How our self-image must change as we age

Somehow I never pictured myself with oxygen equipment. For most of my life I have felt strong, healthy and very self-sufficient. That was how I saw myself as I traveled the globe, collecting sometimes difficult but important life experiences and M.A. degrees.

Life certainly has an amazing way of surprising us!

The view from our new solar home!

Ever since I moved down to southern Colorado in 2014 and then up to seven thousand feet in 2015, breathing has been a struggle, leading to many doctor’s appointments, cat scans and even a recent lung biopsy. No, I don’t have cancer, just damaged lungs from decades of bronchitis and bad air. What a great thing to find out as we settled into our forever home near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

I fought hard for a couple of years, not accepting that I needed oxygen full-time to live a normal life. I thought I would eventually adjust to our thin air, using all of my inborn stubbornness. If you know me, you know how stubborn I can be! Accepting reality has never been my forte. But finally, twenty tests and a sleep study later, I have resigned to my new reality. I will probably be on oxygen for the rest of my life.

Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is!

Some say just move to a lower elevation. My answer is a resounding NO! Living away from cities, listening to the marvelous natural silence and looking at the mountains constantly has changed me completely in ways impossible to describe to others. I feel so content, safe and grateful here in spite of my breathing struggles.

I know what’s happening in the “world” but I can also completely ignore it here, close to nature and what matters most to me…

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How our definition of “success” changes throughout our lifetime

I am sure most of us have been in search of ways to “succeed in life” ever since we became conscious human beings. What a great goal, and yet we have been constantly trying to hit a moving target. How many times have you re-defined success in this lifetime?

In my 64 years on this planet, this re-definition process has divided into three main stages of life:

In our early years we are simply busy learning all that we can to be able to succeed in traditional ways like finding a dependable mate and a career of some kind. This stage tends to error on the side of self-consciousness and appearances, focusing too much on what others think we should do.

In our middle years we develop our career and perhaps a family, maybe buy a home, and strive to feel well-established and secure.

Midlife Crisis: I for one experienced a major midlife crisis around age 49. The bottom fell out of all my best-made plans, with a divorce and then job/career loss. Other forms of midlife disillusionment may include serious illness, the death of a loved one, or some combination of these various misfortunes. This may compel us to question many of our previous assumptions about how we have defined our own life success. At this point we might ask:

Will I feel like a success in my life if I continue down this path?

Will I be content in the end if I maintain these priorities?

Aging is nature’s way of answering these questions for us, slowly but surely. For me, my emphasis on career fell away quickly when I realized that my highest priority was finding one genuine, honest, loyal love in this lifetime. After that I became a writer and author, best known as the “Midlife Crisis Queen” online. Then my husband and I decided to choose an entirely different lifestyle by moving to rural Colorado, away from most city stress.

After five years of quiet meditation in the peace of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, I find I have learned much more about how easily I was convinced to live someone else’s life in the past, making many mistakes in my previous priorities. Now I know, the best things in life aren’t things. And, in the end, it all came down to this:

The hardest battle you will ever face in life is to be no one but yourself, in a world that is trying its hardest to make you like everybody else…

Hip Hip Hooray! There’s joy in everyday!

Spending time with my parents last week was a timely reminder to me that I must work to find joy everywhere, in spite of physical limitations. Yes, there are a number of irritations in life that must be dealt with, but be sure and find the joy too, or before long it will all seem like a pain in the butt!

For example, the double rainbow last evening!

One thing I always notice when I visit other people’s home is that their windows and views of nature are so limited compared to ours. We have a passive solar home so our south-facing windows cover the wall. I am constantly looking outside here. That is where the action is…

Sometimes a Road Runner will amble up to look in!

Our sky garden is always a good place to observe birds, lizards and occasional deer coming up for water…

and the clouds around here always present something new and interesting!

Find the joy & gratitude YOU need to keep going! That’s what life is all about!

Coping With Life’s Disappointments

I spent a couple days with my elderly parents this past weekend. It was great fun seeing their old friends from decades ago, and reminiscing with them about our childhood. I LOVED my tap dancing lessons in third grade and running around the miniature golf course at Renfro’s in Emporia Kansas. Good times!

But I would be remiss if I did not also share some other observations I made while hanging out with Mom and Dad. On the second day I felt both of their disappointments with life, and not just with the physical failings which inevitably come with advanced aging.

Disappointment comes with life and the deeper you dig into life, the more likely you will eventually see how disappointing the human race can be.

When I look at my own life, I find the human race disappointing in its lack of intelligence and loyalty. I abhor its cruelty and just plain craziness. My greatest disappointments have been with friends and lovers that I thought I could trust and their failures to be true friends. I believe the world could be such a better place if we led with intelligence and loyalty instead of judgment, selfishness and cruelty.

But in the end, we all may find disappointments with how things have turned out. The trick then is to cope in some healthy way with those disappointments by giving everyone a break. After all we are all only human, frail and flawed as that condition implies. I know I have also treated others badly at times and I apologize now for my human state. As we age, coping with disappointments is our job. One of my goals is to forgive everyone including myself by the time I die.

One great tool I have found in reaching this goal, is replacing disappointments with GRATITUDE:

This short video was the beginning of my journey towards daily gratefulness.

Men, Anger, and the Power of Apology

As someone who grew up around a lot of male rage and anger, there are two psychological concepts I have known for what seems like forever. Men in our culture own anger, while the women generally get scared and depressed. Number two: underneath anger there is always sadness. But it is rare when I see a film that captures the issue of men and their deep, violent anger with such quiet beauty and grace as the film “The Mustang” produced by Robert Redford.

If you don’t believe there is always sadness under anger, stop yourself after feeling extremely angry sometime, and allow your true feels to emerge. You may find a reservoir of sadness you have not allowed yourself to feel perhaps for decades.

In this film the star, named Roman, is incarcerated for twelve years after leaving his domestic partner permanently brain damaged in an attack. Aware of his short temper and violent tendencies, he has resisted efforts to be reintegrated back into society. He is then invited to participate in a rehabilitation program centered around training wild horses, an actual prison program today in Nevada. At the same time he receives counseling to understand where all of that rage comes from and…

...how powerful saying “I’m sorry” from the heart & soul can be in healing damaged relationships.

Matthias Schoenaerts, a masterful Belgian actor, plays Roman.

This film is very quiet for most of it, as it slowly sneaks up on you. At first of course you dislike this damaged man who cannot control his rage. How can he be so angry? The rancher in charge of this program, Myles, played masterfully by Bruce Dern, knows how to work with men like Roman, the throwaways of our society. The entire story comes together wonderfully with some amazing cinematography and sensitivity to the prison environment. Roman is finally redeemed to some extent from his anger and sadness as the audience gains compassion for the life he has lived. Up to now, he was not given any tools to work on himself and change.

Boomers: What are YOU doing with all the extra years we’ve gained in the past century?

In the past one hundred years, Americans have witnessed the greatest increase in life expectancy and longevity in human history. In 1935, when Social Security became a government program and established the retirement age at 65, the life expectancy for American men was 60 and for women, 64. Those born in the early twentieth century were not expected to live past age 65, and most didn’t. Life expectancy in the United States increased a full 20 years between 1930 and 2010. The average American today who lives to be age 65 is expected to survive well past 80.

U.S. Life Expectancy at Birth, 1930–2010
Birth Year   Both Sexes   Male   Female
2010   78.7   76.2   81.1
2000   77.0   74.3   79.7
1990   75.4   71.8   78.8
1980   73.7   70.0   77.4
1970   70.8   67.1   74.7
1960   69.7   66.6   73.1
1950   68.2   65.6   71.1
1940   62.9   60.8   65.2
1930   59.7   58.1   61.6
(Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs)

It is difficult for most of us to fully comprehend how much the average life span has increased, even just in our own lifetime. The average lifespan for a man born in 1900 was only 48 years and 52 for women. It may help to recall how young most of our great-grandparents and grandparents were when they died. The dilemma becomes, what to do after we stop working full-time?

Senior Binge Drinking on the Rise

From the recent data, it sounds like binge drinking of alcohol is gaining popularity among Americans over 65. Now there’s something to do! Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting. For this study, data was collected on nearly 11,000 U.S. adults 65 and older who took part in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2015 and 2017. Of those, 10.6% had binged in the past month, the study found. That was up from previous studies. Between 2005 and 2014, between 7.7% and 9% of older Americans were binge drinkers. Blacks and people with less than a high school education were more likely to do so, researchers found.

Elder Suicides Continue to Increase

Another bit of data which came out last year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that suicide rates for women 45 to 64 increased nearly 60% between 2000 and 2016. For men of the same age the suicide rate increased almost 37% over that time. Overall, suicide rates in the U.S. increased 30% between 2000 and 2016. A separate CDC analysis released this month found that suicides have risen in almost every state.

My new “Sky Garden,” built by my brother, Mike and me! All in our mid-60s!

Were You Ever Taught How Not To Work?

It seems safe to say that many of us aren’t finding positive ways to enjoy our “golden years.” I think this is partially because we were never taught what to do with ourselves beyond working all day. In fact we never learned to value “not working” in productive, positive ways. The learning curve has been a little steep for me, and I worked freelance for a decade before we moved here to retire. How do we learn to love and value non-moneymaking endeavors?

I have learned from Mike the value of having a myriad of healthy avocations. I enjoy cooking, gardening, photography, meditation, reading and writing books, movies, yoga, weather research and other forms of freedom and creativity, but first I had to let go of my early lessons in extreme “productivity.” It took me quite a while to feel really OK about enjoying my hobbies thoroughly. I had to remember that no one was watching or judging me.

Why don’t you try doing what makes you feel creative and happy perhaps for the first time in your life. Experiment. Mess up sometimes. That is how we learn the most about what gets us going.

Learn how to take advantage of that extra decade or two you have available to you for the first time in human history!

This and many other lessons are available in my book:

Find Your Reason to Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife

After changing just about everything in my own life around age 50, I spent ten years studying the psychology of midlife change. In order to pass that learning on to my readers, I wrote this book. I had no idea back in 2004, when my own midlife mayhem began, that I was experiencing a perfectly normal and even healthy response to so many midlife challenges. I soon learned: Midlife is a new rite of passage for the human race, beginning with boomers. If you are willing to take some risks, you can change just about everything. However, some serious soul surgery and personal change will be required.

If you would like a paper copy please contact me at: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com

And I thought I had it bad… see “Five Feet Apart”

“We’re all living on borrowed air…enjoy it!

Just finished watching the new film “Five Feet Apart” about teenagers with Cystic Fibrosis, and as one who has my own difficulties breathing, I can heartily recommend it!

Since I have been pretty healthy my whole life, I wonder why at around age sixty various systems have begun failing. I even feel sorry for myself when I cannot enjoy the higher elevations anymore. At present I wait to see the results of a recent lung biopsy. Why me? Why now?

But when I see a film like this, I can only feel super lucky to have been all the places I’ve been in my 64 years, had all of those great and not-so-great relationships, and done pretty much whatever I wanted to.

What can you say about two teenagers who fall deeply in love for the first time in their lives, and aren’t supposed to touch each other? This film is tastefully done, with great dialogue and music. It makes you think about life and death and why we are all here. See it. You won’t regret it!