Aging Disgracefully — Thoughts on My 70th Birthday

Photo by James Kovin on Unsplash

Disclaimer #1

This is a long, long piece. It’s a rant and a rage and a search for meaning. I’m not apologizing for it because it sorta has a happy ending. And I’ve learned something about myself in the process of writing this essay. Maybe you’ll identify with some of what I’m saying. Maybe you’ll file it away for the future. Maybe you’ll read it and throw it away. Maybe you’ll ignore it and not even read it. Whatever you want to do with it is okay.

Disclaimer #2

You may think I’ve got it pretty easy compared to other people. I’m the first to admit I probably do. But I’m also empathetic toward their situations. I’m not the first or only person facing the situations hanging over me. However, remember . . . I’m sharing this story because it’s my story and it’s what I know. It’s authentic, sometimes raw, always truthful. You may have an entirely different experience or know of someone whose experience differs. It’s all okay.

Disclaimer #3

I didn’t write this for you to feel sorry for me. I don’t want your pity. And I didn’t write this to give you a platform to feel superior to me or anyone else. Don’t judge me. This is simply a slice- of-life story. Anything can happen to any one of us at any time. Let’s simply do our best to learn from each other’s experiences and deal with whatever comes our way. And yes, it’s perfectly fine to grieve, complain, be angry. It will pass.

Today is my 70th birthday, and I’m not thrilled.

I didn’t mind turning 40 . . .

or 50 . . .

or even 60 . . .

. . . but 70?

Dang.

This one is problematic.

Why?

Because I’m turning into an old woman. I’m entering old age.

I never thought it would happen to me. That’s the truth. It isn’t that I thought I’d be dead by now. It’s more like I thought my mindset would stay the same. It’s not. Well, maybe it’s just changing and I don’t know who this old woman is yet because she certainly isn’t the maiden or mother she once was. She’s been chugging along on her way to Croneville, and she’s pulling up to her destination. After all these years, she’s arriving. All at once. She isn’t ready to disembark. It’s a shock.

(Here we go, back into first person. I can handle it now.) . . .

I’ve never been an old woman before. Growing up, I never had any real-life models for how to * B E * one. I’ve been exposed to a host of bad prototypes, but not one (other than in books I’ve read) that’s gracious, good, or kind.

I’m blind, damaged, lost, jumbled, and screwed.

I’m aging disgracefully.

I’ve traveled seven decades in time, with possibly two decades (give or take) left. Only two. Ouch.

I’m not bragging when I tell you this, but I’ve always looked younger than my years. People have told me so all my life (and still do!), so I guess it’s true.

Many years ago when my grandsons (one is now 23 and engaged[!], and the other is 18) and I would be out and about together, people we came in contact with would remark how well behaved my sons were. My grandsons would correct them — She’s our GRANDMOTHER! The strangers would look me up and down, their mouths dropped and frozen open, as if I had put a spell on them and they’d turn into a toad at any moment.

The boys were puzzled, couldn’t understand why strangers thought I was their mother (despite the obvious family resemblance). For me, though, well, it made me feel good to be mistaken for someone young enough to be their mother.

However, it’s only perpetuated the illusion that I have a lifetime yet to live. I don’t.

Which brings me to my dilemma . . . the reasons for mourning my 70th birthday:

I’m not superhuman

Our bodies start to age when we’re in our 30s and continue to show wear and tear the remainder of our days. Old physical injuries erupt and claim their positions as the prima donnas of our physical existence. The broken bones and sprains and smashed fingers, the weak knees, deteriorating joints, arthritis, and all the rest that might have been hidden or hardly noticeable for decades are now at the center of our existence. Portents of disaster to come. And the threats of future possible illnesses and diseases — possibly serious or fatal? I can’t think about it.

In the last year I’ve seen more specialists (and have I mentioned how repulsed I am by doctors?) than I have in all the previous years I’ve lived.

In general, we humans experience bone and muscle loss, degeneration of the spinal disc. We shrink in height. Men drop an inch (keep it clean here, folks!) by 70 and another by 80. Women wither down by two inches from age 30–70.

So far, I’ve only shrunk about ¾ of an inch — down from 5’3 ¾” to an even 5’3”. I’ve always been the runt in the family (by far) and been teased relentlessly about it. Like I can control my height. I’ve always been fine with it — actually LIKED my height — and never considered myself “short.”

But now when there could be more height to lose, I don’t want to get even more petite. It’s become tiring being teased because I’m on the diminutive side. It isn’t an issue for me, so get over it, you giant people who consider my perfect stature a sort of lack.

I was once reaching for something on the top shelf in my parents’ kitchen cabinets when my sister commanded my younger brother, Help her! She’s short!

She’s short? I just wanted to punch her in the face. Still do. She can’t let it go.

I can’t say I can complain about my hair color. There are so many strands of different colors that have come in naturally — the bronze and brass and copper. I especially like the gold and the silver and the diamond, how they sparkle and shimmer. It’s quite beautiful, actually, if I do say so myself.

And I still wear my hair long. Women have asked me who colors my hair. Mother Nature. Strangers of the male persuasion approach me in a non-threatening manner (maybe because I’m old?) and compliment me on my hair color. They don’t ask if it’s natural, but I tell them anyway, even to their backs as they’re walking away. I don’t know how I got so lucky with hair genes, but it’s one of the few things about older age that I’m proud of and grateful for. Diamonds in my hair.

Again, I don’t mean to boast . . . I’m just looking for a positive thing here and there, as they’re in the minority among the horrific physical elements of growing older.

Tinctures and lotions and potions — oh my

My principle goal in life has been to not be on any prescription medications for the rest of my life. And yay! I‘ve made it so far.

B U T . . .

Little did I think to include in that goal the host of treatments and remedies — things I refer to as my tinctures and lotions and potions — that keep this body running.

These are things I’ll have to be doing “for the rest of my life,” as every health professional clearly points out to me. The thought of which, if you haven’t guessed already, is quite distasteful to my sensibilities. For as helpful as these tinctures and lotions and potions may be, it annoys me to have to take them every day — some two or three times a day — just to keep going, and then not even at 100%.

The reason I need to use the majority of these tinctures and lotions and potions is due to previous psychological traumas. (More about that a little further down.) What affects the mind also affects the body. Grrrrrrrr!

And every health professional I’ve had to deal with — yes, every single one of them — has said to me * AT YOUR AGE * and then goes on to describe some sort of bodily breakdown. Well, you know what? I’m sick of that too.

In other words, all of this is bullshit and not diamonds.

I have no idea where I’m going

Most of my former personal hobbies, interests, and leisure activities are no longer attractive to me. I don’t care about them anymore, so I’ve let them fall away. Good for me, right?

But there’s nothing to take their places. And I have no idea what to put there. It has to be something I feel called to. Hopefully, it will be more than one thing.

I have a slight awareness of clues emerging from the fog, but for now, I’m adrift, purposeless, and directionless. I’ve lost my compass and am as aimless as a helium balloon launch at a memorial service (don’t try this at home or anywhere else — it’s bad for wildlife and the environment).

I’m hollow and shadowy. I have nothing in me but dark matter. I’m in chaos, and I don’t see a way out. I’m dopey and hollowed out like the pumpkin I just bought will soon be.

Drat! What’s to be done?

Trauma from emotional neglect and emotional abuse

If that weren’t enough, I’m in the long process of healing a lifetime of psychological traumas that have been running my daily life ever since I can remember. They’ve been playing in the background this whole time without me knowing they were there and without knowing they were caused by the systematic emotional abuse served up to me consistently for many years as a child.

I was finally able to escape when I turned 18, but it was too late. The effects of the trauma had taken root long ago.

Photo by Susan Wilkinson on Unsplash

My condition was never picked up on by any of the therapists I’d seen in the past, which is a bafflement to me.

Anyway, add to those events the medical and health related psychological traumas I was cruelly subjected to beginning in early childhood and continuing through much of my adult life, and it’s no wonder the impact of it hit the roof. I’m furious that I have #metoo stories to tell about what those bastards did. 😢

As a result of all that, I unknowingly had a cauldron of ugly-memory soup that simmered in my brain until it bubbled out of control and boiled over when I was 62. I went searching for a diagnosis and found it (officially confirmed and recorded by my mental health provider). The diagnosis was PTSD (it’s not just for soldiers), and it wasn’t pretty. Still isn’t.

Ever since then, I’ve been in therapy to clear these things out of my system, to put the traumatized recollections into the appropriate memory files of my brain. This work keeps my memories of the events intact, but they no longer trigger me and cause behavior that just isn’t me. The chaos they cause is gone, and once again it’s me that’s in charge of me . . . until something else pops up and the healing process begins again.

Yes, those old memories are buried deep, and I’m sure I’m still not aware of some of them, and I don’t know if or how they’ll show up. But it’s always explosive when they make an appearance, and I don’t like it. And it absolutely cannot be helped, which is disturbing to me.

B.S., not diamonds.

Even as I write this, I’m undergoing EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming) yet again to clear out the memory of an event that was triggered when I had to visit a physical therapist a couple of weeks ago.

This one built slowly and rose up privately, at home, two days after our first appointment. Fortunately for me, the Fates (which are with me sometimes) were there for me, as my PT was called away on a family issue and will be gone until the middle of October. This has given my mental health therapist and me time to do EMDR around this newest issue and clear it so I can continue my work with my new PT.

Will there be more psychological therapy and more EMDR after this? Probably. I can see me spending the rest of my life clearing out this bullshit, looking for the diamonds.

It’s hard, hard work that requires lots of physical and psychic energy and much sobbing and wailing and weeping. Often I’m wiped out for the rest of the day after a session, and sometimes the day after as well. I’m doing a lot of self-care, which would normally be nice. Now I do it to keep the needle on the exhaust-o-meter from tipping too far into the danger zone.

A very old, close, and dear friend who is also a counselor and in touch with the metaphysical aspect of life told me that the psychological work I’m doing is not only helping me but others around me as well. She said this works on a metaphysical level through the energetic connection between us and all living things.

She added that by doing this psychological healing work, we clear our ancestral and familial psychic and metaphysical wounds and mental illnesses — whether or not others are aware of the work we’re doing or whether they realize the work is benefiting them as well.

She explained that all Time is happening now — the past, present, and future are happening now. Not only that, but we’re also living in multiple realities at once.

This, she said, is how we heal ourselves, our ancestors, and everyone else. This is how we evolve and bring others forward with us.

Here’s another take on how we heal ourselves and those around us:

I can’t say I completely understand the progression and what’s actually taking place when we heal trauma, but I like knowing I’m going through the hell of healing not just for me but for others as well.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the work any easier.

And this is most important work I’m doing at this time in my life.

Which brings me back to my most burning question

Why am I dreading this birthday?

What is it about turning 70 that bothers me?

I think it’s this:

David Bowie, speaking about aging:

An extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.

And that’s just it. Because of the hardships and adversities that came to me as an innocent child and then later as an adult woman, I’ll never get to be the person I should have been. Never.

It’s like starting to learn to play the violin now — at the age of 70 — and expecting to play like Itzhak Perlman before I die. It’s a game of catch-up that can’t be won. No way it’ll happen, no matter how much I want it to.

It takes time, and lots of it, to develop the talent, perfect the skills, learn the technicalities, cultivate your individuality, and funnel it all toward your potential.

Our world usually doesn’t work in a nurturing way. It’s structured so that it’s easy for the evil and the powerful and the strong to target the sweet and the weak and the innocent. Just one person caught in the trauma trap is one person too many. And of course, there are many of us.

The essence of who I was born to be was there when I came into the world, but those beginnings, like the seeds they once were, full of the potential of me, were carried away in the hurricane of trauma.

This is why turning 70 is proving to be so hard for me.

I’m officially on the downhill side of life, with not much of a hill left, and I don’t see much hope for building up the possibility of who I would have been, who I could be. To do that, I would have required the proper encouragement and support and resources from a young age.

Instead, I was quashed from the beginning. Not just discouraged, but quashed. I was crushed and suppressed throughout my life, with the pain of it hidden in the cavernous labyrinth of my psyche, so far out of sight and memory that I didn’t know it existed or what could be done about it.

No wonder why I grieve so hard now.

My seeds of potential have been scattered far and wide, and I have little time to recover them . . . if I can collect them at all.

And even if I were to gather them, I have little time to plant them.

And even less time to nourish and grow and harvest them.

My wounds and yours are the resulting sum of the entire history of human misery weighing down our individual and group evolution. We have every right to rail against life, against its tragic deterioration that’s eaten at the very core of who each one of us could have been.

The cruel irony is that despite the difficult and traumatic circumstances and resulting life I was given, I can still sense the potential of the child in me. Is it a mystery how she’s still there and that she still carries the same desires? Is it a wonderment how the kernel of her true self is still intact in me after all the changes and nonsense this life has served up?

You bet your bippy it is.

The brutality of life is also a mystery. Existence adorns you with the potential and the desire, then yanks the means from beneath you, like a magician pulling the tablecloth from under the tea party without disturbing a single scone.

In fairness, though, I need to disclose the entire truth. There have been numerous boons, miracles, and strokes of luck in my life. I’m grateful for those, as well as for the times when things seemed to coast pleasantly in neutral.

I’m also thankful I’ve been able to make some progress toward my potential and goals. I’m part way there — but have been able to travel only a slight fraction of the distance. There’s just so far you can go on the only tank of gas you’re granted before you come to the end of the line, before the putt-putt-puttering stage signals you’ll soon come to a full stop. The end. The story is over and life goes on . . . but not yours.

So what’s to be done?

I’m feeling my way through this while I’m grieving for my lost potential and lost life.

Here’s what I know right now . . .

There’s no doubt I’m in a transition period. I’m no longer the child growing into the maiden or the mother. I am, in fact, growing into the final stage: the crone.

It pains me to have written those words. I’m looking for the diamonds, but I don’t see them for the bullshit in the way.

I’m in the final life transition before I’m handed off to the Great Love In the Sky, where I’ll join the loved ones who have preceded me there. And although I’m not afraid of that transition and kinda look forward to when that transition is completed, I’m very much fearful of the pain and suffering that more than likely will come beforehand. And it’ll have to be done alone. No one can feel the pain or the suffering for me. It’s cruel, isn’t it?

In my 70 years, I’ve experienced much psychological and physical pain, like so many of us. Dial up the scale ten thousand points, and you may know what actual honest-to-goodness trauma and PTSD is like (if you’ve been lucky enough and supported enough not to have had the experience).

The triggering changes your behavior without your consent. It happens before you know it. You can’t control it, no matter how hard you try. It literally haunts your days and nights, makes you relive the horrors, thwarts your behavior, messes with your usual sweet disposition.

It’s in this condition that I enter Croneville. I’m cheerless and distressed and melancholy.

Beginning Krone, 8x10 mixed media, 2010, by the author. Photo by Andy Schwartz.

So what am I gonna * D O * about it already?!!!

I want to live my remaining days — not simply exist — so obviously a reinvention is called for.

But I’m dragging my feet toward rearranging myself. I’m resisting, and I don’t know why.

I want to * O W N * my freaking story so I can rewrite the ending, make it graceful, delightful, accomplished, or at least a little uplifting.

But I’m sad because the ending — no matter what I manage to accomplish in the time left to me — isn’t what it could have been. I have no intention of settling for less even though I’ll probably have to.

Therein lies the rub. Settling.

I don’t want to be a bitter old woman, lost in ideas of what could have been. I want to be elegant and content. Content in my little cottage by the foothills, surrounded by my books and my other beautiful things.

I want to spend my days writing and reading, researching, creating art, being out and about and enjoying nature, getting together with family and people who have earned a place on my friends list, and following the breadcrumbs of whatever interests me at the moment. (I think I may be learning how to weave soon, and I’m kinda excited about that, so maybe there’s hope after all.)

I want to be the genuine me that was quashed. I want to laugh . . . a lot.

Included in my vision of being a graceful, blissfully contented old woman is my Wild Mountain Man — the man in my life. He’s going to read this, so to him I say Hello, my love! All the weirdness and bullshit and tough things I’ve been through since we’ve been together hasn’t scared him away. I’m fortunate it hasn’t. He’s been my biggest fan and supporter and understands me better than I understand myself. He must be paying a great karmic debt in agreeing to take me on. Or maybe he just loves me to pieces or something. I love you, too, Baby.

All right already!

So what am I actually gonna * D O * about reaching Croneville gracefully?!!!

I’ve made a tentative list, which might be adjusted as I go along:

1. Let myself grieve for my lost potential and the life I could have had if circumstances had been different. My sorrow, I realize, will stop when it’s spent.

2. Readjust the idea of what I think my potential is to fit into the time I have left. That’s gonna be hard. It’s not easy to downsize your dreams. At least, it isn’t easy for me.

3. Call on my inner compass to help with this. It’s always been there when I ask, and sometimes when I haven’t. It knows when to apply gentle nudges that nevertheless speak loudly, and it’s always guided me in the right direction. There are times when I’ve doubted it, but it’s always been right.

4. Keep facing my demons and integrating lost parts of me. So hard. And it may go on for the rest of my life, but I’ll keep on doing it although I’m tired of being a warrior. And I guess the fact that I’m doing it makes me a warrior.

5. Search for the loose threads — those things that I was once passionate about that are still strong within me — and cultivate them and integrate them into my new life as an elder.

6. Call for a rebirth of consciousness and hopefulness and new ideas and experiences that aren’t a direct result of the traumas I’ve experienced. I’m tired of being that me.

7. Accept the realities of an aging body, including being okay with the inevitable physical changes and deterioration. (Ugh!)

Will this be enough to get me into the new layer of who I’ll be as an old woman? I dunno, but it’s the only stuff I have to go on at the moment.

I’m still grieving for the life I’ve lost, for the life that could have been. But I also know there’s time in front of me. Will it be enough to reach whatever I decide my new, readjusted potential will be? Will I be able to at least make lab grown diamonds? I dunno.

But this I know for certain . . .

There’s a piece of birthday cake in my near future, so I’m gonna go with that right now.

I’m going to blow out the candles and make a wish to age gracefully into the old woman my soul envisions.

I might be sad and discouraged and disappointed, but I don’t want to disappoint HER — the part of me that has always had diamonds in her hair and in her eyes and in her heart.

If you liked what you’ve read, please click about 50 times (no kidding) on the applauding hands sign on the left and consider subscribing to receive my posts directly in your email.

And if you really liked it, share it and tell your friends.

And if you really, really liked it, you might want to check out my ebook, The Grapes of Dementia: My Journey of Love, Loss, Surrender, and Gratitude, available worldwide through Amazon.

Cover concept and design by Wren Wright, photo by Donna Clement, graphic design support by Luis H. Ruiz.

For free weekly tarot readings focusing on personal development, check out my other Medium page — Wren Reads Tarot.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Wren Wright

Wren Wright

87 Followers

Writing mostly to heal myself from life; sharing in hopes you’ll find some of it helpful. Also books, personal development, and anything else I’m drawn to.