Reality, Fantasy, and Simply Surviving: Getting Used to My New Old Body

old couple
I was clipping my toenails today when I realized bending over to reach my toes has become a challenge. As I’ve aged, and maintained fairly reasonable health and condition, a number of actions are simply more difficult. There hasn’t been one “ah-ha” moment, rather a growing awareness. Incidents occur when I catch myself asking, “Why am I panting at the top of three flights of stairs?” or “Where is my waist disappearing to?”

Questions to my doctor give me no real answers. If nothing pops up on a medical test, such as blood counts or EKGs, he and I tend to blame problems on aging. Minor aches and pains, slower reflexes, stiffness, less flexibility, even thinning hair. Yes, these are consistent with my image and information about advanced years.

And yet, the last time I remember becoming so bewildered over my body’s responses was in adolescence. My girl parts became sensitive, I was awkward and clumsy, my physical responses took erratic control over my brain. I didn’t know when I’d blush or start hyperventilating. Don’t even ask about my intense and unpredictable emotions.

Can it be that becoming a “mature” adult is as earth-shaking as adolescence, at least physically? Certainly seems so. I’m not referring to body image, if I think I look fat or wrinkled or ugly, but to the reality of my automatic responses.

My inclination is to try harder, reach higher, breath deeper. If there’s a limit, I need to push the boundary. And this instinct appears to be valid. As I’m lifting weights in the gym and telling myself to cut the set short, I remember the 77-year-old woman I saw on television who took up weight lifting five years ago and is as cut and taut as a 35-year-old athlete. If I forget my best friend’s name and want to excuse the lapse because of diminished memory, I recall advice from specialists to develop compensatory methods to cultivate my skills.

“Getting old is hell,” my grandfather used to tell me. Little did I know how accurate he was. I wonder where the wrinkles came from, why my height is decreasing. Our culture is no help at all. We’re so engrained with the belief that youth-beauty-skinniness is the ideal, we find an alternative nearly impossible to develop. A friend recently told me about an old lady, an Alzheimer patient, who walked the halls of her care facility, greeting all and sundry with the statement, “I’m so ugly, why am I so ugly?” She probably had been surprised by her image in the mirror.

Never having grown taller than five feet and never being skinny, I long ago gave up delusions of meeting some beauty ideal. Still I’d hoped to have more control over my body’s responses to the world around me. I’ll try to consider this stage of life as similar to moving through being a teen. When I finally adapt, I’ll have learned from the process and be ready for new insights.

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