Do you feel marginalized as you age? I do.

Perhaps you’ve heard about a new article in The Atlantic by Science journalist Ed Yong entitled:

“The Final Pandemic Betrayal.” Mr. Yong won the Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting for this “series of lucid, definitive pieces on the COVID-19 pandemic that anticipated the course of the disease, synthesized the complex challenges the country faced, illuminated the U.S. government’s failures and provided clear and accessible context for the scientific and human challenges it posed.

The subtitle of Mr. Yong’s latest article from April 2022 is:

“Millions of people are still mourning loved ones lost to COVID, their grief intensified, prolonged, and even denied by the politics of the pandemic.” I saw an interview with him this week that really hit home for me. At least nine million of us have lost someone we knew and cared for and yet it seems we just go on, ignoring the tremendous losses to so many. In just two years, COVID became the third most common cause of death in the U.S., which means that it is also the third leading cause of grief.

“Each American who has died of COVID has left an average of nine close relatives bereaved, creating a community of grievers larger than the population of all but 11 states. Under normal circumstances, 10% of bereaved people would be expected to develop prolonged grief, which is unusually intense, incapacitating, and persistent. But for COVID grievers, that proportion may be even higher, because the pandemic has ticked off so many risk factors.”

In his recent interview, Mr. Yong discussed what is for me the most important aspect of this horrible loss of life. The groups hardest hit were “marginalized” sections of our society. Who are they? The elderly, those chronically ill, the weakened, the brown, the black and low income groups who have less access to decent health care.

My experience in the past eight years, as I grow older and my own health declines, has been a movement from a “normal” person to one who definitely feels marginalized. First with the aging process we slowly become invisible in our culture, or worse, someone who should just get out of the way of the younger and more vital. Yes, it’s true some help me with doors and seem to feel some compassion for my difficult circumstances, but I have experienced a pulling away from others as I have become more disabled. I have found it almost impossible to make true friends in this rural area. It seems just about nobody believes I am worth their time and energy. I don’t think I would have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it myself.

In this way I have learned what “marginalized” means in this country. We have always put an emphasis on being healthy and able-bodied, and when I was also healthy I rarely noticed what happened to those who are not. Yes, I do have financial resources unlike so many Americans, but I do not live by bread alone. Thanks to those of you who have made an effort to welcome us here. And to the rest of you, I hope you don’t ever become elderly and need a friend.

Aging & Accepting New Limits…

I am ever amazed at the distance between knowing how much my health has changed and accepting those new limits. In the past seven years I have gone from a healthy 60-year-old to one who needs supplemental oxygen to breath and help with balance and stability while walking. My highest priority now is to not fall again and suffer another head injury. I’ve already had one traumatic brain injury and several serious concussions.

Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is.

On my birthday this year I learned in no uncertain terms that I cannot walk more than a few blocks, and that is with balance assistance at all times. I have been an avid walker my whole life. I would love to know how many miles I have walked in my 65+ years. I was inspired by Thoreau’s essay on “The fine art of sauntering.”

Walking was always my best way to contemplate my doubts and troubles. If I was upset I would go for a long walk along the Big Thompson River in Loveland, or around my neighborhood in Fort Collins. There I worked things out in my mind.

This is not an option now. I fell down in my garden a couple years ago and split my upper lip badly. Even short walks are out of the question, even if Mike is there to help. I am depressed and frustrated with this change in my lifestyle, and acceptance has never been my forte. I am one stubborn person!

However, I heard something the other day which stuck with me. It was about how we may decide to focus and go deeper into our spirituality when our physical abilities wane. This has already happened to some extent, because I’m that kind of person and I am stuck inside most of the time.

Luckily I have a phenomenal view from my bed, an 180 degree view of the Sangre de Cristos!

OK, I guess I can live with this.

Find A Healing Environment For Retirement

In my last post I wrote about healing relationships, relationships that truly saved my life. But I have not yet shared one of the most important transitions I have gone through in the past eight years. I hear so much these days about Boomers who are trying to find the best place to retire. Of course, that will be different for each of us, but for me, retiring as close to nature as possible has transformed me. And the irony is that I was not certain at all whether I wanted to come here in the first place.

Eight years ago at this time, Mike and I was crazy busy preparing to sell our beautiful home in the Fort Collins suburbs so we could build a passive solar home on three acres west of Walsenburg, Colorado. Mike was always convinced that this was his ideal retirement plan. I was not so sure. Still surprised that I would even be able to retire by age 60, our options still hadn’t struck me. Then, after we moved into a rundown old miner’s home in town while we built our new home 13 miles west of there, I became really worried. I could not figure out where I was for a while. You try moving from a big cosmopolitan city to a tired old town of less than 3,000 souls, then you tell me if you don’t feel a whole lot of culture shock.

Our first year down here was difficult. So many disappointments and worker slow downs in construction, not to mention health concerns. But we did prevail and moved into our brand new home a little over one year later…

Oh, did I mention the view of the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo Range from our new home?

When we first moved in, nothing seemed real. I felt like I had moved into a fancy foothills resort and the management would be coming soon to kick us out. After living in cities and suburbia for most of my life, this felt a bit like make-believe. To finally live in a naturally warm, energy-saving home that we had designed specifically for our needs and up to our standards with a view like that? Wow! But the best was yet to come.

The escape from the frenetic energy of cities was the best! I don’t know that I can properly describe exactly how peaceful this place felt after living with all of that crowding and traffic my whole life. The silence was astounding! I loved to go out in the morning, sit down and just soak it all in; the sunrises, the bird songs, the trees, the mountains. How did I end up here?

In the years since, my love of this place has grown and grown along with my sky garden, dedicated to my brother. How was I ever so lucky? With many new health challenges including head injuries and the need for permanent supplemental oxygen, I still feel so content to watch the sunrise each morning and look out over that tremendous view, knowing that I have finally found the place I belong.

In June 2014 we packed up or got rid of most of our worldly goods, sold our home in Fort Collins, and took off for an ancient rental in Walsenburg, Colorado. It was then we named ourselves the “NEW Old Farts” because we were barely 60 years old. I have been sharing our retirement story here on this blog since October 2014; the year long passive solar construction wins and losses, the big move in and our gradual adjustment to life in rural Colorado. We have fallen in love with living in tune with the sun and seasons, waking up each day amazed to find ourselves in such a beautiful, quiet, natural place. Good luck choosing the perfect place to make your own retirement dreams come true!

Please contact me at MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com to purchase copies of any of my books. Thanks!

The Power of Healing Relationships

In my past work, many asked me if I believed that we can change emotionally or are we just stuck with our upbringing and personality traits. Can we change? Yes, but two factors were essential. The feeling of hitting bottom with little left to lose, and access to healing relationships.

I have been lucky in my adult life. I have had a number of positive experiences with truly healing relationships. The first came in my early thirties when I finally met a therapist I could learn to trust and rely on to have my best interests at heart. I know now that I would have had a very different life if I had not met this woman when I did. It took a few years, but I eventually found her completely trustworthy. I let her re-parent me in a caring, loving way, showing me that some people are worth trusting. Later I learned that she had taught me quite a lot about providing my own self-counseling in difficult situations by teaching skills of self-analysis and motive.

A few years later I studied for a M.A. degree in counseling psychology where I learned even more about trusting the wisdom of my own intuition. Your gut has decades of experience in choosing what is good for you and those ideas and people to avoid. Trust it.

All of these tools are not useful, however, if you are still second-guessing yourself, like I did with my first marriage. I knew marrying that man was a mistake, but I did it anyway. Of course, that did not end well, so by the time I hit 49 I was divorced, jobless and depressed as hell. Living on unemployment and severance provided the time and space I needed to re-imagine and re-frame my life. I spent months writing, reading my old journals and other books on self-esteem. What was next for me?

I decided that the only thing that meant anything to me at that point was to find love. Unless there was a loyal, trustworthy, generous love for me in this world, I wasn’t sure if I was interested in living the rest of my life. My priorities were clear. I started my own local, non-internet-based dating service to prove to myself and others that love was an “intriguing possibility” for all of us, even over age 50 or 60. Thus began my own proof of something I completely believe in:

“What you focus on grows!”

And, sure enough, I soon met the partner I had always dreamt of, except he certainly didn’t come in the package I had imagined! Mike was an engineer and electrical technician, not a university type at all. He wanted to learn how everything worked and fix it, plus he was also a sculptor and artist. On paper we did not match at all, but in real life we were so well-matched and happy!

After our marriage at age 50, he subsidized my search for an alternative career and then supported my new work as a free-lance writer. He gave me what we all need at some point in our lives, someone who believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. Believing in myself as a writer was difficult for me in spite of fact that I had always been an avid reader and writer. I had been a university librarian for decades with three M.A. degrees at that point, and yet I needed a lot of support to become a research writer.

One factor which I’m sure has played an important role in our relationship over the years is that both of us have suffered from chronic illnesses, him when I met him, and me recently. This experience teaches us compassion for self and others, because that is the only way to survive the daily challenges of an illness that others can’t understand or cure. I often think now about how easy it used to be to walk everywhere without supplemental oxygen, and go just about anywhere I wanted to. Remember, your health will not last forever.

Since we met, over seventeen years ago, Mike has played a gigantic role in my own self-love and self-healing process. I am so grateful for his love. He shows me everyday how smart, strong and worthy of love I am. He is my best cheerleader.

To me, now, that is just about as much as we can ask from life or love!

The Pros and Cons of Writing an Autobiography

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself : ‘How alive am I willing to be?’” – Anne Lamott

Whether to create an autobiography is my latest writing dilemma. I go back and forth almost every day. I kept a journal from Junior High School on, so I certainly have the material to work with. I also have lots of pictures from my past. Don’t get me wrong. My goal is not to punish anyone. I just want to write something that some might enjoy reading some day.

PROS

I certainly don’t want to get stuck in my past, but on the other hand, wouldn’t it be interesting to see where my mind was at in 9th grade? In college? In my 30s in comparison to my 60s? As a psychologist I would love to study my own transition from my early beliefs as a naive youngster to what I now like to call older and much wiser. Perhaps a study of how a liberated woman’s mind developed, starting in the mid-1950s.

I like to believe my life had meaning. One way to pass on that meaning is to write about it. As a member of the transitional, mid-Baby Boomer generation, from the conservative, sexist 1940s and 50s, to the 60s, 70s and beyond, I wish to acknowledge how much our country changed especially in terms of women’s lives and roles. I lived a non-traditional life of first building a career and delaying marriage. I chose not to have children, choosing instead to get to fully know myself before I brought anyone else into my life.

I lived most of my adult life working and single, enjoying the freedom that brings. I experienced a divorce (at age 45), which at least half of Baby Boomers have been through. I also spent a few years studying the trends in Baby Boomers in my 50s, and then wrote a book about them.

I have a graduate degree in psychology and studied midlife love for a few years after my divorce. I also opened my own version of a dating service in the early 2000s. That’s how I met husband number two, while trolling for matches for my women clients… My second book tells this story: How to Believe In Love Again.

I feel I have lots to share with other Baby Boomers and their children and grandchildren, eventually!

CONS:

What a lot of work! Do I have the stamina at this late date?

I certainly don’t want to get stuck in my past. As far as I’m concerned, I have already spent too much time thinking about what happened ‘back then.’ It seems to be one of my obsessions, and yet I do appreciate all the enticing memories I have from so many trips abroad and a few great love affairs. (You know who you were!) I find my trips down memory lane to be fantastic entertainment for when I’m sick and stuck in bed for days… It just seems like this is the right time to set the record straight in my own mind (before I lose it…LOL!)

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

And then there’s the whole question of seeing the past honestly and calling an asshole an asshole. On that topic I’m afraid I agree with my hero,

Anne Lamott: “Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

As Anne says, acknowledging and telling our truth is what aging is all about!

But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not go in to. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in – then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.” – Anne Lamott

Our perspective on our present and future

I just realized this past week my new life theme: “Quit trying so hard!” After struggling my whole life for more, I find great relief in simple contentment, my own version of living in the present.

Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is!

If you pay attention to the messages from our culture, you find a constant barrage of: You can do better. You SHOULD be better. The sky is the limit. No matter what your age, do more! To that I say, why? Yes, I understand why younger folks might benefit from hearing that theme, but get real. With my lung and brain limitations, this is as good as it gets, and I would like to feel good about that.

Another theme I hear all around me these day is the comfort so many of my friends find in their families, especially their grandkids. That is wonderful for them. Mike and I have never been big on family and neither one of us were into kids. Reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw in Denver ages ago: “Thank you for not breeding.” I remember thinking, “Wow, nobody ever thanked me before!”

Mike and I have been environmentalists forever. We believe in building native gardens and solar homes, using fewer natural resources and living a simple life. We find daily meaning and satisfaction living close to nature and we each have our own ongoing creative projects.

The one desire that keeps coming up for me, is a strong ‘need’ to spend some time on a beach somewhere near the ocean before I die. I have spent a few of my most glorious days on earth on the beaches of Cane Garden Bay, Tortola (BVI), on the Kona Coast of Hawaii and at Pattaya in southern Thailand back in the 1970s. So I say, take me away now to any isolated, beautiful beach! I have some purely intuitive urge to go back to where we all came from.