Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Beginning To Live Like An Old Man

Back in October 2007, when I turned 40, I noted that unlike the old saying 'life begins at 40', it seemed that the reverse was the case and you began to feel that your life was clearly running down towards its end:  http://rooksmoor.blogspot.com/2007/09/life-begins-to-end-at-40.html  Almost three years on, my prophecy seems to have been borne out.  In the last couple of months I have heard that officially 'middle age' runs from the age of 36 to the age of 59; after that you are 'elderly'.  Thus, I have actually been middle aged longer than I had realised back in 2007. It also appears that, on average, from the age of 41 your body generally starts to deteriorate.  This is no surprise really if you think that the average working man just a century ago had a life expectancy of 41 and a woman of 45.  If I had been 43 in 1911, then I would be an old man in my community.

This analysis has reassured me.  For the past year, if not longer, I have felt old.  Now I know that that should not be surprising, because by the measures of when my mother's father (a man I knew in his 70s and 80s) was a boy (he was born in 1900), I am in fact an old man.  There has been no sudden deterioration, but a steady accumulation of ailments (as opposed to diseases or even conditions) and with them a changed outlook on life.  Of course, I have suffered from diabetes for over twenty years and that is accelerating the decay of my body, but there are other aspects which seem to stem simply from ageing.  I think you can tell you are old when doctors say they can do nothing more for whatever mild condition you are suffering from. 

Two years ago my left knee swelled up; it was blamed on me carrying too much shopping (I invested in a shopping trolley as a consequence, adding to my sense of ageing) and all the creams I was offered have had no effect.  It is not painful, it is just still swollen and squidges when I kneel down.  My joints, limbs and other parts of my body now ache even if I happen to run a short distance, something it is hard to avoid when you have a 9-year old boy living in your house;  throwing a ball to him for 20 minutes left my right arm in pain the next day.  Cycling now leaves me nauseous and dizzy; travelling on an aeroplane leaves one ear and the skull around it in pain and me with partial deafness for days afterwards. Driving about 200Km is enough to leave my hands and calves aching for days after. Even one quick session of sex, with my established partner, with me on top, leaves my chest and arms aching as if I have been pressed under heavy stones.

My digestive system has suffered most.  I have become incredibly flatulent and also belch a great deal.  In the past few weeks constipation has come to give me a variant from very loose bowels, often ringed by haemorroids and faeces so large that they jam the toilet (I have to keep plumber's equipment by the toilet; no domestic version will work).  I have no appetite and very little taste, my tongue now being furrier by far than my head.  This has helped me loose weight as I always feel full, which I guess has to be a plus, because apparently from 41 onwards you naturally begin to become heavier.  Eating food is often not a pleasant experience, which is a shame as I used to really enjoy good food.  Now I can get heartburn even before I have eaten a mouthful and it gets worse as the food goes down.  I have been told this may be due to 'acid reflux' which means stomach acid now randomly decides to bubble up towards my throat.  Often after a meal no matter how small, it feels as if someone has jammed a stake with the diameter the size of my palm, between my lungs and then out through my back.  I had to abandon drinking coffee as doing so made swallowing every mouthful of food painful.

I guess a definition of old age is that you are no longer physically capable of doing the things you have always enjoyed, not least without paying the price in subsequent discomfort.  Mentally I am less active too.  My writing of fiction has dropped away severely as has my reading of any books.  Partly this has been due to a sustained period of unemployment, but nothing seems to be able to stimulate my interest again, even having got a job.  I struggle to concentrate to follow an 2-hour episode of 'Foyle's War'.  I must say, however, that my manner has improved, I get far less grumpy with bad drivers, lost documents and my computer going wrong.  That, however, may simply stem from the resignation of getting old: you know there is no point in getting angry as no-one will pay you any attention and you can change nothing.  One consolation is that I have lost important things right throughout my life and this does not seem to have increased now I am getting older, so I can probably cope with this far better than people coming to it anew.  My memory has deteriorated.  I know that I was never good at remembering names, foreign words or martial arts moves, but now I am finding that I am mis-remembering things.  Scenes I thought were in a particular movie turn out to be very different to how I remember them and buildings in very different places.  I am fortunate that my current girlfriend is far more forgiving of these flaws than her predecessor who was angered if I forgot even the tiniest detail she had mentioned once in passing.

Above all, I am very tired.  It goes beyond simply needing more sleep.  Like many people, in the past, I hoped that I would live to a certain age and see certain things or achieve certain things in my life.  However, now, I realise that if death came to me now and I had not read a particular book or had not visited a particular place then I would not feel disgruntled in the way I would have done a few days ago.  I certainly understand now how people see death as a rest.  However, I had a premonition that I will die aged 57, so I will have to hang around for a bit more yet, with more decay and ailments to put up with.

Other consolations for my physical and mental decay is that I am beginning to enjoy things that older people do.  My parents, madly, have become far more active in their old age than when my age.  My father now cycles 35-50 Km per week; my mother has joined a gym which she visits every week to work out in and walks 11 Km; they are both 73.  However, I have found I am enjoying more leisurely pursuits.  At the park with the 9-year old boy from my house, I found rather than playing with him, I got far more pleasure simply sitting on the bench and watching the activity around me.  I did not need any other physical or mental activity to be content.  

I accept that my medical condition has made my body older than my age would typically warrant.  I do worry that given I feel as if I am twenty to thirty years older than I am, how bad will I feel when I am actually 65.  It seems highly unlikely that I will be as active as my parents and in fact, by then, may simply be bedridden and ready for a nursing home.  In some ways, though, in contrast to two or three years ago, my mind seems to have caught up with my body and that is a great relief.  It would be incredibly frustrating if I still had the desire to travel or start up new things only to find my body was constantly complaining.  I am glad I have found the contentment to fit with the age of my body and that now, I can quite happily sit and watch life go by.

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