How to avoid becoming grumpy as we age

Humming in my Universe Philippine Star
Posted on January 18, 2014 by jimparedes

As I go deeper into aging territory, I sometimes wonder what I will be like 10, 15 years from now (if I live that long). I know that accumulating more years will mean I will have less and less time, opportunity and vigor to do the things I like to do.

Living will mean more physical pain, less activity at a slower pace, and more things to complain about. Aging will mean being more sedentary.

It’s a pretty daunting scenario to imagine but I am hoping to slide into it with some grace and positivity. Hopefully, I will find and accommodate the necessary balance to remain productive and happy.

I have eight brothers and sisters who are my seniors (and one who is younger than I) and while they may all have salt and pepper hair, none of them seems to be in a permanent state of pain, unhappiness or suffering. Thank God, I more often see them smiling, laughing, joking around, and still active, enjoying life and family gatherings. My oldest brother Jesse can stay on the dance floor longer than any of us younger folk. All of us are senior citizens now but we still enjoy singing our hearts out, and expressing ourselves in a loud manner like true Paredeses.

But I have met other people my age or older who seem to be going in another direction. Where once they were funny, sociable, positive and engaging, they have become reclusive, aloof, and even grumpy.

It is hard to accept that one is actually aging, even if we know it is also happening to everyone else. All around, there is denial of this fact of life. Aging, a natural phenomenon, is looked at almost as a disease, which, of course, it is not. It is one thing to accept intellectually that we all age, but quite another to accept it emotionally.

For many, every sign of aging can cause anxiety. We hang on to every vestige of youth. As we get older, we dye our hair or save what’s left, smooth out our wrinkles, go to the gym. Some go through stem cell replacement, Botox, plastic surgery, magic cures and diets that take out or slow down the creeping signs of aging.

Aging tends to make people grumpy for obvious reasons. There are the physical limitations of aging that one must learn to accept, which is hard to do. One is the limits to one’s autonomy, mobility and youth that no one would readily surrender to. And then there are the irritable aches and pains and illnesses that aging can bring. Surely, these can make one grumpy.

Losing one’s youth is, of course, gradual and each one goes through his own process of dealing with it. As aging gets more pronounced and its effects unravel more and more, the feeling can be compared to identity theft where you find your youthful vision of yourself being taken away and replaced with a less desirable image. While I can still do a real workout in the gym, there will come a day when I will not be able to, no matter how hard I try. And that, among other things, is something I must learn to accept, peacefully, quietly and with great dignity.

Aging is a given. It will happen, as long as we are alive. Which makes me wonder how we can handle aging so that we do not drop out of living and remain happy, productive, engaged, and at pace with the speed of life?

There is a medical condition called Irritable Male Syndrome which, according to Dr. Ridwan Shabsigh, head of the International Society of Men’s Health, is caused partly by testosterone loss that brings about “low mood and irritability.”

In the book, The Wonder of Aging: A New Approach to Embracing Life after Fifty by Michael Gurian, the point is made that in the first 50 years, a male’s body is fueled by testosterone that decreases yearly. But the decrease can be sharply drastic at around age 60. Basically, the grumpiness comes because at that age, the body has changed but our attitude and acceptance of this new reality has not. This can cause perplexing feelings of emasculation and powerlessness. Gurian writes that while generally, women as they age can cry about what they have lost, men prefer to scream and yell.

Activities that used to make us happy are no longer as enjoyable. Our older body can no longer keep up with the rigors of the sports that we love. In fact, many of them have now become physically dangerous. We suddenly realize that he can no longer play basketball or football, or jog as we used to without risking muscle, bone or tendon damage. Also, the thrill of sex isn’t the same as it was in our much younger days.

But actually, it is not only about the loss of testosterone. Perhaps more than the lack of testosterone are the pains we have suffered, such as the loss of loved ones due to death, unhappy or failed marriages, and ended relationships. We have regrets about the road not taken, decisions not made, career misses, lost opportunities for intimacy, and the lack of time or the chance to rectify the situation.

It is easy to imagine how these can make an elderly person grumpy.

Dr. Gurian suggests completely letting go of one’s lost youth, accepting that it is gone forever, never to return. This means letting go of all illusions and accept reality. This way, one can more easily embrace and settle into what he calls “pure elderhood.”

This still sounds pretty depressing. But it does not mean the end of everything. Not if one considers aging as entering an entirely new chapter in one’s life. Appropriate adjustments must be made. Perhaps one can take up gentler sports like walking, golf and recreational swimming. For psychological satisfaction, one can do mentoring, coaching and teaching the young. In fact, one can even go back to school or finally pursue urges one never had time for, such as writing, gardening, travel, photography and other passions.

The idea is to enjoy life as defined by this new balance.

One thing I am grateful for in my senior years is that companionship, love, the gift of laughter, learning new things, and simple joys like the company of grandchildren, pets, and old and new friends, have nothing to do with age. But they have a lot to do with being less grumpy as we age.
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