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