Fear of ageing struck unexpectedly.
The effect paralysed me. It began the day I stepped backwards off a curb and tore my gastrocnemesis (calf) muscle.
The injured muscle hurt. Pain kept me from activities I enjoy. From tasks and chores. At first I laughed about my plight.
‘A footballer’s injury,’ I said. ‘An accident of a ballerina.’
A ultrasound report showed a large tear. And a large clot. My lovely physiotherapist said it was a significant injury. At first, I didn’t take him seriously.
I hobbled. I hoped my leg would soon improve. I was fit for my age. I’m a walker. A swimmer. A gardener. I’m active. I’ve always done my own housework!
There were twice weekly treatments: ultrasound, massage, gentle stretching. Rest, the leg on pillows. I wore a white, prescription compression stocking. Last week I saw a man with crutches and a black stocking. He had real class! I wish I’d known the stockings didn’t have to be white.
Inactivity caused other muscles to weaken. Joints stiffened. I felt old, frail. Mentally fragile. Books put me to sleep. The idea of writing prompted the response, ‘What for?’ It seemed a short step from there to immobility and irreversible decline. I’ve seen older people decline dramatically after a fall.
For a while,my fear of ageing was real, palpable. I thought about losing my independence. About a diminished quality of life.
But the tear began to heal. I grew out of needing regular physio treatment. Entered the stage of rehabilitation. I began to walk a little more. One day I managed to navigate a wing of a shopping mall in the Christmas crowd. That felt good. I swam – backstroke, no kicking, several times a week. Enjoyed stretching my calf in the pool.
Yesterday I walked 8,000 steps. I have almost recovered.
In a vague sense, my fear of ageing lingers. Our society discusses ‘the problems’ of an ageing population. We hear about elder abuse.* We read that an ageing population is a drag on the health care system and the economy.
A few months ago, I felt almost invincible. Now I am less sure. I hope I’ve developed greater empathy for those less robust than I.
It is normal to be afraid of ageing. However, a persistent, irrational fear of, or phobia about, the process of ageing is called Gerascophobia. It is related to gerontophobia, hatred or fear of the elderly. (Both words from the Greek for old and fear.)
No New Year’s resolutions for me in 2016. Instead, I’ll work towards dissipating the fear of ageing, make it more normal.
Here’s a plan to deal with the fear of ageing
It is never too late to
- Grow and nurture relationships with family and friends
- Cultivate a sense of meaning through meditation or prayer
- Manage your own affairs
- Stay as healthy as possible – eat properly; exercise regularly, drink moderately
- Do something, no matter how small, that makes a difference to others
- Volunteer and belong
- Exercise your intellect – read, learn new things, challenge your brain
- Nurture your creativity – knit, sew, garden, paint
- Spend time in nature at the beach or bush or in a park
- Explore new locations, travel if possible
- Take time and build memories with loved ones
- Grow something that will outlast you and form part of your legacy.
I guess that’s a plan for everyone who wants to live a full and happy life.
Here’s to the adventures and joys that may come our way in 2016. Happy New Year!
*If you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, contact the Advocare Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 724 679 for information and assistance.