Grumpy Old Friends

 

Two Senior Women Relaxing at the Outdoor Table
Photo by Bela Hoche

God, I’m tired. I woke up in a pissy mood. I got dressed up today because I had a meeting at school, I’m getting my hair cut, and I hate looking at myself all drab in the mirror at the salon.

 

I’m getting older. My body is changing. My face is a little droopy. I have a belly where I never had one before. My boobs are a cup size bigger than they were three years ago. Most of the time, I’m okay with it. Today, though, I just feel shitty — unattractive and lumpy. It’s partly society’s expectation we all stay young and beautiful. We lie about our ages and spend endless amounts of money on botox and tummy tucks. We’ll try the latest fast, the latest supplement, the latest whatever in an impossible quest to stop time.

Not that I’d go back to my 20’s. I am much wiser than I used to be. I am a better, more giving person. I wouldn’t trade all I’ve learned over the past two decades for anything, but it’s still hard to watch my body change. Change is inevitable; it’s a normal part of this world, and it is always happening. On a good day, this makes me smile and I can embrace it. On a bad day, it pisses me off. It’s like puberty only more depressing. It irritates me that I can’t operate on six hours of sleep the way I used to. It vexes me I don’t have the energy to accomplish what I once did. It makes me feel insecure that my memory isn’t quite as good as it once was. 

I’ve tried a lot of things to “optimize my life,” to fight these subtle yet distressing signs of aging.  I’ve changed my diet, I’ve fasted, I’ve cut carbs, taken supplements, engaged in high-intensity exercise to the point of folly and sampled enumerable therapies. There are a lot of them these days — cryotherapy, halotherapy, alphabiotics, chiropractic adjustment, essential oils, massage therapy…It is a long, long list.

I know people who have been helped by alternative therapies; I’m just not one of them. I mean sure, I come out of the halotherapy room feeling relaxed, I leave cryotherapy feeling invigorated, and every time I get a massage I think Why don’t I do this more often? It’s just at some point, it becomes one more thing I have to do, one more thing I have to pay for, regardless of how much I love the people there.

Here’s my theory: Any therapy might be a godsend for a particular individual, especially if they have an acute or significant chronic problem. If you’re a high-performance athlete, you might really need some of these to help you recover. If you’re injured, you can take advantage of them to get back to one hundred percent. If you are affected by something like arthritis or osteopenia, you might benefit from some of the new discoveries in therapy.

But what if you’re me? I don’t want to win marathons. I don’t have any physical injuries or significant pain. I am not afflicted by any degenerative or chronic illness (yet). Is it really worth my time and money to avail myself of the dizzying array of therapies now available? Because whatever their benefits, no therapy is going to stop me from getting older.

What I mostly love about therapy is the people. The proprietors, the ones I’ve visited anyway, truly want to help you. They are friendly, engaging and honest. They are not hardcore salespeople; they want to help you feel better. What I need is friends therapy — something I can get for free and something I would have the time and energy to cultivate if I weren’t so busy investigating new therapies and playing Wordscapes.

I’m not telling you not to try stuff. If you have significant ongoing pain, looking into alternative ways to treat it is a good idea. But if you don’t, or if you’ve tried and the therapy itself didn’t make a significant difference, let it go. Consider that maybe what you need instead of ice or heat or salt or your chakras aligned is better social interactions — real friends with whom you can relax and be your true self.

I have a friend who lives in a retirement community nearby. She’s ninety years old and recently told me of a 97-year-old man who began taking her art class. He was depressed, having lost his wife recently. Slowly he realized, at 97, he likes to paint. Now he sits in the common room, painting, while others around him read or play games. They comment on his work, and sometimes he asks for opinions. Sure the painting itself is probably therapy, but would he have found it if he hadn’t lived in a tight-knit community that makes it easy to be social and seek out new hobbies?

That community has social gatherings all the time, and if you attend one, you’ll find the residents drinking a few glasses of wine and good-naturedly harassing each other — being weird, grumpy, silly, friendly. Being themselves. Yes, they are old; there is no denying it. The inevitable march of time is apparent in the herd of walkers parked outside the door of every event. But they have easy access to an important thing: quality social interaction — not just superficial gatherings of bodies but real, comfortable relationships in which they can relax. The shared component of most therapy is relaxation and a little bit of quality social interaction. What if that’s all we need? 

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