When I was a child I remember thinking that in the far-off futuristic year of 2000 I would be “old” at the age of 48. How funny it is that one’s idea of what is OLD changes so drastically as we rapidly (and it happens so damn fast) approach the age that we thought was OLD before; we keep on re-setting the bar. I was really depressed when I was about to turn 26 because in my mind, once you passed 25 you were close to 30–that dreaded age. In the movie Planet of the Apes (which came out when I was 14) one of the characters famously said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30”, which was the young people’s anthem during that time period. And how about that movie, “Logan’s Run” where nobody in that society was over 29 because you were “put out to pasture” at the ripe old age of 30. You know you’re getting older when you begin to think of 45 as “young” where you used to think of it as OLD. Each time I hit a milestone I want to believe that I am still young, and in my mind I am. In many cultures, an older person is respected, but not in the U.S. When was it decided that once you turn 50 or (God forbid) 60, you became less valuable than you were when you were younger? As I approached that dreaded age of 60, I felt less and less desirable, valuable, and worthwhile. I literally spent an entire year of my life dreading that number. I admit that part of that was my own prejudice derived from my impression of what an “older” woman was. But the media also perpetrates that age prejudice (except for celebrities—where age doesn’t seem to apply) where they lump everyone into the “senior” category once you turn 60. It’s strange that you could be 59 one day and then the next day when you turn 60, you are automatically deemed “elderly.” That word automatically conjures up people in rocking chairs, whiling away their “golden” years, waiting to die. Elderly implies that a person has no goals or dreams or aspirations. It implies that these people don’t know how to use a computer, or text, or use an iPad, or an IPhone, or other gadgets deemed too complex for their rapidly deteriorating brains. The image that one gets is of dumpy bodies, unable to run, spin, workout much (except the Silver Sneakers class). That whole picture could not be more wrong because just like anybody of any age, there are a great many variations of how each of us age. I for one was very debilitated before my spinal tumor was discovered, but before that I had been a vital and athletic woman of a certain age, and prided myself on it. When I was ambling along with my cane, I felt truly OLD, but anyone with a tumor compressing their spinal cord would have the same symptoms and probably felt the same way. Once the tumor was removed, my recovery was rapid and I returned to my workout regimen, gradually increasing it and one year later, I am almost back to pre-tumor form. But what I know for sure and I wish the younger set would understand, is that no matter what your age, you are an individual and if you were so inclined to be very goal oriented, and vital, you will not stop being so. I wish I could change society’s attitude about aging, but what is most important is changing my own attitude. Until I can look at myself (and the hell with other’s opinions) and feel beautiful (inside and out) nothing will change. I still have a long way to go, but the more I recognize my attributes and stop focusing on my physical flaws, the more I will learn to value and love myself. Like anything, that is a process and hopefully someday I will achieve this goal.
Learning to value yourself is a lesson that is not easy for most people. Today I had a friend request on Twitter from an amazing photographer and author. First of all, my first reaction was, “Why would someone of his caliber even bother wanting to follow me?” Then I logged onto his profile and saw the most fantastic photographs from all over the world, but instead of marveling at his talent, I felt inadequate and small. At that moment I was ready to just give up on myself because I felt, “What’s the point, I’ll never even be in his league.” But as my wise friend Janet always used to tell me when I started comparing myself to others and coming up short, “Stop looking over the fence at other people’s yards.” I have to remember, I just started back with photography, after many years of just using a point and shoot camera. That negative thinking would prevent many people from writing, blogging, playing tennis, skiing, or anything if they compared themselves to the pros. I must realize that my work has value and I am a valuable person. Even if I don’t make a red cent on my pictures or my writing, it is a creative outlet for me and I must remember that I am valuable.
Sometimes, you have to be your own cheerleader. For the past two days I have fallen into the depression and hopelessness trap. That does not happen too often because of the amount of gratitude I have regarding my physical state compared to a year ago. But I get overwhelmed with all the steps involved in growing my blog. Today it came to a head, and all the old tapes started playing in my head, telling me I am a loser, and what are you doing this for, and who would even want to read your blog anyway–and on and on. But sometimes all it takes is a little hope and your attitude can turn around in an instant. I know that God is leading me someplace, but sometimes I don’t listen to the signs. It is no coincidence that I have gotten back into photography again, after all these years. My biggest problem is that I don’t believe in myself and I am always waiting for validation from others. In addition, when things get too difficult I just give up. I know from all my readings that you will never achieve anything if you don’t persevere. It all comes back to belief in yourself and not listening to the old negative voices in your own head from your childhood. I, for one, was told from an early age that I was “stupid” every day of my life by my father, until I believed it. As a result I lacked the self confidence to pursue a career in art, which is what I wanted. When you have no confidence, you never think you are good enough and go through your life settling. Granted, I did o.k. for myself, but at my stage in life I must start taking chances and trying to shed that inferiority I felt my whole life because I listened and, most importantly believed, the negativity from my parents. It is time to believe in myself, no matter if nobody else does. Yes if you don’t have a cheerleader (and lots of us don’t) you have to be your own.