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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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
I had such low expectations about watching “Mary Poppins Returns” I almost skipped it. Please don’t! This delightful mix of grim reality and pure, positive fantasy is a not-to-be missed escape into the world of magical musical surprises. The superior performances by Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, plus so many great guest performances by Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth and you-know-who, from the first Mary Poppins movie, makes this an elevating experience for those of any age.
With so many delightful new songs, this movie takes off when Mary Poppins magically appears and begins to sing “Can you imagine that?” in the bath tub scene. She certainly convinced me: “Nonsense can be fun!” Then there was the “A cover is not the book, so open it up and take a look!” song, which simultaneously reminded me of my twenty-five years working in libraries, and also my dating service experience. Such great dating advice!
There is also a dream sequence called “Where the lost things go” to soothe the children who have lost their mother recently. Although not an easy theme to take on with children, Mary makes the loss a tiny bit less painful because “Nothing’s lost forever only out of place…”
Truth be told, I’ve always loved a good musical, but I wasn’t too enamored with the first Mary Poppins movie from 1964. I guess I had to grow up to finally appreciate a world where the women and children sweep in and save the day for the miserable adults who take life far too seriously. Oh those adults, who “think a great deal too much, of that I am certain.”
Now I see we all do think too much and in that way miss the opportunity to enjoy so many happy coincidences and surprises life can offer us. Don’t we all need a Mary Poppins to sweep down into our lives when things are looking grim and show us the bright side while we somehow solve the adult problems of life?
This fun film supports our favorite childhood fantasy of effortlessly flying away when things get tough, elevating our minds to new levels, while accenting every daily positive. And BTW, this film is wonderful with a little help from my little friend THC, along the same lines as Disney’s Fantasia!
The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy. — ABRAHAM MASLOW
Although I learned this psychological tool decades ago, I am always re-learning its usefulness in my own life. What is cognitive reframing? Here’s a definition from an article by social worker Amy Morin:
“Reframing is a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning. Also referred to as cognitive reframing, it’s a strategy therapists often use to help clients look at situations from a slightly different perspective.”
I have found that choosing a “different perspective” can also be the opposite of what I automatically go to in my own mind.
The point is that we can and do choose how we see ourselves and our lives everyday.
If we were raised with a critical or negative view of ourselves and how the world works, the way we will see our lives may be destined to be critical or negative, but that is not the only way to see ourselves. That is not the only reality behind our circumstances.
Here is an example from my own life:
In my present life I may tend to focus on all of the difficult challenges Mike and I have faced since we decided that we needed to leave Fort Collins behind for many good reasons. I may choose to focus on how much money we left on the table by selling our Fort Collins home before prices went way up up there, how expensive and stressful it was to build down here in a rural area, etc, making me critical of our past decisions. Or, I may choose to see exactly how fortunate I have been in spite of many tough misfortunes in the past few decades; to be here now, retired comfortably and happily, and most importantly together!
In addition there are the greater misfortunes of Mike’s horrible experience with CFS for decades, my inability to find another job in libraries at age 49, my traumatic head injury at age 53, and many more difficulties that just come up as we age. Considering all of these factors, we are more than fortunate. How can we be anything but filled with GRATITUDE that we made it to this soft place to fall in this beautiful place?
That is how reframing works, and it can be used in all parts of your life on a daily basis…
leading to overwhelming feelings of gratitude, a feeling we could all use more of!
An amazing combination of evening light and clouds last night!
I had the best time yesterday staring out at our incredible view here in southern Colorado. I was also looking at Mike’s chair, which was empty because he was in town visiting friends. Having quite a bit of experience with Gestalt and “empty chair” therapy, I suddenly thought,
“If you could have anybody from your present or past sitting there right now, who would you choose?”
Charlie Cat relaxing in Mike’s chair
This of course requires a good imagination and sense of pretend, but it can also be quite revealing. I ran through the list in my mind quickly, people from my past who I miss and would love to talk to now. Sad to say, none of them made the grade.
You will never believe who came up for me! I would LOVE to sit down with Barack Obama and discuss our world today. What it must look like to him, after trying so hard to correct injustices from our past and improve the lives of average Americans. How does that feel to him? How does he see Trump?