The Best Part of getting Older is being able to write about it with authority. But hey, we’re all getting older from the minute we are born. However, I stepped off the curb and the old age truck hit me when I turned eighty-one. That’s right, eighty-one.
So, all you youngins sit back and read about what getting old really means.
Queen for a Day
Remember Jack Bailey and his television show, "Queen for a Day"? The contestant who could prove she'd suffered the most -- took care of everyone but herself, or, in some cases, was downtrodden through no fault of her own -- was crowned in a blast of organ music, tears and applause, "Queen for a Day". That message went out on the airwaves across the nation and into the homes of thousands of women who bought into the theme of martyrdom as a way to get attention.
Unfortunately, some women continue playing the role of sacrificial victim in what should be their Wisdom years. They seek recognition for their suffering, only now their gloom is mostly related to aging. The Age Queen bleats an unremitting complaint about her various aches and pains. "Woe is me," she says, as if she's the only one with another candle on her cake. She pulls at her face and asks is she should get a facelift. No, I feel like saying, get an attitude lift we’re all in this age thing together, darlin’ so relax.
Many of us have legitimate health issues as we grow in years and we need to pay attention to them. I'm not suggesting we act like a Pollyanna and pretend that everything is coming up orchids when we've just learned that we have a life-threatening disease, or we're incapacitated in some way. I've had my share of age-related physical challenges, including two cervical spine surgeries, open-heart surgery to repair my aorta, and high blood pressure, but I promise you that I don't sit around and whine (well, except for a day or two). I learned long ago that a negative attitude and a litany of complaints ages one faster than five days in the desert without sunscreen.
Life is full of concerns, health and otherwise, but it's not the dilemma that matters, it's how we react to it that makes us Aged or Ageless. We do need time to grieve and to acknowledge loss, whether it's the loss of a loved one or the loss of a physical function, but we don't have to stay in a place of pain and suffering forever. If we’re stuck in the same old groove, voicing the same complaints others have heard for years, isn't it time to make a transformation? We can choose to become a positive person right now, today, this minute. The change will be immediate and powerful.
Harvard psychiatry professor George Vaillant, author of Aging Well, says "What's important about old age isn't the size of your waistline and your number of wrinkles, but how you adapt to the world around you."
"Having low cholesterol is all well and good," says Vaillant, "but it's not nearly as important as avoiding alcoholism, smoking, maintaining healthy relationships and having a flexible attitude.
"We are teaching people to dispute their own catastrophic thoughts," says Martin Seligman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, who is exploring whether a sunny disposition can enhance physical health. Seligman, who penned a book called Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind & Your Life, is only one of many who are exploring this aspect of the relationship between mind and body.
My niece, Linda, who has a "home for the elderly" in the beautiful redwood country of California, tells me she's learned a lot about optimism from the people in her care. "I'm amazed at the difference attitude makes in surgery," she says. "There's a 93 year-old woman here who broke her hip and had to have an operation. She kept saying, 'This isn't going to keep me down.' And it didn't. She was walking three weeks after surgery and continues to encourage others who have health problems."
Conversely, Linda continued, "A woman of 55 also had hip surgery. A year later she still hasn't made the effort to walk because she's convinced she'll fall. She's miserable, demands constant attention, and seems to enjoy inflicting her misery on everyone else." She's the Martyr Queen for the Year so far as I’m concerned.
The secret to becoming ageless -- living well and looking beautiful into your real old age -- experts agree, is attitude. My gynecologist once told me he'd asked a 90 year-old patient what the best time of her life had been. She laughed and informed him that every day has been the best day of her life.
"You can't tack an age onto a person like that," he said. "She's eternal."
If we're to be ageless we must begin with self-knowledge and be willing to change our thinking in some areas. A quiz I devised illustrates how old thinking creeps into our lives without our even realizing it.
Are you an Old Thinker?
1. You focus primarily on your health problems. Illness, yours or that of others, is a frequent topic of conversation.
2. Whenever you develop a health problem you become alarmed, but don't seek medical help.
3. You telephone friends and relatives and regale them with bad news.
4. You think the best part of your life is over, that life has passed you by, but you don't make a real effort to enjoy the life you still have.
5. You generally resent people younger than 40.
6. You think the younger generation is "going to hell in a hand basket".
7. You think everything, from movies to childrearing, was better in the past.
8. You believe people are basically bad.
9. If a garment looked terrific on you five years ago, you think it should look good on you now.
10. The furnishings in your home have been in the exact same configuration for years. Faded, dusty family photographs adorn the same old shelf, wall or table.
11. You stamp yourself as "old" by leaving your medications out for all to see.
12. You engage in gossip and fill your conversations with empty talk.
13. You talk about yourself to anyone who will listen. You talk without listening.
14. You don't keep up with current affairs and you've stopped reading books.
15. You're quick to criticize others but rarely take a long look at yourself.
16. You find a lot wrong with the world but do nothing to create positive change.
17. You use racist remarks in your conversations.
18. Your friends are mostly the same age, race and religion as you.
19. You feel superior to most people because You Know It All.
20. You save everything (from pretty lingerie and towels, to your fine china) for special occasions that never happens.
21. You rehash negative events, even when they're in the distant past.
22. When you speak on the phone or in-person, you fail to put energy into your voice.
23. When asked your age you say "39", laugh, and look embarrassed.
24. You never entertain friends in your home.
25. You have given up on romance.
26. You no longer put effort into making yourself and your surroundings attractive.
27. You no longer participate in or enjoy sports, work, gardening, concerts, theater, movies, church, music, cards, travel, charity, etc. Television is your main form of entertainment.
28. You feel that others are responsible for your well-being.
God forbid you answered yes to all of these questions. In which case, check your pulse, you may already be dead! But the purpose of the Age Quiz is to help us put into perspective our Old habits. Habits that we have the power to change.
One of the greatest and most immediate leaps we can make towards a life-affirming attitude is as simple as showing our teeth. Smiling. The action of a smile, a forced one even, activates chemicals that make us happier. Smiling will help us create a positive aura that draws people as quickly as if we had found the Fountain of Youth and were willing to share it.
Causes Pat Montandon Supports
PETA, Women for Women, Amnesty International, Children as the Peacemakers, Peace to The Planet