It was originally my intent to bang out some impossibly long screed about recognizing red flags, you know those warning signs that life throws out in various situations. Then I got to thinking about how sometimes the signs aren’t truly red flags at all, but merely an indication that things were moving outside of comfort zones, or that it was just externalizing fear of change or doing things differently. What else needs to be said about that? Take risks sometimes or you’ll never know the difference. You’ll never be able to tell if something is wrong or dangerous, or if you’re just punking out on what could be a wonderful opportunity. This applies to so many things, from romance to finance and beyond.
I’m not ready to get into the details but I think I’m punking out a couple things and it’s preventing me from achieving closure. The details aren’t necessary right now. I just wanted to throw that out to The Universe, and peeling back the bandaid rather than ripping it. I’m proceeding with caution that might not be necessary.
People, or at least men, don’t talk an awful lot about what it feels like to grow older, or what it might feel like. We make jokes about slowing down or getting forgetful. Maybe we just take for granted that it’s all just going to be a steady decline. That’s one, by the way, that I can dismiss as false right there, for a couple reasons. Firstly, age comes in spurts, just like growth comes in spurts with children. Mull on that for a moment. A child graduates 8th grade in June and he’s 5’3″ or whatnot. He’s been that height for a while. Then midway through the fall term he’s shot up half a foot and has a shadow of a mustache and other signs of physical maturity. Getting older is the same thing. The length of time between the first white hair and the next hundred is really short. Then it stays that way for a while. Then the next fifty appear. Not that I’m counting. just illustrating a point.
We don’t talk about what to expect. What does it mean to slow down? What does it mean to feel old? I made major life changes ten years ago in my late 40s that actually have me feeling generally healthier now than I did then. I’m about forty pound lighter. I sleep better, eat better, shit better, etc. Yet some things just aren’t better. The problem with that is even doctors can’t really tell you, if it’s not something illness related, what is normal for aging. They’ll do the shrug and mention your age and most will tell you there’s really nothing they can do. There is no normal so unless you go in with a specific set of red flags that are symptomatic of specific ailments you’ll just get the shrug. That’s the secondly part, by the way. There is no normal. There is abnormal, but you have to be willing to dig in to find that.
Midway through 2019, red flags started to come up with my health. Eating things I’d eaten my entire life became troublesome. Some digestive problems started, the stop and go traffic so to speak. Muscle pain and aches in the joints became a lot more regular. Headaches, not of the cluster headache or migraine variety I’d often suffered, were coming on regularly. Mostly, I was troubled by really low energy and stamina that had never been an issue. I kept getting ENT infections. My iron levels were freakishly high.Guess what? I looked in the mirror, admitted to myself that I am approaching sixty, and tried to write it off as just getting old. It’s not that I dismissed the red flags so much as accepted them as the “new normal” (jesus, I hate that phrase). It made me profoundly sad, which wasn’t helped by the low energy. I spent nearly six months on the verge of tears, which of course having been in therapy off and on over the years I mistook for depression and doubled down on addressing it that way.
The things that worked in the past no longer worked and frankly there was fear of digging deeper and finding something far worse. Well, to make a long story short, I’ve spent a good part of 2020 exploring and being explored, and while nothing potentially fatal (no cancer, etc) was uncovered, what I had accepted as just growing old was nothing of the kind. Whether it be allergies or some unspecified auto-immune issue, my entire system, and particularly my endocrine system had been misfiring for god knows how long. Maybe I should go back and write has instead of had because treatment is ongoing, but take the point. My GP actually sent me to a dietician/nutritionist/herbalist and we’ve been going from there. I’ve cut back on some things cut out others completely (nothing that’s felt like sacrifice and added a daily regimen of supplements, which i’m not going to list here lest someone diagnose themself and just start taking them. What’s good for me may be wrong for you. The difference is readily noticeable. Headaches have decreased. Random infections are just gone altogether. Blood work shows my iron and liver enzyme levels are approaching healthy. Mostly for me, and we can add pandemic lockdown de-stressing to this surely, is my energy and stamina is skyrocketing.
So the message here, is that since for any number of reasons there is no normal, you can make your own normal, but you have to be willing to push. You have to be willing to explore. Risk can’t really be considered since if you’re approaching the last quarter of your life anyway (or already in it) all you need to worry about is “better this month than last month.” Aging can’t be prevented but the effects can be minimized, and if you have access to healthcare… well, what I was experiencing isn’t normal for any age, so if you have the means, find out what’s normal for you. I feel better in July 2020 than I did in the summer of 2019. That’s all that matters really.
Know the difference between red flags and fear. Don’t accept what doesn’t feel good. Don’t accept frameworks like “for your age.” I’m not going to say age is just a number. It’s not. It’s very real. At the same time you can potentially feel better and look better than you do right at this moment.