Aging: The road ahead might be narrowing

Listen to this article

Like the spinal canal in my neck, the road ahead seems to be narrowing for me and yet I try to convince myself otherwise. Based on my family history, I figure I have lived almost two-thirds of the years I have on this planet and I find myself thinking more frequently about what might be in store for me.

I have seen what old age does to enough loved ones to know it isn’t pretty. For a nation that prides itself on its greatness, I find it odd we spend 80 to 90 percent of the money we spend on health care to treat people in their final two years of life. What’s the point? For most, by the time this is done, we’re ready to move on to whatever lies ahead.

Despite the realization more of my life is behind me than before me, I find myself feeling fortunate for what I have to look forward to. In the coming days, I will begin a new job as a teacher for a new private school that will serve teens who suffer from debilitating anxiety, depression, and bullying. I am excited to be getting in on the ground floor of a new endeavor that will not just allow me to use my teaching background, but to help people who still have much of their lives ahead of them, lives that will hopefully go on to help make a better society for others.

I have also reached a point where I know my physical limitations may be catching up to my physical abilities. Last night was a rough one for me. Nerve pain shooting from seven narrowing discs in my neck sent waves of pain down my arms and to the tips of each finger. I was miserable to say the least and on the verge of asking my wife to take me to the hospital.

Old injuries have caught up to me and created quite a challenge to navigate. Late in the day, when upright, I am slammed with a horrible headache and burning in my spine. Lying down flat helps alleviate the pain, but in the process, it stimulates the pain running down my arms. Drugs make me sleepy which makes me less available to my wife when she gets home from work and the caffeine I ingest to counter the drowsiness keeps me awake. Hopefully, some scheduled epidurals will knock out all this pain, but if they fail, do I choose to live with it, rely on narcotics, or trust a surgeon to be perfect on 14 exit points for nerves? All I know right now is to just take things one day at a time and know it will all play itself out eventually.

When you are a kid, this stuff never enters your mind. You just do what comes natural to you and don’t think twice about it. Over time, you begin to question your actions. “Did I over do it this weekend? I feel pretty sore.”

Eventually, your life as an adult prevents you from doing many of the things we use to take for granted. But now that I am semi-retired, I have plenty of free time again, only now I am plagued by the realization I either can’t or shouldn’t do the kinds of things I might have done as recent as 15 years ago.

I still have all my body parts and want to keep it that way forever. Sure, I could join a senior softball league, but I know myself well enough to know I would still play like Pete Rose knocking over Ray Fosse in the All-Star Game only to end up on an operating table for yet another surgery.

My home gym use to have dumbbells up to 70 pounds. A few years ago, I sold the weights that were over 30 pounds along with my Olympic weights and bench. Today, I am considering selling the rest since it is all I can do to grip a five-pound dumbbell and now rely more on the use of bands and body weight exercises. They have become a cruel reminder of what once was.

Still, I have no intention of ending my love affair with exercise. I don’t get to run with the frequency I used to 30 years ago or near the pace I was once known for, however, I can still run. I can even see myself offering to coach some of the regulars I see at the nearby track who could use a little fine tuning to run even better than I see them pushing themselves. Maybe the local college kids I see now and then who belong to a triathlon club might like some tips. It’s another new window opening for a guy who is seeing more doors closing than he likes to admit.

I am also fortunate to have a partner in life and love who travels with me. We laugh a lot, especially when we blurt out the same words to finish each other’s sentences. We support each other and work as a team knowing that we wouldn’t have it any other way. Growing old with her makes what lies ahead seem a lot less worrisome.

One thing I have been reminded of lately is the thirst for life found in people who have really gotten up there in years. Having recently been employed at a nearby senior center, I have enjoyed watching men and women in the 80s, 90s, and even over 100 soak up the many offerings available to them. They may be old in age, but they remain young at heart. They are still laughing, thinking, and physically pushing themselves rather than just quitting because they are no longer who they once were.

None of us are who we once were. We are ever evolving and like many people my age, I have my share of apprehension about what might lie ahead. However, one thing a little therapy helped me realize is what’s done is done, what has not happened might never happen, but what today offers is dependent on how I think.

Today, I woke up in a lot of pain, but I reminded myself I’ll take it over a cancer diagnosis or some other debilitating illness. I got up, I moved around, fed the dogs, and after a couple of hours was ready to go hit the gym. Rather than pissing and moaning about what I could not do or what I use to do, I chose to enjoy what I could do and by the time I was finished, I was feeling much better.

Perhaps the road ahead is narrowing for me, but that does not mean it does not offer me plenty of places to stop and enjoy.

Top photo by Tim Forkes