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Aging is not for the faint of heart...

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

About a week ago I did something reckless. I was out sledding with my kids and someone had constructed a small hill of snow on the sledding hill. This was acting as a sort of mini-mogul (and that’s being generous, it was just a little mound of packed snow). I watched my kids zip down the hill and fly over this mini-mogul several times without any issues. So when it was my turn I thought, sure I can do that too, no problem. And then I launched myself down the hill.

Well, there was a problem.

Upon reaching the mound my sled lifted into the air, was airborne for a second, and then down I came sled hitting the snowy ground. In the moment, I thought, well that impact was a bit harder than I thought it was going to be, did I hurt myself? And the answer was yes, I did hurt myself. The jury is still out on whether I have merely bruised my tailbone or in fact fractured it, but it’s definitely not right. So now I find myself carrying around a medical grade oval shaped pillow because I can’t sit down comfortably for long periods of time. Dogs sometimes have to wear a cone of shame, I now have a tailbone pillow of shame.

It is incredibly humbling for your body to remind you that you aren’t invincible, and even something as simple as sledding can leave you with an injury that the internet tells me can take 4-12 weeks to completely resolve. I was reminded, painfully, that getting older can take its toll as your body lets you know in big and small ways that some things aren’t possible anymore.

Aging isn’t for the faint of heart. I actually learned this from my mom when she was in her early sixties. She was an incredibly active woman, easily getting 20,000 steps a day well into her late 60s. Most people had a hard time keeping up with her level of energy. But even she found that aging began to limit her physical capabilities. She used to say that the hardest part of aging for her was that when she did something she loved, like a hike in the mountains or a swim at the beach, she began to realize that at any time this could be the last time she was physically able to do it. Which was bittersweet for her. On the one hand it pushed her to savor the moment and enjoy the present adventure. But on the other hand it added a sadness to what she was doing, knowing that at some point in the likely near future she would not longer be capable of what she loved to do. As a younger person I didn’t always understand her perspective, instead buying into the youthful ideal that anything is still possible in life. But now as I age I have come to see the wisdom in her acknowledging rather than denying this reality.

In my work with older adults I’ve recognized that an important part of aging is naming the ways that growing older takes some of our freedoms, particularly physical ones. This can be incredibly difficult, particularly when it means asking for additional help from your kids or surrendering some of your independence by giving up your car keys. It’s not unusual to experience feelings of depression, hopelessness, and isolation as this happens. Those feelings are completely normal. And they don’t have to overwhelm you.

Talking about these challenges, sharing what it’s like, and receiving support as you navigate increasing limitations can help to improve your mood. Counseling is a great option, particularly with someone who is invested in senior mental health and understands some of the particular challenges. Feel free to reach out today if that's you.

The thing is that aging is also a privilege. That’s the irony, we don’t all get to grow old and see the lives of our loved ones unfold. Some of us won’t have that opportunity. Recognizing the challenges associated with aging can also create space for seeing the beauty and delight that is possible in life even in the midst of limitations. There’s the bittersweet feeling again, which characterizes the aging process, joy and sadness all mixed together.

Thanks for reading,

-Dr Wolff

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Kara E. Wolff, PhD
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