When age isn’t just a number

It’s no secret I believe there are too many stereotypes associated with age. For the most part, I deplore hearing/reading about how people are supposed to look, feel, dress, behave etc. simply based on the year they were born. I organized an entire blog series associated with the phrase, “Age is Just a Number” and one of the reasons I wrote my newly released light women’s fiction novel How Do You Know? was to redefine how some folks perceive women in their late thirties, early forties.

That being said, from personal experience, I cannot deny some things have changed for me over the past few years and the best explanation for these involuntary alterations in my life is that I’ve gotten older. I wouldn’t necessarily describe most of these changes in terms of being “good” or “bad” but yeah, things have changed. For instance:

I can’t drink more than a few alcoholic beverages without losing some, if not all, functionality the next day. This doesn’t bother me all that much because I don’t enjoy being “drunk” as much as I used to and am happy with a nice, pleasant buzz. I have too much to do to risk losing an entire weekend day sleeping off a hangover. While feeling tipsy feels good, crossing over to “drunk” feels icky. And a Sunday Funday isn’t as fun for me anymore if I know I will suffer for it on Monday. Knowing what will happen if I drink too much helps me make wiser decisions, not necessarily in the moment, but when planning my activities. In all honesty, I do over-indulge from time to time anyway because I sometimes lack the self-control to stop after the buzzed state. Case in point: This past Friday night, I drank way more glasses of wine than I needed to and I paid for it on Saturday when I was a zombie and rendered incapable of being productive. My excuse was that I was out celebrating the release of How Do You Know? but I don’t always have an excuse and I do it anyway. But I turned down an invitation to watch football at a bar with friends this afternoon to spend the day writing, something I’m positive I wouldn’t have done even a couple of years ago. Some people might lament this change in preference and say, “I’m getting old” but because I truly had no desire to drink today and looked forward to a day of writing, you won’t hear any complaints from me. It is what it is.

Whereas I used to have no problem sleeping in—sometimes until close to eleven—now I have trouble sleeping later than 9:30am even after a late night. Some people still consider 9:30 late, but it’s pretty early for me relative to my sleeping habits of younger years. This doesn’t bother me either because starting my day earlier leaves me with more time to get things done.

While I’ve always known how deadly cancer is in an abstract sort of way, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen and experienced first-hand how devastating, far-reaching, and indiscriminate the disease is. These days, I can’t even hear the word without getting sad and afraid. A diagnosis of cancer by someone of my young age is not the “norm” but I’ve seen it happen enough to know it’s not that rare either and it freaks me out to the point that every doctor’s appointment—even the routine check-ups—cause me anxiety. While I’ve always worried about my mother’s health, now I find myself more aware of the mortality of younger people, like my sisters and friends. (It’s worth noting that my best friend lost his battle with cancer earlier this year and this tragic event, and not my age, could also be the cause of my anxiety.) It’s not just cancer and other diseases, but with age, I’ve become more aware of the simple randomness of life and knowing that things can change on a dime.

When I watch television shows, I no longer crush on the young son. It’s all about the dad or “adult” male character. I have a feeling if I watched an old episode of Growing Pains, Kirk Cameron would no longer do it for me. (Although neither would Alan Thicke). (Exception: I’d still lust after Jordan Catalano in My So Called Life. )

I can’t be as brutal on my body without suffering consequences. I can still keep up with the twenty-somethings on the track and in spin class, but I find myself with Achilles Tendinitis and other aches and pains afterward if I’m not careful. Whereas I used to take my limbs, joints, etc. for granted, I don’t have that liberty anymore. Sometimes I lift heavy boxes at work and forget that I’m not eighteen anymore. Just because I can do these things, doesn’t mean I don’t need to be more careful.

I have no desire to stay out really late. I love to go out to dinner and have drinks with friends or go on dates, but I’m perfectly happy to get home by midnight. I’d rather get up early (9:30…) and get things done than get home past 3am and sleep the day away. Contrast this with my younger days when I prided myself with closing down the bar.

I have more patience. When I find myself in a long line, I’m less likely to tap my feet in annoyance or mumble expletives. When I break items or have trouble putting them together, whereas I used to cry and throw tantrums, after an initial expression of frustration: “Shit!” “Motherfucker” “For the love of God!” I’m better able now to take a deep breath and calmly form a game plan.

Finally, I have more appreciation for the journey of each day and the importance of making myself happy, living in the present, and not worrying so much about tomorrow. Every day counts, whereas in my youth, I thought I’d live forever. I still need to work on this, but it gives me something to look forward to as I get older!

So, yes, age sometimes really is more than a number and things do change as the years go by. As my late and great best friend Alan said to me only a couple of months before he died when I complained about getting old, “None of us get younger, but we don’t have to succumb to it. All we can do is deal with it.”

 

one more blessing

I wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago counting my blessings. As most of you know, I lost someone I loved dearly to cancer this summer and finding happiness has been a challenge. I hoped outlining some of the wonderful things in my life would help with the grieving process, especially since my late friend always urged me to focus on the good. If you read the blog, you might have noticed the absence of “good health” on the list. This was not a mere oversight, but a purposeful omission as I was afraid being healthy was not something I could count among my blessings and didn’t want to jinx myself.

I had my annual mammogram in late June. Although the mammogram was normal, it was suggested I have an ultrasound because cancer is difficult to detect in a mammogram on someone with “dense” breasts like me. The ultrasound picked up a minuscule (less than .5 millimeters) spot on my right breast and although the doctor who reviewed it was not concerned and instructed me to schedule another ultrasound in six months merely as a precaution, my own doctor thought it would be prudent to see a breast specialist for a second opinion. Although my doctor assured me that consulting a breast surgeon was merely a precautionary measure due to the density of my breasts, and the likelihood of it being anything serious was very slim, I freaked out.  My best friend died of cancer only a month before. My newsfeeds lately on Facebook are littered with friends mourning the sudden and tragic death of friends who were seemingly healthy only a short time ago. How could I be so confident my friends wouldn’t be posting these things about me? My fourth novel is set to be published on December 2nd and as excited as I am to release this book, I worried I wouldn’t be around by then. What if the cures for cancer, i.e. chemotherapy, resulted in my organs shutting down like what happened to my friend? I knew I was getting WAY ahead of myself and was told as much by others, but I was seriously spooked. This is why I didn’t feel comfortable including “good health” among my blessings.

My mother offered to tag along to my doctor’s appointment as moral support, an offer I eagerly accepted. We discussed having lunch afterward and making a day of it. I also had dinner reservations with some friends that evening and had taken the following day off from work. I tried to look forward to the long Labor Day Weekend and the fun plans I had made, but it was difficult with the weight of my doctor’s appointment on my shoulders. The location of the doctor’s office inside the cancer center at Beth Israel only added to my fear. My mother tried to make conversation while I completed a questionnaire rivaling the eHarmony application in length, but tears were already forming in my eyes and all I could think about was my friend Alan and how much I missed him and hated cancer for taking him from me. I used to say I would follow him anywhere, but I meant in the physical world. As much as I miss him (terribly and constantly), I’m not ready to die. But neither was he. These were my thoughts as I waited alone in the cold examination room.  

After careful review of the ultrasound results and a thorough clinical breast examination, the breast surgeon assured me the tiny spec located on the ultrasound was nothing of concern and sent me home with instructions to simply keep the six month follow-up as originally directed. She further appeased me by saying even a six month appointment instead of the usual year was probably being overly cautious. When I returned to my mother in the waiting room, she knew I was okay by the huge smile of relief on my face. We embraced fiercely once we got outside and I told my mother I could now add “good health” to my blessings. I only wish my dear friend was as lucky. While I continue to mourn him daily—not a single day has gone by when I haven’t cried over his death—I am forever thankful that, at least for now, I can begin to truly appreciate the good things in my life and look forward to what I hope will be a long, healthy and happy one. I know it’s what he would want too.