Category Archives: Aging

Change

Where We Started

As Neil DeGrasse Tyson points out, we are made from stardust.  It takes a supernova to generate the energy to create the heavier elements.  That stuff diffuses, then gravity slowly congeals into new bodies.  Now this takes time, many millions up to billions of years.  Even geologic time is somewhat inconsequential compared to galactic time.

That’s a reason why we are so deluded with respect to time.  For children, the weeks leading up to Christmas can seem like forever.  It’s no time at all.  However, sometimes when I sit in meditation, time seems to stand still and I get jumpy.  In truth, our lifetimes are meaningless when viewed from even the nearest galaxy to our Milky Way.

The message in this?  Chill, already.  The therapist I saw for my ADD had me put a sticker saying NBD on the dash of my pickup.  No Big Deal.  Universes come and go in the blink of Kali’s eye, and we are obsessed with He Who Must Not Be Named’s tweets.

What is important is what we do with this tiny minute we are here.  I am attempting to connect with that eternal universe I tend to ignore most of the time.  Going back to the roots.  Well, the roots are made from stardust.

My brain gets oxygen and food these days, so it goes into action, what it evolved to do.  The action is thinking.  Thoughts arise, mull around, and pass to something else.  We are physically safe most of the time, so it isn’t really necessary to be on alert all the time.  The saber-toothed tigers are gone.

So, my task is to stop thinking so much, and just be space and stardust.  It’s where we came from and where we are going, so why not just be with that?  When I am able to let the clutter go,  I am more in harmony with the changing universe, not my nearly ceaseless churning of the noise I absorbed yesterday.  What arises, fleetingly, is equanimity and serenity.

In the long run we are all dead, so what’s the big deal?  Maybe we need catacombs, ossuaries we visit regularly to remind ourselves of the impermanence of it all.  I would like ho hold Nietzsche’s skull in my hands.  So much for the Ubermensch.

Can’t we all just get along?  If I remember something, I wand to remember yesterday’s sunset and look forward to the breeze in my face as I walk out of the coffee shop.  Oops, there I am thinking about the future, not enjoying the nice people in the coffee shop.

 

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Getting Older

Really Old

I am 74.  I retired in 2011 at age 68 when I started noticing I wasn’t as sharp in responding to problems.  I also noticed my co-workers giving me the easier jobs when on a project,I was used to wading right in, sometimes literally.  It was a water plant, after all.

Now, other things have manifested. If it doesn’t hurt, it itches. I have arthritis and allergies.  My balance problems keep me off the third step of the ladder.  I was falling off.  I fell on the stairs, broke two ribs.  I gave up motorcycling, given my desire to stay alive (Just go to motorcycle crashes on YouTube.).

People are dying.  Yes, they have  doing it all my life, but now it’s old friends, classmates, a guy I was Best Man for.  Not people I viewed as Old People, but my contemporaries.  Does that mean I am an Old Person?  Yep.  Old people see their friends dying.  You can also tell if you are old by falling down in a public place.  People laugh if you are young.  You are old if they rush over to help.

Then there is CRS.  I have always had a poor memory, but this is getting ridiculous.  When I hear someone’s name on meeting them I tell them I will forget it.  I head downstairs to get something, do two or three things I see need doing, and go up without I went after.  Also, people my age tend to be terrified when they start forgetting.  Is it Alzheimer’s?  Am I going to be a drooling vegetable?  I try to stick to my rule about not worrying about things I have no control over, but it doesn’t always work.

A good thing: after my ADD diagnosis at age 59 with the therapy and medication I have more focus.  I can even manage to focus on stuff I don’t like to do.  I used to put off paying bills until my anxiety level forces me to sit down.  Now, I can plan the time and actually follow the plan some of the time.  I can write.  I don’t have to go to work.  I just spend my four pensions and watch our investments slowly diminish.

Writing is a good thing for an old dude to do.  I can do it most any time, usually mornings.  I go to a coffee shop where I am something of a regular and do some extroverting along with the writing.  I always wanted to write, but could not maintain the focus to write for myself.  With a deadline, the anxiety level activated my prefrontal cortex enough to allow me to get the words down.  In college I wrote papers for Forestry majors and the like for $10.00 per page (long time ago).

Now I write for myself.  I almost always write nonfiction, like most of my reading.  As you can see from this website, I have a wide range of interests.  That’s  probably a function of an ADD shifting his attention all the time.  I need to know.  They say ADD’s occupy an evolutionary niche because their shifting attention enabled them to spot those brutes from the neighboring tribe or the saber-toothed tiger.  Sentinels.  Of course, we are also smart and charming.  Someone has to keep the place stirred up.

I have written a little fiction, some very short stories and a longer short story when taking a class at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop here in Denver.   Good people there, students and faculty.  Naturally, some English majors, more interesting than engineers, although impoverished.

For me fiction is hard work. You have to create the world of the story and invent the characters.  Good fiction also uses lots of metaphor.  I am not very good in that area, mostly because it takes lots of practice.  I usually write about shifting tectonic plates; not so much need for metaphor there.

I have taken to reading novels aloud to Carol just before bedtime.  She likes mysteries written by women, she calls them novels of manners.  Much of their focus is on character development and scene setting, so they are a good light reading genre.  The reading is fostering an interest in fiction again.  Can I produce a story about geologists?  Maybe a story about 19th Century naturalists and biblical literalists.  Have I mentioned I like history?

I will have to work on producing pieces longer than 550 words, however. I can do the short essays in one coffee shop session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Blues

Winter

As I sit here in the coffee shop it is a gray January day with a light rain falling, promising to turn to snow.  This is an accurate metaphor for my mood of late.  I’m prone to depression, get treatment for it, but this is probably Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  I haven’t been able to do much writing, and what I have written I haven’t posted.  This is unusual. My goal is to put something up every week and I haven’t come close.   

I used to have two of those lights which are supposed to help, but I gave one away and the other is over the bathtub I haven’t been able to use lately.  Why no baths?  Leaks.  The upstairs bathroom sink cold water faucet started leaking as well. 

For me, things happening around me are often related to the state of my psyche.  Water is also a symbol of the unconscious mind, and leaks are about something important trying to come to consciousness.  I am engaged in a struggle to keep things buried.  Thus, leaks I am slow in fixing, and gloom leading to inaction.  It’s easy to guess how my meditation practice is going.  

My meditations are supposed to have the goal of being totally in the moment-no thinking about the pas, the future, or Donald Trump.  I can stay with just observing my breath for maybe five seconds.  I usually am able to stay with my breath or a prayer for several minutes before drifting off to be with Dorothy and Toto.  I come back to the breath, stay there a while and drift off again.  Currently, I obsess.   

I think the real issue for me is aging.  I am 74 years old. Lifting a fifty pound sack of ice melt salt is hard.  I used to throw fifty pound sacks around.  I cannot go above the second step on the ladder for fear of falling off.  I sometimes cheat and go to the third step, no higher.  My balance is not very good.  I have stayed at the same weight for some time but the muscles are shrinking and the belly is growing.   

I forget stuff.  I have always been somewhat forgetful, an ADD-ADHD symptom, but it’s worse lately.  I am going to have to go back to writing reminders down, a habit I have slipped away from.  I also head downstairs to do something, do two or three other things and head upstairs with the task not done. At least I get some exercise going up and down the stairs all day.

I know this too will pass, but I am tired of waiting

 

 

Skin Cancer

Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

When I noticed a little place on my cheek not healing, I made the appointment, but I thought, no big deal.  When I got home from the dermatologist’s and took the band-aid off, it suddenly became a big deal.  She gave me the choice of having a some stitches or just letting it heal with a scar.  The stitches meant another trip to have them out, so I said leave it alone.  I have lots of zit scars, so another scar was, again, no big deal. 

I have a hole in my face.  It is almost the size of a dime and is a deep sucker.  Seeing the crater was a shock.  I saw all the scars on my coworker’s face and didn’t make much of them, but they were on him, not me.  This is a big deal. 

My reaction to having cancer, even though it is relatively less dangerous, is colored by my experience with cancer in my circle of people.  My mother died of mis-diagnosed cancer and took a long time to die.  Other family members have had cancer.  My sister-in-law has just recovered from stage four abdominal cancer with the help of chemo and medical marijuana.  It’s pretty well documented that marijuana kills cancer cells. 

I have lost some high school classmates to cancer.  I was best man for one of them, and another died just a few weeks ago.  The scar on my psyche is from my mother’s death.  I was young, she was just in her late forties, and was an ordeal filled with denial.   

In recent years trips to the dermatologist are regular, every six months or year, depending on those scaly patches on my face.  My own denial is never taking enough precautions in the sun.    I grew up when we didn’t really know better, and sunburn was an annual event.  I drove an open sports car in the mountains, making my face red.  I always had sunscreen around, but hardly ever put it on.  Most of my hats cover my bald head and shade my eyes, but the rest of my face is out there.  No longer. 

Sunscreen and hats with a wide brim are the new cool.  Well, not really, I have never viewed myself as cool.  One of my rationales for not wearing good hats is because I am always losing the damn things.  I take it off and walk away.  Also, what am I supposed to do in winter?  The sun shines here and reflects off snow, but a wide brim hat?  Do I have to start wearing Stetsons? 

Here I am rambling on about hats.  The reality is, I’m scared.  I know squamous cell cancer properly treated is seldom dangerous, but I am still dealing with my mother’s cancer fifty years later, and this little event has triggered it once more.  One of my maxims is to not worry about things I have no control over.  The question is, can I have control over this?  I have a lot of letting go to do.

Declining and Arising

The Quarter Moon

The Quarter Moon

A few years ago Carol, my wife, her sister Judi, and I wrote a blog about caregiving for aging parents.  The aging parents are gone and so is the blog, but one piece I wrote sticks with me.  Watching the decline.  I wrote the piece about Frank, Carol’s and Judi’s dad who went into a serious decline in his ’90s.   

Frank is gone, so now I am watching my own decline.  I had it come home to me when I forgot where I parked the car in downtown Minneapolis and spent three hours searching for the damn thing. By the time I found it I was tired, relieved, and a bit ashamed.  Not finding the car has always been a problem for me, a function of my ADD.  I keep a little yellow ball on the radio antenna of my pickup so I can see it in the parking lot.  Losing the car for three hours is a new one, however.  Yes, I have a GPS in my cell phone. 

Losing the car is only one symptom.  My knee, wrist, shoulder, and back hurt.  I fall down.  I can’t remember names.  Carol and I make a plan every week, and I forget what I am supposed to do.  I go downstairs to get something, do three other things and end up back upstairs without what I went for.  Three times. 

I will be 74 in October.  What do I have left?  Ten, maybe fifteen years?  Aging is reality for me.  Usually I take these things in stride.  After all what is important is the moment, which is almost always pretty good.  The trip to Minneapolis threw me into something of a funk.  I got scared when I couldn’t find the car.  I went to help my brother-in-law, who is facing some aging issues as well.  I still haven’t recovered from the trip. 

My life is good.  We have a nice home and garden, good things to do, travel some, and have fun together.  I can write, which I was unable to do until the last few years after getting diagnosed and treated for ADD.  I have gone places and done things.  I can ( http://www.insightmeditation.org/ )meditate which I could not do for most of my life.  I have found an important role as family caregiver. Caregiving is especially meaningful because it didn’t exist in my family. 

The meditation has opened up a spiritual life I have sought since I first asked “Why?”.  I now  know the answer: Because.  The secret to because is becoming.  The sun is up every morning.  The birds sing, even if I have trouble hearing them.  The new in my life outweighs the difficulties.      Most of the time.  I get myself in trouble when I stare at that unknowable wall out there.  If I stay where I belong, here and now, I’m fine.  Events, however, sometimes present that wall-my brief time on this world and in this body.  I’ll get through it.  Writing this has already helped.

Changes

Equanimity2I retired five years ago.  I waited until I was 68 to pile up some more retirement benefits.  I also waited because I was scared of retiring.  When I retired I took two part time jobs which soon went to one.  I felt like I had to work.  That lasted four years.  Now, I am truly retired.  (Funny thing, I wrote tired instead of retired.).  

Another reason I retired from my career in water treatment was noticing I just was not as sharp as I used to be.  I have always been fairly sharp, except for the ADD brain lapses I have always lived with.  The lapses were more frequent.  One of my part time jobs required constant focus.  Not good.  The other one was working with elementary school kids, and meant unremitting joy.  I gave that job up because I didn’t want to work so many hours, and my bad back was complaining. 

Now my back still complains, but I can pace myself more and take a time out if I need to.  Right now it’s my upper back hurting after yoga and shoveling a pickup load of wood chips.  Today I am going for a walk where it is flat. 

About those lapses.  All older people complain about them.  The other day I made four trips to the basement to get something and never did come up with it.  Yesterday I was in the grocery store and upset because I forgot the list.  When I got home without some things on the list I found it in my pocket.   

Well, there is a reason for this.  As we age, our brains tend to shift from the executive function-running things- to inner processes.  It is certainly true for me.  I want to write, read, meditate, and enjoy happy entertainment.  There is a huge obstacle right now.  Politics.   

Prayer

Prayer

It’s hard to hold on to my equanimity these days.  Usually I deal with negativity by praying for the people creating the mood.  I have even prayed for Newt Gingrich.  I have yet to be able to pray for His Yellowness.  Praying for people doesn’t necessarily change them, although sometimes it does, but it does change me.  The changes I experience make me more able to live with myself.  I am even less of a jackass on the road. 

I have more peace.  My body doesn’t work as well as it used to, but I think my mind may be getting to a place where I can actually experience the inner connectedness of all life.  I can find joy in anyone.  Well, most everyone.  I also have trouble feeling connected with the Japanese Beetles who want to eat stuff in our garden.  I can’t go above the second step on the ladder because I tend to fall off.  Some of the evil critters get away because I can’t get high enough. 

On balance, aging isn’t so bad.  I have lived a life of constant stress from trying to be normal when I am not.  Now, I get to embrace being weird and getting weirder, and love life.  Mostly. 

I will know I am really on the right track when I can pray for THEM.

Changes

 

I am a slow learner, especially when I don’t want to learn what the universe is trying to get across. For some time now, the message is to slow down and act my age. I don’t want to! I want to be younger, stronger, not forgetful, with no signs of aging (well, I’m resigned to being bald).

broken-ribsWell guess what, I’m old, slow, weak, with a bit of a balance problem. In the last couple months I have fallen twice, fell off the ladder, and fell down the last step and broke two ribs. As I mentioned, I’m a slow learner. It’s shocking, I know, but I am going on seventy three years old. After the first two falls I saw my doctor. She gave me a prescription for physical therapy to help my balance. I didn’t go. I then fell off the ladder and down the stairs. Did you know that broken ribs hurt a lot?

After the ribs broke I went into a blue funk. At that point I had no choice. I hurt and couldn’t do anything but read. I can barely stand to watch TV. Then, horror, my iPad died. No Facebook, no words with friends, no left-wing politics, and no Donald Trump news.

Apple Rules! The Apple Store is in Cherry Creek Mall. The Apple Store is full of people, the rest of the mall is virtually empty except for the mall walkers. After the standard long wait I made it to the Genius Bar. The sheer arrogance of that company! The guy was nice and gave the standard digital solution. Reload the operating system, wiping all my data.   Oops, that didn’t work, hardware problem. I walk out of the store with a new iPad.

Most everything transferred over. But. I can’t get to one of my email accounts, Yahoo is unresponsive, I am starting over with Words With Friends, and two days are gone. Computers teach us how to deal with frustration. To a point. I didn’t use the iPad as a Frisbee. The upside? Apple is a bit richer and the process took me off my aging crisis.

The odd thing about aging is that I still feel like me. The same me. Not a old me, just me. But, the body doesn’t feel the same. Even the mind has changed. I forget stuff. I have never been a good rememberer, but I’m worse now. The me I used to be never fell down the stairs. I fell , but not too often, just more than you do. Now I fall a lot more than you.

I know how to fall. Tuck and roll, keep the head up, pick a good spot to land if you can. The skills have served me well. Only two bad ones, one on the motorcycle that finished off my bad knee, and this stair and rib thing. Well, except for the fall that ended up taking my right little finger. For some reason, the universe has chosen falling to convince me that I am no longer the guy I used to be.

A Facebook Friend asked me if there was more damage than the broken ribs. My response: Yes.   I am forced to accept that I am changed. Older. Slower. Weaker. Unbalanced (Wait, that’s always been true.), just not as physically competent as I used to be. A lot of bad stuff is going on. I am not even going to go into the health issues.

I’ve had good changes in recent years. I got my ADD diagnosed and got the medication and cognitive therapy that has changed my life. Just the diagnosis was a big deal. I am no longer a guy with a fatal flaw. I am a guy with ADD. It’s a brain disorder, not just that I am a fuckup.

The biggest change is that with the ADD treatment I now have the focus to write. Other than falling in love and marrying Carol, that is the most profound change in my life. I have two callings, writing and teaching. ADD kept me from both pursuits. Now, however I can write. I may be an old guy, but after all these years I have enough focus to write. After the rib thing I couldn’t write for a while-pain, both physical and mental.

Both kinds of pain are better now. I guess my old guy crisis is not as bad as I thought. The Buddhists say that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional, a choice. For a couple of weeks I suffered. Now my ribs just hurt, but they are feeling better every day. It is mostly over.  I guess it is time to get on with life.

Decay

Old Mine Building

Old Mine Building

My friend and I have coffee fairly often.  We have many common interests, from DU Lacrosse to politics,spirituality, motorcycles, and bicycles to name a few.  He plays pickleball, I don’t.  I write, he doesn’t.  We have fun.

We do find ourselves discussing our health care issues.  He is coming off his second knee replacement.  I have only had one.  He needs a prostate ream job, I had one.  He has had bypass surgery, I have high blood pressure.  Even though he is fairly nuts, I don’t think he has ADD.  Poor guy.

He is a year younger than I am, but I look better.  We are both getting a bit on in years.  Both retired, we have active, engaged lives.  It’s good to share this time of life with another old dude.  That health care thing does loom.  Things do not work as well as they used to.  The night before last I sustained a sleeping injury.  I rolled over and Ow, Ow.  My bad back did not like that particular motion.

Now what is that about? A stupid sleeping injury!  Hiking, motorcycling, bicycling, home maintenance projects, at work, yes, but sleeping?  Carol had a reading injury (wrist) but at least she was awake doing something.  This is getting serious.  Should I just stay in bed, not get up?  Well, no that’s where I hurt myself.  If I walk I might fall.  If I drive, I might get a ticket.  If I stay in my chair, I’ll get fat.  There is no way out.

How did I get myself in this fix?  I have always been something of a risk taker.  I climbed fourteeners.  I did both dirt and canyons on my motorcycle.  I scrambled around in the slickrock desert alone.  I jeeped over 13000 feet high passes alone.  I bicycled in ten degree temperature weather on the ice to get to work.  Now I hurt myself sleeping.

I am going to leave this coffee shop, drive up to Gilpin county, and go hiking.

Later.  I went to Gilpin County, hiked and jeeped.  I whacked my head on a low door frame in an old mine building, so now I have a scalp laceration.  Some days.