Do you remember the first time you asked yourself if you were old? I was in 4th grade. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought— wow, look how much has changed. And in a year, I’ll be off to middle school. Where is the time going??
By 12 I was already contemplating mortality and the meaning of life, unsure but determined to make my one life count. With each passing year, I would bemoan the past and hang on to the good times, crafting scrapbooks and three-ring binders full of pictures taken of my friends, adding graphics and quotes clipped from my favorite magazines. I was too young for nostalgia yet knew the feeling deeply.
Not much has changed. In my twenties, I was desperately aware the expiration date on my carefree lifestyle was coming to a close and was about to really understand what a privilege it was to have that my free meal ticket and college tuition provided by my parents. Real life hit hard, as it is designed to, and my relationship with time soured. Time was a resource that was finite, much like my access to cash at 22, and while I could work my way out the building credit card debt, there was nothing I could do to regain the time slipping through my fingers.
Selfishly, this is why I wanted to tackle the topic of Age this month. I spent so much of my 34th year around the sun mentally preparing myself for turning 35, last year feels fuzzy and sadly, a bit unfulfilling if I’m being honest. So much of my dialogue was negative and self-pity. Things will never get easier with the kids. I’m too old to wear that. I’m too fat for this. I’ll never look as good as I did before kids. I’m invisible. My opinion doesn’t matter.
And writing it all out… it is so crazy to believe that if I beat myself up enough… if I punish myself for just LIVING, my relationship with time would somehow get better.
Now, I do think there are times when wallowing is necessary. I’m all for getting comfortable with discomfort because that’s where real growth happens. But then there comes a time where we realize the one person who is responsible for moving on— for putting those feelings to rest— is yourself. So we can either keep beating ourselves up for doing what we literally are designed to do— be human, or change our point of view as it relates to what it means to be human.
Grappling with our own mortality is a lifelong process, at the forefront of consciousness for some of us and barely a blip in our universe for others. I think that’s why aging is so scary for most of us. You either spend your life fearing the future or it hits you like a ton of bricks once you lose someone close to you. The reality of what aging represents can feel like getting hit by a truth bomb, and it can rock the foundation of our self-esteem and life purpose.
So what can we do?
I started to look closely at all the ways I felt victimized by growing older. I got mad at media and corporations who glorify youth, I got angry at the jeans that fit too snug around my waist. I cursed the fine lines on my forehead and shamed myself each time I thought to dial the dermatologist for my first shot of Botox. It’s not fair, I would think, that my worth has an expiration date. How dare anyone tell me how I should live my life? How dare someone tell me when my time is up?
And then I asked myself how I would react if I didn’t fear what aging represented, but just saw it like any other given that comes with being human (like eating, sleeping, or sex). Even more radical a question… could the act of aging be something to look forward to, if it was shrouded in self-hate? What would I do if I took away the fear?
I started to look at all my beliefs around aging and what I would do if I felt like I had power, instead of being a victim. If I was mad that mainstream media was upholding ageism, W&D could offer up a different narrative. If I was uncomfortable in my jeans, why not get a new pair that I feel great in? And what was wrong with Botox, really?? And who was the one having such a judgey opinion about what I was doing with my life?
And there was the answer to all my negative feelings about aging. It wasn’t mainstream media or the fact high-waisted jeans made my self-esteem plummet each time I secured a button. It was me. I was the one setting these limitations. I was the one giving these thoughts power and weight. I was the one who believed my value became less the older I became. And that…that rocked my world. How many other areas of my life was I blaming my negative thinking on factors outside myself? How long had I let limiting beliefs stand in the way of enjoying life fully? Was I ready to face what was real and what was just a projection of my deepest fears of inadequacy?
When I stopped judging myself the way I feared others were judging me, I realized I had gone to great lengths to shame myself into feeling irrelevant and small. I had made assumptions about what other people thought, which is frankly, none of my business. I had let my age tell me what I could and couldn’t do. If I cared about how ageism affects women, then how could I give advice on advocating for yourself if I wasn’t doing it for MYself? If I wanted to use W&D to help others feel more at peace with their age, I had to start with me.
This has been a huge awakening for me, one that I’ve found a lot of help with through reading “Loving What Is” by Byron Katie. I can’t say “The Work” as she calls it is right for everyone ready to try, but if there is one nugget of wisdom I do believe is worth considering today is this: Who would you be without that thought?
It’s a very similar approach I’ve taken to with managing my anxiety and depression. By separating your thoughts from what the reality is, what is actually happening, you are able to strip the thought from its power by considering if it is actually real or not. And spoiler alert— most of our thoughts have nothing to do with what is actually real. I found that to be extremely comforting. That life is actually pretty simple when you stop assuming the worst and start accepting what is.
The journey of accepting the process of aging (and eventually finding empowerment in it) starts with changing your relationship with reality. Instead of feeling sorry for myself about the realities of being human, I have found more energy to appreciate the present and grasp the enormity of acknowledging time is fleeting. By changing my relationship with the present by simply being thankful for what is, I have the freedom and peace to look towards the future with my eyes wide open, in full appreciation of what is real (this moment, right now). I can leave the past in the past and know the future is all but a story I tell myself.
I recently created some affirmations on aging, you can check them out here.
BY Kate Arends - March 20, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.