered yoga, taking it one day at a time. If I keep this up, and keep watching my diet, eventually I will be fit enough to face whatever challenges Mother Nature has in store for me in later age.
Making up your mind
Perhaps the most important countermeasure against reduced flexibility is your own mind. Just as one day I had enough of smoking and simply quit one day, I made up my mind that I am not going to grow old this way. Yes, I am overweight. Yes, I could be a lot fitter. Yes, I have become inflexible and set in my ways. But that does not mean I have to take this ageing thing lying down. I feel just a little too young for that yet. I have stuff to do, places to be. It is time I follow my own advice to Husband, who turned 50 this year: your life isn’t over, you’re in half-time. Instead of looking back to what you failed to accomplish, look forward to what you have yet to succeed at.
A long time ago I made a promise to myself. I was going to be this slim, fit, cool 50-year old everybody would mistake for a 30-year old. I broke that promise — due to extenuating circumstances, but still.
I have made a new promise to myself. I am going to be this slim, fit, cool and flexible 60-year old everyone mistakes for a 40-year old. I have 7 years. I cannot turn back the clock, but I can age with some grace and dignity. I’m keeping my promise to myself.
And I won’t be flexible about that.
This post was originally published on Medium in my publication The Changing Blog on December 31, 2019.