Mid-Life Transitions

I’m feeling old this week. Whenever I get up, there are a few moments where I feel stiff all over. I’m having tendonitis in my shoulder, and so I have limited range of motion. I’ve had some dental work recently and don’t like how that feels in my mouth. And I’m just a bit tired and physically slow so it’s tough to keep pace with my exercise class.

As they say, aging is not for the weak-hearted, but it sure beats the alternative.

It’s also hard to believe that I’m at this mid-life stage. You know, it seems like almost yesterday…

It’s tempting sometimes to long for my younger self, especially when I look at the gorgeous and strong young people around me. But I’m never one to want to go back. So far, I have always liked the Older Susanna better than the younger.   I was once as cute and strong as these amazing young people around me, but I didn’t appreciate it then.   I might as well have had the body of a 50-year old given how I felt about my appearance.

The same trend continues when I look across my life domains. I’m kind of jealous of the young people that have the stamina to entertain, go out with their friends, and to volunteer/work till all hours and their mental acuity. Yet I also like feeling like I don’t have to do everything, and be everything to all people, at work and at home and that I can turn the ticker tape in my head to off or mute. I also like the feeling that I am secure in my relationships with my friends and family. I can let those relationships be what they are and just enjoy them.

In summary, I enjoy my life so much more given that I take so much less for granted. I’m also much better at being present, so I’m less worried, stressed or upset about the past or future.

I think the hardest part for me professionally is feeling a lack of mentors.   I have always actively developed and valued relationships with those more experienced and wise than me, and had several that I could go to when I needed advice or an ear. My mentors are all, well, retired or I’ve moved to different areas of interest. I AM the mentor now for a number of people. But who advises me now?

On the personal side the hardest part is missing the daily interaction of the larger family. I understand that as we age we tend to become increasingly isolated, especially as our friends and family start to pass. Isolation is a potential threat to our wellbeing. Yet I also enjoy having a quieter house and that time to myself that an empty nest provides.

In the end, life is full of trade offs. I don’t envy young people. They have their struggles, most of which I do not want to return to. I don’t envy those older than me either, even if they are retired. I’m sure that comes with its own opportunities and challenges. I guess I’ll just enjoy where I am now, for one day it will feel as fleeting as my youth.

Susanna’s Comparative Life Table

  Body Career/ Intellectual Relational Family Personal
Youth – Assets Physical peak, form and function Education fresh, mind alert and active. Plenty of mentors Energy for socializing and entertaining All potential, yet still able to enjoy all those great moments Relatively more idealistic
Challenges May over rely on strength and stamina

Relatively low body image

Relatively poor at prioritization; tries to do it all Relational skills still in development Daily challenges of raising children; still having conflict with siblings Relatively low self-confidence and fewer emotional resources
Mid-Life – Assets Efficiency, strategy. Better appreciation for assets Experience, patience, better able to prioritize. Giving back as mentor Skills well developed; perspective on what’s important Enjoy fruits of child-rearing Self-confidence and self-awareness
Challenges Beginning loss of function Must prioritize. Mentors harder to find. Meet relatively fewer people, less opportunity for “hanging out” Daily challenges of managing parental care May be less apt to change, beginning loss of function

Lessons From the Cycle of Life

We begin life as babies completely dependent and vulnerable, relying on others for our most basic needs and survival. Babies are completely present since the concerns of the future and past are nonexistent. They take nothing for granted. Even the existence of the sun, the birds, internal sensations, fingers and toes are subjects of fascination. What’s important at this stage? Nutrition. Sleep. Staying clean and dry. A little entertainment. Perhaps a little exercise. Lots of attention and love.

Necessity and human development eventually expands one’s world to include concerns beyond the necessities of basic survival: how we look, what others think of us, when and how to work or study, home or car maintenance, or our bank balance.   The more we become consumed with concerns, the more the basics get overlooked or pushed to the limits. Nutrition may become fast or junk food, alcohol or caffeine. Sleep is an afterthought and stress is a fact of life. Our relationships may be about obligation, status, or convenience and only pursued when all else is done. We’re progressive. We’re evolved. We’re wise. We’re successful. We no longer require others to care for us.

Empowering though it may seem, this stage cannot last forever.  We eventually return to the basic needs stage, a fact all too evident at my father’s senior living community. Leaving behind our lives of productivity, independence and concerns, we regress back to the place where the basics once again are paramount. For some, walking or eating feel like victories and become the basis for celebration. There, I am moved or almost moved to tears on a regular basis. Of course. Catastrophic illness or death is a fact of life as the facility also includes assisted living.

But no.   There is much more at play in this senior community than physical victories or struggles.   What touches my heart is the humanity and gratitude of the residents and staff. While my father and other residents, for example, are physically dependent on a small few in that community, the sense of mutual dependence and support extends into the community at large for both staff and residents alike. The staff takes care of the residents, but they also take care of each other. The residents take care of each other, but also nurture the staff.   Outsiders such as myself get to revel in the micro- and macro-moments of love that occur in abundance each day.

This stage of dependence may be as much about attending to the physical as the baby stage. However, it also seems to broaden the element of love and attention to the level of community that somehow seems comparatively diminished in the independent phase. I can’t help but wonder if those so-called concerns (our mortgage, our appearance, our jobs) all too easily disconnect us from our humanity and sense of community.

No. Senior living is not depressing to me at all. The seniors inspire me to live my life as if every day and every person, including myself and the most disabled or ill, count.

My likely aging cycle

My likely aging cycle

My Age, My Asset

I made the mistake of looking at myself in the mirror during aerobics class.  Chicken wings, muffin top, apple-shape.  Sounds like a smorgasbord, instead of the effects of one too many.

My self-esteem is as good as the next woman, but sometimes I can’t help but cringe when I look in the mirror.   We always hear about the unrealistic expectations of beauty we have that are perpetuated by the media.  I have been no exception to that influence, as you’ve probably figured.  It was much worse for me when I was a teen and young woman than it is now.   I know better, now that I am in my ripe middle age, that these supermodel images are not reasonable standards. That doesn’t stop me from going there sometimes.

Wrinkles, grey hair, double chin, cellulite.

Young men and women these days still seem to have especially high standards for their appearance.    I guess when you’re at your physical peak, it’s natural to have really high expectations.  The problem is, those expectations too easily become unrealistic.  So when young people should most be enjoying their Aphrodite- and Adonis-ness, they are spending their time feeling inadequate.  What a waste of an opportunity to be vain.

“Youth is wasted on the young” – Mark Twain.

Therefore, I wish to tell all the young people I meet  to enjoy their youthful beauty while it last.  Be proud of it!  Wear fun, flirty clothes while you have the figure and the youth.  Enjoy your strength, your good health, your beautiful, full head of hair and skin.  All too soon, it’ll be gone and you’re going to long for that level of imperfection.

Sagging, age spots, dry hair.

As I was bemoaning my lost youthful perfection when I was in my 30’s, it dawned on me that I was making the same mistake I made when I was in my 20’s.   I realized that I would never be satisfied with my appearance if all I did was compare myself to some unreasonable standard (supermodel, 20 year old).  Instead, I should have considered how I was looking pretty good for my age, or even better, compared to a 40 year old.  To only focus on my shortcomings  ensured a constant feeling of inadequacy.

I can make a better choice.

Wisdom, smile lines, inner beauty.

We don’t have to be slaves to our and society’s unrealistic expectations.  We don’t have to constantly focus on what we lack or how we don’t measure up.  We can choose our own perspective and our own reality, and focus instead on what we have to offer.   I now choose to see myself as looking pretty good for a 40-something, and really fantastic compared to a 50-something.  Thirty-somethings are for 20-somethings to compare themselves to; those beautiful creatures not on my yardstick.  I choose as my role models the gorgeous older female celebrities who have chosen to stay real:  Jamie Lee Curtis and Susan Sarandon.

Confidence, poise, character, style.

There are advantages to showing my age.  My grey hair is my platinum highlights, and they don’t cost me $75 at the salon.  I can afford $75 at the salon if I choose to make a change, and I now have the confidence to dye my hair purple if I want.  I don’t feel the need to dress or act to conform to some external standard.     I understand that beauty comes from within and feel confident enough to share that part of myself with others.  I know to look for that inner beauty in others as well.  The reality of my chicken wings?  Well, maybe I should stay in the back row of the aerobics class.

silver sneakers

Aging gracefully