Disclaimer: Reading this essay may cause mild to severe panic in individuals approaching middle age.
Maybe it started when your arms got shorter. Suddenly they weren’t long enough to read the small print on your pill bottles. So you bought your first pair of reading glasses. Or maybe it was that first pill case you bought with compartments for each day of the week to remind you to take your “meds.” These are all signs that you have reached your biologically-predetermined peak in life and are now making your descent toward your “silver years.” It really is all downhill from here. The only question now is, will you remain intact enough to enjoy the trip, or will you get caught up in an avalanche and be swept away in a crushing tumbler of metaphorical ice, snow and stone?
The first signs of impending catastrophic aging are gradual and sneaky. You can get used to anything – even the ground shivering occasionally beneath your feet. If it doesn’t go away, it becomes your new normal. For instance, I’ve recently invested in stronger reading glasses, and if I get caught without them, I have to have one of the children read labels for me. I’ve also graduated from a simple 7-cell pill case to a pill condo with 28 individual compartments, four for each day – a reward for scoring badly on my last blood test.
I’ve noticed many other signs of aging escalation that I’m sure many of you share. If you’re over 40, chances are you grunt or groan when you sit down or stand up. It may be subtle. You may not even notice you’re doing it. Ask your husband/wife/partner. They’ll tell you. He or she will also probably tell you that you snore. It’s also likely that you have trouble sleeping, that you feel like absolute crap first thing in the morning, that you suffer from some kind of chronic anxiety or depression, that you have frequent headaches or acid reflux or both, that various joints are showing signs of irreparable damage, that you are overweight, that you have to exercise twice as hard or long as you did 10 years ago to achieve the same effect, and that there are foods you can no longer eat without extreme discomfort (or without clearing a room). And if you’re a woman, your reproductive system is preparing to shut down spurring a whole host of fun symptoms (which deserves a whole essay of its own, so I won’t elaborate here).
Don’t despair. There’s a bright side to aging. Or so I’m told. You get to develop character. “That which does not kill us…” and all that, right? Yes, I know. What a crock of shit. See, now we’re finally old enough to really understand what a nutcase Nietzsche was. Pain is just pain and it sucks. It doesn’t make you stronger. It just is and most of the time, we endure it because we have no choice. So no, aging isn’t for wimps but even the wimps will do it. They’ll just whine more.
But the good part is, if you can learn to live with the change without whining, you start noticing things. Maybe you stop taking so much for granted. You appreciate little things like you never have before – a good night’s sleep, not passing gas during a meal in public, or just the time you get to read a book while you’re in the waiting room at your doctor’s office.
Or maybe you notice just how amazing being alive really is, breathing out and breathing in, and thinking about every living thing that ever breathed that same air, or where the water in your glass was a million years ago or the exploded star your molecules came from. Just being able to think about all that while feeling the sun on your face, well, that’s a lot.
But it’s not everything. C’mon. There are going to be times when you can’t manage that isn’t-life-amazing-I’m just-happy-to-be-here mojo. So here’s my advice, just a few things I do when I’ve had a rough day of living:
1- Watch a monster movie.Nothing will make you appreciate being alive more than watching other people being eaten alive by a giant, angry shark. Or an alien with acid for blood. Or a pack of zombies, pirate ghosts, guild-ridden werewolves, pissed-off angels, vampires with a conscience, wise-cracking demons who want to be human, giant desert worms, or 3,000-year-old reanimated mummies of ancient aliens. Fill in your monster(s) here.
2- Read a funny book. It’s hard to complain while you’re laughing. I can personally attest that any of the following authors will make you snort your coffee: Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore, Tom Holt, Bill Bryson, David Sedaris, and Janet Evanovich. And special kudos to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett for Good Omens.
3- Spend time with your kids. If yours are teenagers, this might be a little more difficult than it was when they were little. But even mine are willing to patronize the parents once in a while and have a family movie night or go out for snow cones. Even if you just get them talking while you drive the carpool to school, they can be quite entertaining and something about their enthusiasm is infectious.
That’s about all I have in my arsenal except for going hiking with my camera which you already know about if you’re a regular follower of this blog. So what do you do to combat the rigors of aging? I’d love to hear some suggestions.
For those of you who are interested, see my first post on this subject: Aging Sucks.