How do you change the perception of aging?
I've been doing a lot of thinking, and I mean a lot of thinking about aging and accepting certain facts that go with it. It's a tough job. I look in the mirror and the girl who I expect to see is no longer there. Where did she go? How long ago did she disappear? Has someone else taken her place? Why can't I accept what I see instead of being depressed? I've wondered what kind of changes I can make to be more accepting of myself.
For way too long "old age" myths, the media, and cosmetic industries have dictated how women should feel about themselves. What they say or imply is an injustice to women and enhances the notion that aging isn’t good. They want us to mask our looks, change the color of our hair, and let someone cut us so that our skin looks stretched and fresh and young! Looking young is not being young. The first thing that I have to get rid of is the term, "feeling old." Old is not a feeling. It's a fact, a state of being. So what does this mean? It means that I need other words to describe how I'm feeling. Perhaps I might be feeling low about something, or I'm in pain or feel lonely, feeble, burdensome, or demoralized. And these words are the words that describe me when I feel "old".
I can’t feel young either. Youth is not a feeling. But at times I feel energetic, courageous, beautiful, healthy, and active. Feeling well makes me feel that there is the promise of tomorrow, I'm happy and healthy-ish. I can't change the way I look or my genetic make-up. But I can strive to feel my best, and feel a sense of well-being and satisfaction in doing what is best for me. I can pursue what I know to be my purpose, my passions at this time. Not what I want to do or dream to do but things that make me feel whole, complete, wanted, needed, and loved. Purposes, my life passions, that make me think and feel whole. If this means putting color in my hair or trying a new lip color, then that’s what I’ll do. Not because I look “old or wan” but because I want to do it.
Because of my stage 4 lung cancer, my bucket list has changed. I no longer can think in terms of “Well I have plenty of time.” My bucket list consists of todays. What to do today, where do I go today, what do I read, eat, and think today. My lists no longer have unrealistic goals for the future but doctors' appointments, lab work, and rest. My plans are to do things that make me feel like I have a purpose and that I feel are important in everything I do, things that have meaning for me. My purpose for resting is so that I can later feel more refreshed for a walk, or meeting a friend. My purpose for drinking lots of water is so that I don't get dehydrated and feel ill. My purpose is to nag my husband to be careful on his runs, make sure his clothes are clean, and that he eats clean fresh food. My purpose is to hug him and tell him that I love him as much as I can. I need to feel fulfilled by talking to my son and maybe irritate him too. I’m a mother. It makes me feel good. My bucket list might not stretch very far into the future but it sure is full.
By changing how I think, with a different vocabulary, maybe I can help change the perception of aging. And this might help me so that when I look in the mirror I might see some of the old me and not the aged me.
Interested in more discussions like this? Go to the Aging Well Support Group.
It's interesting to me how life can change what we tell ourselves over time. I liked your point about the word "old' not being a "feeling." Just because I was curious, I looked up some articles and found this on the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/17/well/mind/age-subjective-feeling-old.html I thought it was an interesting read… and I loved your idea of using different vocabulary to change the perception of aging.
@merpreb Is it how we change our own perception of aging, or how we help others change their perception?
I think that if someone accomplishes a feat that others feel shouldn't be done at a given age, then it fosters that change. For example, I look at the masters in a running race, men and women over the age of 75 or 80, running triathlons. I can't do this at my [tender] age of 67, but I applaud and hold those people up as an example or what persistence and dedication can do! I look at President Jimmy Carter, continuing his humanitarian work, and it shows what passion will let you do long after others have slowed down.
Although no longer able to accomplish in a day today, what I did 30 or even 15 years ago, having the drive to make a difference of some sort, having a purpose, means adjusting and learning how to accommodate to that. And only experience that comes with living for a while will let me do that adjusting.
@gingerw – By changing our own perceptions of aging I think that it will help others change theirs. I love what you say, " And only experience that comes with living for a while will let me do that adjusting." This is so true. What words do you use to change the slumpy feeling on what might be considered a bad day?
@kellyhahn1– Thank you for the article. As my thoughts have wandered around this topic I've also wondered about how we treat older people because of vocabulary, old myths, and inaccurate perceptions. I remember visiting my grandmother in a nursing home at a young age. My mom hated going there because of the "smells." My mom said that old people have a certain smell. But when I visited my grandma in her home all I smelled was food. While patients are in a nursing home they aren't taken care of the way as they would be at home and accidents happen more frequently. But this isn't explained to many younger people.
Some myths can really make a difference in how we think of aging. One such myth is that all older people are depressed, and cranky. This puts all older people in the same category making no room for individuality.
How can we change these misconceptions by not grouping everyone together?
Hi, @merpreb. The courage that it took for you to bear your soul shows the strength of the person that you are. Wordsworth wrote “The child is the father of the man“. What it means is that little girl is still inside of you, While she may not look the same or feel the same, she is still there and she is still you.
Sadness is a natural reaction to certain life events. When that emotion occurs, accept it and then try to process through it. Remember that yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.
@merpreb Interesting topic. At 77 I never thought I would have started my exercise program we do 45 minutes 2 xa week but not now of course only on zoom we still do. You have to accept each decade you go through Age is just a chronicalical number You are only as old as you feel .If you let yourself feel old you will be if you don't and sometimes it takes that push you won't .That's the problem alot of retirees have they tell themselves after I retire I'm buying a rocking chair WRONG thing to do .Accept every age and keep going doing things you like the advantage you can rest when tired
Interesting discussion. My Mom, as she aged, had a unique perspective- she called life chapters.
As it became too difficult to do something, she would close that chapter and start another- like working and raising a family, caring for her parents and brother, retiring with my Dad, selling her winter home, then her house with the hard to manage yard, and moving through a series of apartments that offered her services based on increased need.
During those years, our adventures together were in a different book of chapters. First traveling with our large family, then with Dad, friends and her sister, later with my kids, touring with me after my Dad's death, until finally our adventures were tiny- eating at a favorite restaurant or having a meal brought in and shared.
I remember talking about this with her, of all places, in the McDonalds parking lot, where we went to get her a fish sandwich- she was too frail to go in to eat, so we sat in the car and reminisced.
So now I often think about my life as chapters- and hope I turn my pages as gracefully as she did. Merry, it sounds like a good description of how you are choosing to live as well.
@merpreb I allow myself those "slumpy days", and understand that not every day will be stellar. I am prone to depression, so by necessity I have to watch that it does not become yet another rut to climb out of. When it is evident that I might be sliding into a slump, the mental shake of my head and "pull yourself up, Buttercup" type phrase is needed. Recognizing a temporary situation, not allowing it to get out-of-hand, is critical.
@sueinmn, The wisdom in your post is quite appropriate and rather tender as my mind immediately started looking for chapters. I guess we could also use verses, start with a merry tune, and end up with a complex and accomplished opera. Thanks for the discussion.
Your post is so full of wisdom and an intelligent understanding of life's meaning at best and at worst. As a bordering on 89 year old (October ), I am shocked at my years and have little of your comprehension of ageing – I simply hate it, and have difficulty combating the ravages of time. And I resent the
concept of "ageism" I see everywhere. In politics now we see the labeling placed on Vice President Biden who has been maligned and denigrated because of his age. It distresses me because as we should know, with age comes experience and that learning cannot be denied. After all, there was a reason Pres. Obama picked Biden – it was his experience in government and that knowledge carries the day at all times. Thank you for that beautiful post, I will try to digest it more carefully and heed some of the things that might apply to me in my journey forward. I always say I am at the deep end now, but I hope to put that aside more and take a day by day patience with my feelings.