Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Aging--Not for Sissies

To all those twenty somethings out there...your life is just beginning. You may think you're all grown up and adulty, but the truth is you're starting on the road, not at your destination.

I married three weeks after I turned eighteen. I was sure I was ready. Phft! No one is ever ready for any new experience. We all learn on the job. Spouses don't come with learner's manuals. Neither do children. And grandchildren? Parents? None of them come with learner's manuals, either. You just keep rolling along, doing the best you can in your current position.

This year, I'll be sixty-seven when I reach my birthday in November. In December, the hunk and I will be married forty-nine years. That doesn't sound right. Didn't we just get married a couple years ago? Really?

Another thing that doesn't come with a manual is the aging process. Of course, for every person, it's a different experience, but there are some things I wish I had known way back when.

Live a life with less stress. This was a small nugget of wisdom one of my doctors doled out to me when I was back in my forties. I didn't get it then, but I sort of understand it better now. Stress, above all, is the #1 killer in America. At that time, I had four teenagers, a high-stress job, financial distress, and I was a full-time student in the evenings at college. You might say I was seriously trying to kill myself. Not because of all the peripheral stuff, but because I was damned determined to manage everything around me. I didn't have any idea how to say 'No!' to anyone. But I learned. Oh, I learned.

Self-care is the first commandment. If you're a micro-manager like I was, then you by default must give up the time you need to take care of yourself. You don't eat right. You're more than likely sleep deprived because you're worrying about crap you can't control anyway. You definitely don't exercise because who has time for that? Somebody or something might slither out of your control. By the time you understand what you've done to your body, the damage is done. And from there it's an uphill battle all the way. Remember this--no one on their death bed says they wish they'd spent more time managing other people's lives. Nope.

Take time everyday to meditate. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can hear it now. Meditate? Well, you might call it prayer or thinking time or downtime or something else. But basically, this is time when nothing else intrudes. If you have kids, you might have to go take a bath with the door locked. You could kill two birds with one stone and go for a walk alone. No music. No television. No computers or cell phones. Absolutely no input except from yourself. I'm firmly convinced one of the great losses in modern life is the time to simply think. I believe that's why studies have found that knitters and crocheters are less stressed--because the process allows time to think.

Learn to enjoy preparing and sharing food. This might sound counter-intuitive, but it's not. A large part of the whole let's-eat-out phenomenon is we really, really, really don't like food preparation. And a large part of that is because we do it alone. For those folks who have families, this is especially true. We start to resent having to do all the work because we're doing it by ourselves. And our spouses and children don't appreciate our efforts because they don't contribute. Why are cookouts more fun? Because we do them as a group effort. We're all there, socializing while we prepare the food, and then...we continue that socializing while we eat. Put the damn cell phone in a drawer and declare a moratorium on 'talkie' time. Turn off the radio and television. Shut down the computer. And gather in the kitchen to prepare dinner and eat together. Time is precious. Don't waste it.

Pay attention to your body's messages. Men especially tend to ignore what their bodies are trying to tell them until they just drop one day, but women are just as guilty. For men, it tends to be a feeling that seeking medical help means they're not manly or something. For women, it's a sense of guilt. You read that right. We feel guilty because we have the notion that everything around us will come to a screeching halt if we take time for ourselves--even to take care of our health. HELLO! Serious illness will definitely keep you from managing everything you believe you need to manage. AND just a head's up. If you drop dead, life will continue on for the survivors. It's a unpalatable truth, but there it is. None of us are irreplaceable.

If you reach your sixties, there will be adjustments. I don't care how much you do to take care of yourself, there will be changes. You will inevitably discover you can't move like you did when you were younger. You'll find certain foods are not friendly anymore. You may need more rest. Patience evaporates more quickly. There's a need for solitude and quiet. Traveling might be more challenging. Why? Because hopefully you are facing the challenges of aging. The alternative--death--is not one any of us want to face any sooner than we must. As we age, we learn to cherish every day. We celebrate waking up in the morning. We treasure time with friends and family because we start to see time is not something we can take for granted.

If you are younger than me you still have time to assess your life and how it will affect your aging process. Let me tell you, the time will pass so quickly it will take your breath away. You'll look around in amazement wondering how the time has gone. When did that happen? Be purposeful. Be aware of every moment. Once it's's gone.

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