I’ve been disabled by illness for the last 8 years. One fifth of my life. Life slips away, day by day, as I struggle to get through basic tasks. Sure, I’ve managed a few endeavors like marriage and child, but I don’t feel especially successful at either one. Balls are dropped, to-do lists go untouched, and I care for my child with yet one more round of videos while we snuggle on the couch. Meanwhile, on Facebook and Instagram I watch the normal world pass by — the careers, the social lives, the gym trips, the fresh-cooked meals, the clean homes and hobbies and seasonal festivities.
Despite the frustrations, I struggle surprisingly little with the psychology of it all. I just assume that someday I’ll start feeling better and pick up my life again. This is temporary, a phase to be endured as best we can. I believe in the power — and the possibility — of reinvention at any age. Someday I will come out the other side, survey the landscape, and forge ahead on a new path.
The major (and majorly superficial) sticking point in all this optimism? Appearance. Between the effects of illness, the stay-at-home mom frumps, and the inevitable march of time, the past few years have been rough on my looks. I watch the gray hairs arrive, one by one, the wrinkles form beachheads around my eyes, the skin of my face start to sag. I realize that I went into this young and will come out of it old. Or “old” as we define it in America, anyway — plenty of years of living left, but what’s the point if you can’t enjoy them with dewy radiance and a 20-something physique?
I know it’s silly for a 40-year-old to be whining about being OMG, so old. Hopefully I’m not even to the halfway point of life. I’d be embarrassed to say any of this to my grandfather, who turns 90 this week. But as much as I’m prepared to reinvent myself whenever life moves on, I’m not reconciled to the idea of doing it as one of our society’s invisible people — an older woman.
My main comfort in facing the decades ahead is the memory of my grandmother. For her funeral last winter, my cousins put together a touching slideshow. There were a few scanned images from her early years — the glamorous WWII-era wedding photos with Grandpa, some shots with grown children in the 60s and 70s — but the great majority of photos were from the last few decades when cameras were everywhere and prints not yet lost to the years. Most of the shots were from Grandma’s retirement years, her 60s and beyond. And you know what? They showed a full life. Family and travels and love and just being together enjoying the company of the people you care about — that’s what survives when the career and the good health and the youthful splendor are gone. And that’s a good thing, because the togetherness and love are what matter in life anyway. It’s just so easy to forget that in a society that tells us you’re nothing unless you look cool and dress cool and have a cool job and a cool house.
As usual, I’ve got a lot of random thoughts and no nice conclusion to tie them all together. Will have to put that on my wish list for my reinvented future — writer who can write conclusions. But anyway, what about you? Any wise thoughts on aging and/or appearance?