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. 

Limited mobility and fear of ageing (image from www.schn.health.nsw.gov.au)
Limited mobility and fear of ageing (image from www.schn.health.nsw.gov.au)

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.)

happy new year 2016

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.


8 replies on “Fear of ageing? No way!”

  1. An important reflection, Maureen. It made me realise that although I’m not afraid of dying, which I now see as a doorway into another reality, I am afraid of ageing, to the point where I lose my independence. Fear is life-denying, but it can help us to go forward into fear, rather than holding back.

    1. Thanks, Christina. It is interesting that we are not afraid of dying. But the thought of losing mobility, independence and ability to contribute in some way terrifies me. My little taste of restriction caused such a fear reaction that i could have been even more immobilised. I didn’t really understand your last sentence?

  2. It’s chilling to reflect how quickly our lives can change ….in just one footfall! It’s easy to take mobility for granted. I, like you, am a walker and can’t imagine a life when that might not be possible. Anyways so happy to hear that you are finally on the mend and let’s hope 2016 takes you from strength to strength.

    1. Nice to hear from you on my blog, Rachel. Thank you for your good wishes. It seems incredible that I was actually sky-larking one minute, and so damaged the next! It took a while for the extent of my injury to sink in, I am so used to being active and mobile. I guess it has made me even more determined to increase my fitness levels and enjoyment of everything I do. A good lesson for everyone, I imagine.

  3. Extremely frustrating, embarrassing and annoying when one can’t recognise a good friend whilst walking in the same pool!! Perhaps I need special glasses to wear in the water – AGW: Aged Glasses for Water!

    1. I was amused when you didn’t recognise me this morning Elizabeth. But then I remembered: you’ve never seen with wet hair, in bathers or in the pool. I doubt if you’ve seen me without spectacles, either. Its that thing about not recognising people where and when you don’t expect to see them. Obviously my voice worked!

  4. I’m glad to hear you’re recovering, Maureen. In my mind, I still feel young, the same girl I’ve always been. Yet I’ve reached the age of menopause, that’s what the blood test said. I’m starting to stiffen if I sit for too long and I can’t read a thing without my glasses. My knees have wrinkles and my skin has sun spots. Usually I just glance in the mirror without noticing myself, but sometimes I look, really look, and I can’t believe the face I see—it has lines and is no longer young. Time is stamping itself all over my body, letting me know I’m past my prime and my time here is finite.
    To be honest, that doesn’t frighten me. What frightens me is when it plays with my mind. When I forget things. Names, what I was going to write about in the next paragraph, who that character was in the book I’m reading. I’m frightened that my physical body might outlive my brain. I don’t know if it will, none of us know, but I saw what dementia did to my father and to his mother before him. I might be lucky, or I might not. I’m beginning to feel an urgency to write everything I want to write, and a regret for not starting sooner, for not realising how short our lives really are.
    Despite these outer changes, inside my head I feel the same as I’ve always been.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Louise. I was so shocked at my physical deterioration that I didn’t even think about mental deterioration! Now that’s really something to worry about. I am amused at how like a young girl I feel in my head. Less amusing are the physical changes, like increasingly arthritic knees, ankles, fingers and back. My joints slow me down. I can’t get on the floor with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Hence my new eight-point plan to overcome the fear of ageing and to improve the quality of my life even more than that for which I am very grateful. Love the idea that you are going to write more. Me, too.

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