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…

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

Seeing nature as our home

More and more studies are coming out now, reinforcing the idea that time spent in nature is so good for us. Big surprise there! For centuries we spent all of our time living in and with nature. What could be more, well, natural? But I must say I did not have a full understanding of the importance of nature in my life until I moved away from towns and cities altogether. Most importantly I missed natural silence while living in cities. My entire soul longed to NOT hear cars and other people around me. This longing became more strong as I grew older, and finally Mike and I reached the age where we were no longer forced to live near others for jobs and financial reasons.

It seems now that I learn a new lesson everyday by living close to nature. First I realized I could finally begin living in the present. Meditation and mindfulness seem so natural here with so few distractions. And now, as I observe and contemplate the loss of many loved ones, I can’t help but think, “What could be more natural?” Of course that does not ease the pain of loss, but it does make it feel quite a bit less personal. And what could be more natural than grieving? We humans have been doing that since the beginning of our species.

Living close to nature requires our full attention, that is what I’ve learned as I begin displaying my photos at the local Space Gallery this July. Look away for a moment and you have missed the most incredible sunrise or sunset, changing second by second…

…or the arrival of a Road Runner right outside our glass door. There is so much to be missed!

That is why this quote speaks to me everyday. I wish the same for you!

“…we all know how this ends, so rushing through life is senseless. As our inner life grows ever more luminous, the chatter of the speed-and-greed world slowly fades, leaving us with greater peace, tranquility, quiet and contentment.”  —  Arthur Rosenfeld

Boomers: Why or Why Didn’t We Go To College?

One thing I never want to happen, but I know does, is that potential new friends here may decide we cannot relate because I spent so much time at the university. To tell you the truth, this discrepancy never even occurs to me.

My own observation about boomers and college:

Those who didn’t go to college often wish they had had the chance.

Those who did go sometimes wonder why they bothered.

How many boomers went to college anyway? Census data estimates that 28.8 percent of Baby Boomers have earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher, while another 28.9 percent have attended some college classes.

It seems family views and monetary pressures were the largest influence on why many of us attended college. Because my Dad was a professor, everyone in my family got free tuition at Colorado College. We all went there at some time including my Mom.

I guess I always assumed that those who didn’t go to college didn’t want to, but I see now how parental encouragement or total non-encouragement played an important role. Mike’s father didn’t offer any support or encouragement. It was the old, “the Navy training was good enough for me, so it’s good enough for you!” And this was during the Vietnam War! I also learned from Mike that a lot of us learn more easily from doing, not listening to some long-winded professor. Some of us are physical and visual learners.

Overjoyed at college graduation… back when I had all the answers!

I was raised by a college professor and a teacher. I was totally brain-washed that college is good for you. My Dad and Mom were the first kids in their family to go to college, and I would have to say it was “very, very good to them.” It was also a career-maker for me, and I truly appreciate that fact, but that isn’t where I learned the most important lessons in my life. Not even close. In the end, I attended graduate school for a specific career.

I think we learn our most important lessons by living our lives and paying close attention to what works for us, and what doesn’t. What careers or work environments bring out the best in us? What jobs feed on our own natural abilities and talents? Unfortunately I had to wait until I quit work altogether to learn the most about my natural interests and talents.

Gardening: An old friend who has come in handy in retirement!

Ask yourself today: What would you do if you had all the time in the world? What activities make you lose touch with time and place and take you away to your own great place in your head? Now I only do what gets me going and I have the time to observe exactly what that is. For me now it is gardening, anything with vivid colors, photography, cooking, yoga….

The Wonder of True Friends

I just started reading a wonderful memoir. The way I found it is even more interesting. I had been thinking about how much I love this song by the Dixie Chicks. Take a listen. It’s well worth your while…

I found a way to explore northern Thailand as a college student in spring 1974!

Yep, “taking the long way” is a great description of my life. I have always been quite independent and, as one close friend in Salt Lake observed, ‘zealous’. When I focused on something new, I could usually make it happen, in spite of the fact I rarely had any money. As you might guess, in the midst of all of that, I have had only a few true friends, because I was always taking off to some other state or foreign country for a new adventure. When I decided it was time to go do something different, I simply did it. How many relationships can keep up with that lifestyle?

But back to the amazing memoir: “Let’s Take The Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship” by Gail Caldwell. Since I loved the title “Taking the Long Way” I looked it up and found it had been already “taken” by Gail Caldwell’s book. Then I had to find out more, so I checked it out of my local library.

This is a well-written memoir by a Pulitzer Prize winning former chief book critic for the Boston Globe. How’s that for credentials? And yes, it is a wonder to read. Here Gail eulogizes the kind of close, true friendship that one rarely finds in one lifetime. What are the chances of finding that one true friend who practically knows what you are thinking and what you may say next? She also beautifully describes the way so many of us writer, introvert-types jealously protect our independence and solitude. Gail begins by defining herself as “a gregarious hermit” and then wonders how she finally met “someone for whom I wouldn’t mind breaking my monkish ways.” Ah, don’t we all know that fine line between loving our freedom and yet deciding to let one worthy friend into our life.

Friend in Chinese

I found this memoir particularly poignant because I only have a few true friends in my life right now. Only one friend made the effort to stay in touch emotionally when we moved down here five years ago, and Mike is the friend of a lifetime for me. What does that mean? For me it means absolute trust that this friend loves and respects me, to the extent that we can easily disagree and argue, but love and loyalty is always solidly beneath. That bottomless loyalty is the greatest prize in my life. I need to know that this is someone who would never betray or doubt our intimate life together, and will certainly be there at the end of my life if possible.

Dirt Work and Family

Early morning pastel in Spanish Peaks County…

It’s been all dirt work around our home lately! My brother John, a self-described ‘dirt guy,’ came in Sunday and he has truly spruced up our sky garden area.

After proper leveling, provided by John, we added pavers and gravel to the lower-level of the garden to give it an even finished look. More plants to come in soon around the bird bath…And so many native plants are just starting to bloom after that big snow last week! We also put in a few new trees. Perfect time for my parents to visit today.

John is a man of very few words. He always has been, but even more so since he lives alone along Oak Creek near Sedona. When I asked him this morning why he likes to work in the dirt, he answered: “It’s organic.”