The force that through the green fuse drives the flower*

I’m feeling really old these days.

If you’d have asked me in my teens or twenties at what age someone would be considered “old,” back then I probably would’ve said forty. Now here I am, forty-one years old. Feeling it, inhabiting it. And the strange thing – the thing I couldn’t foresee and wouldn’t have anticipated back then – is how little internal difference there is between the 20s and 40s. Mentally, emotionally, and psychologically, I don’t feel all that changed from back in my mid-to-late 20s. I feel… seasoned. That seems like the right word. Not wholly different, but richer, more fully fleshed-out. It’s not a bad thing, not at all. I know who I am now, both good and bad, and over those intervening years have finally learned to love and accept all of it.

The body is a different story altogether.

In the past year I feel like I’ve physically aged ten years. What I went through last winter – an unending saga of infections and antibiotics, struggling every day with pain management, with fear, with just being able to function – I don’t think I ever recovered completely. Since discovering that the cause was a debilitating allergy to dairy, and eliminating all dairy from my diet, I’ve gotten better, sure. I’m no longer in pain, or sick every day. But I feel… strangely delicate. Eroded. I can’t explain it any other way. If prior to that illness my health was a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, and during my illness I was at a 3, I feel as though since then I’ve returned to about an 8. And 8 is just okay, just fine. But I’ve never gotten back to where I was before getting sick. Which is… kind of creepy, honestly.

This is what getting older is, right? The body’s regenerative powers wane. There’s no reversing the damage entirely, no undoing what’s done. Not anymore, at least.

But I exercise and eat mostly whole foods. I take my vitamins and wear sunscreen. I quit smoking. I try to manage stress and get a decent amount of sleep, though if I’m honest with myself I do neither as successfully as I’d like. Still, despite these efforts, I feel the wear and tear down to my bones.

It hurts now to think of how much I once took for granted, of how much I abused this vehicle of my self in earlier years. It’s hard to not be angry at the me of twenty years ago, chain-smoking and fast-food eating, drug and drink and risk taking, always burning the candle at both ends all through the night and long past sunrise. Foolishly, as if there would be no reckoning. As if the present did not touch and reverberate into the future. As if I owed the woman I would become nothing.

. . . . .
*After Dylan Thomas

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8 Responses to The force that through the green fuse drives the flower*

  1. laurie says:

    This is what comes to mind, because I lived a similar young life and haven’t given up all vices by any stretch, and have no plan to, ever, in spite of a general effort to care for myself better at 40 than I probably ever have:

    I look back and know I could never have avoided that period of abandonment. It reflected my social circle and others like me, our social AND socioeconomic status, it burnt off a lot of the garbage of my youth, finding my place, walking through it, and being lucky enough to survive. Now, I have at least a tiny bit of wisdom and I know more about how much I have to preserve what’s left so I’m not in a wheelchair (i.e., hi, I can’t gorge myself on pizza and cupcakes daily, dammit, or I’ll weigh 500 pounds, because my body likes to take on weight, a lot.) I woke up on my 40th birthday feeling like hell, and realized that dumping Kahlua in my coffee for the entire holiday season probably wasn’t the wisest way to deal, but I was also freaking out about turning 40 and I DESERVED IT, DAMMIT. ;)

    I went to hot yoga and I stopped doing that with my coffee, and I feel a lot better. The yoga is making it possible to transform my body (I can see it, I can feel it) and I don’t do the gym punishment routine anymore. You’re obviously working really hard to find a routine that works for you and you will (probably already are) healthier and wiser as a result. We aren’t going to go down without a fight. I think that’s the win. (And I doubt either one of us would care this much if we hadn’t made some of those choices before. Does that make sense?)

    (I didn’t intend to write a book here. ;))

  2. AMEN. And, you know, I still abuse it. I’m wiser, so I know I’m doing it, which I think is worse although I try to convince myself the opposite. You’re owning yourself, and how old your body is is irrelevant so long as you pay attention. It sounds like you are paying attention. It just makes things prettier and more clear. I’m a firm believer in the year not mattering. It’s just what you learn you can do with them. If that even makes sense.

  3. MajorBedhead says:

    But that’s what being a teen and twenty-something is all about. You think you’re immortal. I know very few people who didn’t do all those things in their 20s that you did (and that I did, too). Beating yourself up over it isn’t really going to help. You’re healthier now, you have a Hotty McHottypants boyfriend and you’re a mom and a businesswoman and honestly, give yourself a break.

    Who you were and what you did back then has shaped who you are now and regretting it is like regretting that you don’t have red hair or, I don’t know, perfect eyesight or small feet.

  4. Anonymous says:

    *Gluten* (ducks, runs away)
    Seriously though. It can take a loooonng time to get right after what you went through.

    My every day is all about little tweaks to see what I can do differently. I often wonder what the hell though, about the aging process, allows for us to get the youth and vitality along with recklessness and stupidity. So unfair.

  5. TwoBusy says:

    If it wasn’t for the person you were 20 years ago – reckless, relentless, risk-taking, etc. – you wouldn’t have turned into the person you are today.

    Just sayin’.

  6. Suzanne Hansford-Bowles says:

    You gotta cut the 20 year old you some slack, becuase to channel 40 year old you at 20 would have been a real buzz kill–and some of that seasoning you have now may not have ever happened.

    I live in hope that bodies are elastic. I do yoga, primarily to keep Celexa off the grocery list–but the effect on my body has been surprising. I’m no athlete, never have been, but I’m 37 and stronger now than I have ever been. By a long shot.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Sometimes I look in the mirror, and I don’t recognize the woman staring back at me. It’s really odd to be so old and yet still feel so emotionally young. And then, I think of people in their 70s, who are probably still feeling like they’re 30 inside.

  8. Anonymous says:

    You can’t fight entropy, right? WRONG! You can’t beat it, but you can fight it ’til the bitter end.

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