I’ve never been the type to worry about aging. I marveled at friends who approached their milestone birthdays with fear and trembling. To me, the adage held true: “you’re as old as you feel“. I pretty much believed that, going through my days focusing on other issues, thinking that as long as I exercised and ate healthy I would be okay for a very long time.
My confidence partly came from comparing my current self with my 20-something self a decade ago. I was overweight then, not so healthy, eating lots of junk even though I was a vegetarian. My husband, who was my boyfriend back then, fondly reminisces of that time with me as our “traveling fat couple” years. My knees ached a lot from eating too much sugar, my menstrual cramps were strong and painful at times, and my general health was not so great. In 2006, while in my late 20s, the weight began to drop as I was finishing my bachelor’s degree and preparing for my wedding at the same time. In January 2010, I jumped into the vegan world, which brought further improvements to my health.
Once I turned 35, though, I was confronted with the aging process. My belief “you’re as old as you feel” was unexpectedly challenged.
I was relatively sure that I wouldn’t have to deal with gray hair for quite some time. I never looked for them, and none came to my attention. My husband was the one who noticed my first gray hairs when I was 35, which is ironic because he is not the most observant guy when it comes to changes in my hair.
I also noticed my metabolism change … significantly. I’ve never been thin, but I’ve been pretty healthy since 2006. However, I’ve noticed that doing the same type and amount of exercise no longer has the same effect. I have a muffin top now; I’ve never had one of those. My arms are getting flabby. I’ve always had big hips and a very round butt, but I’ve always been much smaller above the waist. Once I turned 35, and ever since, I’ve noticed extra padding above the waist.
Perhaps the worst reminder of the aging process came last year, in February 2014, when I injured my back while at work. Up until this injury, I had considered myself to be a pretty strong girl, certainly not weak. I was used to carrying decent loads and politely declined help from men when they offered it. I was used to hauling heavier oxygen equipment in and out of my car and into patients’ homes when necessary. The back injury not only weakened me physically, but mentally as well. I began to see myself in a very different way.
Part of the reason for this is because the recovery took such a very long time. Even 15 months later, I am still not 100% recovered. Before the injury, I used to be able to bend over with legs straight (no bend in the knees), feet together, and put my palms mostly flat on the ground in front of my feet. Now I am lucky if I can get my fingertips to touch in front of my feet with slightly-bent knees. A week ago, I held a 10-pound baby for 20 minutes while standing, and my back ached the rest of the day. Not only that, but long workdays sitting in a chair causes aches. Long car trips (and I do lots of these for work), not exercising and eating crappy food will also exacerbate my injury. It has been like this off and on for the last 15 months, except it was much worse for the first six to ten months after the injury.
I thought I would have until my 60s before I needed to worry about gray hair, weakening muscles, lower metabolism, and menopause-induced weight-gain. Perhaps these “premature” reminders are here to jolt me out of abeyance. Maybe I’m just getting a sneak-peak into what could be in my journey ahead if I don’t take better care of myself. I thought I was doing okay, but maybe all of these indicators are a slap from reality – “No, you weren’t doing okay.”
Whatever the case, though I am often tempted to feel sorry for myself, I know that ultimately doing so will not help. It’s time to kick aging in the face and show it how strong I really am … even if I’m bluffing a little.