I recently saw a meme on Facebook showing a bunch of shocked-looking women, with the caption “When people are talking about caring for the elderly and you realize YOU are the elderly.” I posted a small picture of a lady vigorously shaking her head in the negative.
The idea that I have become elderly is incongruous to me. I was usually the youngest person at the table in my career days. I am used to be thought of as the young’un. While never being what you would call pretty, I believe I have always looked younger than my actual age. I am certainly young at heart. I think I am so young at heart that I make some people uncomfortable. After all, wearing a Tinker Bell wardrobe worthy of a four-year-old girl and sleeping with one of dozens of stuffed animals (in a rotation so as not to hurt any of their feelings) is a bit weird for a 63-year-old woman. Sometimes, I think the way I talk and express myself in my more whimsical visits with my inner child makes people wonder if I am serious or developmentally delayed. All in all, I do not feel old.
I have had this conversation with many friends in the years since my retirement. None of us feel elderly. We feel the same way we have always felt. We enjoy the same things we have always enjoyed. Our sense of style and taste is the same as it always was. We plan and schedule as we did during our younger career days.
It is always disconcerting, as we live our non-elderly visions of ourselves, when something happens to contradict that non-elderly vision. I’ll pack my days with activities and am nonplussed when I realize that I am totally exhausted after a week or so without “do nothing” time. When I was working, I would typically work ten hours a day, commute three hours a day, manage my life, and fit in personal relationships. Sleep was the first casualty of that pace, but I am proud of the rich life I was able to create. I almost never had ”do nothing” time. I wouldn’t even have wanted “do nothing” time.
Today, I’ll get a pedicure at a local nail salon and find that there are sharp, needle-like pains in my feet that I never noticed in my younger days. A friend of mine lumbered cheerfully into his car to embark on a lengthy road trip, as he has for years. A couple of days later, he realized he needed to turn around and come home because the pesky pain in his back was throwing a temper tantrum about the number of hours seated behind the steering wheel. Other friends who have been treating various physical ailments for years are finding that the medications that used to manage their conditions so that they continued to live life as they wished without impediment no longer do the trick. They are having to curtail their activities or do them in different ways to accommodate their medical conditions. One friend of mine swears that he was just fine, with no issues or age-related problems until age 75. Then, the changes started storming down on him like the flood was coming.
As to me, I can’t imagine what 75+ will be like because I have been feeling the decline since about age 60. It is a humbling process. Not only are the actual age-related changes demoralizing in themselves, but the fact that they seem to come out of nowhere makes the whole situation worse. Every time I have an experience that shows me that I am crumbling, I feel quite affronted.
Let me tell you about the last time Nature put me in my place.
Each year since we’ve moved to Florida, Max and I have treated ourselves to a little mini vacation at Disney World at the holiday season. The big highlight of the trip has always been the beautiful, stirring, breathtaking Candlelight Processional at EPCOT. We used to spend two nights at a luxury resort on property within walking distance to EPCOT. That way, we could stay and see the Candlelight Processional one night and the Magic Kingdom Christmas nighttime celebration without me having to worry about driving the exhausting 40 miles home in the dark after a long day. Please, nobody point out to me that this mindset in itself is pretty convincing evidence of my elderliness. At some level, I know that. My brain is just trying to play hide and seek with that fun fact.
During our 2021 trip, we realized that we could no longer justify the absolutely exorbitant cost of this little extravagance. We even talked about cutting out the trip altogether. After living in central Florida for seven years, I thought maybe I could manage to find my way home in the dark without crashing. The sticking point was our evening at Magic Kingdom. I wanted to go to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. While I was pretty confident that I could make it home safely leaving EPCOT after the first Candlelight Processional show, I was less enthusiastic about driving home at midnight from the Magic Kingdom party. Finally, we decided to split the difference. We would stay one night and would try staying at a different, less costly on property resort.
Day one was wonderful. The “moderate” resort was okay. We could definitely see many reasons why it did not measure up to the hotels in our previous stays, but we could also definitely see why the sacrifices were worth it for the value. We went to Magic Kingdom and had a wonderful day and night. The party was super fun. The place reeked Christmas. We partied until nearly eleven before hopping a bus back to the resort. We were tired, but it was a good, happy kind of tired. Unfortunately, as tired as we were, neither of us slept more than a few hours. It was not the fault of the resort. Nothing was wrong. It is just that we typically do not sleep well away from home, especially if we are sharing the same sleeping area. We probably would not have slept well in the more expensive room either.
I was still okay. I was looking forward to my highlight of the pre-Christmas season- the Candlelight Processional. Normally, we have reservations for a dinner package, which guarantees us a seat at the show and relieves us on standing in the huge line hoping for stand-by seats. This year, we were not able to get a dinner package reservation, so I decided not to stress about the matter. I decided that we would just go about our day and hope for the best. We would arrive at the show location 40 minutes or so before the first show and see if we could get a seat. If not, we could stand outside the amphitheater and enjoy. I have grown so much. I was sure my life coach would be proud of me.
As the day progressed, Max and I wandered all over the park. We had a great time. We ate a pretty big breakfast before we got to EPCOT, so were not very hungry for lunch. What I was hungry for, though, was gingerbread ice cream in the French pavilion. That was my lunch. About two hours before the first Candlelight Processional of the evening, my body protested the lack of protein and we decided to grab a quick service dinner at the food court in the front portion of the park, then wander back to the amphitheater for the show. We hiked our way to the food court and ate dinner.
This is when “old” hit me. As we sat at our table at the food court, I realized my body was tired, my muscles ached, and I was sleepy. I began calculating how much more mileage I would have to put in and how many more minutes I would have to remain upright to haul my body back to the amphitheater and watch the show (possibly while remaining standing.) The math didn’t math. We had already logged nearly eight miles. Seeing the show would require at least another mile and a half further than just leaving the park from where we were. What a dilemma! I had to choose between my absolute my favorite thing at Disney World and punishing my body… apparently beyond its limits because I ultimately chose to go home without seeing the Candlelight Processional. It was the right decision because we were both pretty tired and I still had to drive home without running us off the Florida Turnpike. Still, I did some regrets about my decision. I also had a lot of shame about the decision, too. I called myself some unkind names.
The unkindest name of all? Old.
What experiences have you had that made you realize you were not as young as you used to be? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a sparkling new day!