Jeanne Ellin: ageism and ageing

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Ageism and ageing

statue of fists in the airI no longer accept as a compliment “You don’t look your age” or “You don’t seem old.” Or being addressed as “Young Lady” as avoidance of the O word.

These are not compliments, but indications that being old is something disgraceful or to be avoided. We would never say to a person of mixed race “Well you don’t look black,” as a sort of reassurance any more than it would be acceptable to say “you don’t seem gay.”

By flattering or reassuring me that I don’t seem/act/look old, the underlying message is that being Old is somehow to be regretted or apologised for.

I am no more ashamed of being Old than I am of being Female, Mixed Race or Disabled. They are just facts, neither good nor bad in themselves, like eye colour or height.

I am Old. I have lived for sixty-eight years and hope to grow older still. This is no measure of virtue, nor cause for embarrassment. Is it a fear of dying that fuels this attitude or a yearning for perpetual youth?

Each life stage has its pluses and minuses. The pangs and acne of adolescence, the pressures of the career and family building years, the andropause and menopause, all natural times with their own challenges and rewards.

Being Old is just another stage and does not need to be dreaded or denied. Not everyone can have the Saga retirement, starlit cruises, with a handsome older man in the picture, not everyone can keep their health at the level of a vigorous forty-five year old till death. Not every financial provision works out. Shipwreck comes in many forms and perhaps fear of these perils is the root cause of the denial of age.

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As long as these are hidden fears, bad things that happen to the unwise or unwary, we will not work on solutions. We need to be honest about the reality. We need to prepare financially and physically, accepting that circumstances might change. But we also need to prepare our minds and hearts, develop resilience and accept that we have a large part to play in our own happiness in later years.

rainbow in a waterfallWe all need to work on what used to be called character building, becoming positive, developing the habit of happiness as a default position; nurturing friendships and building connections with a wide range of people of different ages and experiences; developing interests that can be sustained in a variety of circumstances. Sports can be continued but there might have to be adjustments. Be prepared to be flexible, to actively look for new interests and friendships. Bereavement need not take your every source of companionship and support if you keep your circle wide, open and growing.

Keep yourself connected to others, keep involved in issues and causes that you care about, keep connected, keep contributing and keep caring.

Please do comment on this article below. Jeanne enjoys your feedback.

Jeanne Ellin

About Jeanne Ellin

I am a poet working at living a creative life in a one room flat, companioned by a menagerie of chronic health problems. I began this series of posts after being inspired by two women younger than myself, who, fearful of their imagined old age spent in ill health and poverty, committed suicide. I explore every year as a bonus of adventures, with moments of discomfort or fear, but with unexpected treasure to be found - helped by a sense of the ridiculous, a world perspective and creativity.