The Anxiety of Age

A while back Rollo May wrote a book called, as I remember, The Age of Anxiety.  In my mind, this is a sort of 60’s book, like One Dimensional Man, that cast a critical eye on the ills of our society.  His argument, in brief, was that as rules and conventions, governing, say, sex roles became ambiguous, and as religion lost its hold in our secular age, more and more responsibility would be put on the individual to determine his or her course in life or the contours of his or her “life-style.”  And this increased sense of responsibility, along with having lost the automatic pilot of rules, regulations, and traditional values, would lead almost necessarily to an increase in anxiety.  Or, yes, we are now freer than we once were, but we are also more lost.

I think this line of reasoning might be applied not just to our age but to “age” or aging period.  In retirement, at 72 years of age, I find that most of the rules that once governed and determined my daily routine are gone.  And they have gone, not because something as abstract as ‘the age’ has taken them away, but because the very material processes by which I might support and maintain those rules and routines have dramatically altered.  I can no longer run without endangering my ankles, and I can no longer jump because my knees swell up.  Sure, I could do these things I suppose, but then I would really pay for it, by becoming immobilized.  There are quite a few things—some of them very important—that I can no longer do, not because I don’t want to, but because I can’t.

It’s the strangest thing to watch young men playing basketball.  They run for hours flowing effortlessly, forwards and backwards and sideways, up and down the court.  And I remember and can feel somewhere in my bones that once upon a time I could do that and I enjoyed doing it too, but I no longer can. It hurts to watch.  I don’t know if it is worth it.  I didn’t understand before when people would say, “That was another lifetime.”  Now I do.  I look at those young men and I think of things I did when I was twenty and I can’t imagine how I ever did them.  That must have been another lifetime.

It isn’t just that “the age” is riven with anxiety—I think it is—but that anxiety is, as they say, baked into the process of aging.  It’s a sort of double whammy.  Living in an age of ambiguity at an age that itself is ambiguous.  I mean old people don’t even know what to call ourselves. I happened to mention that, according to an organization for seniors, people over 70 years old are “elderly.”  And one of the people sitting nearby said she was over 70 and be damned if she was “elderly.”  People over 80, she said, were elderly.  And identity concerns like this are small potatoes when contrasted with the really important ones like what are the rules and traditions for determining how long one should live (when in the past, not that long ago, one would have been dead already).  Or what the hell should I indicate in my DNR’s?

[catlist name=”aging_process”]

Counting the Dead

                                         Keeping Track

The flu seems pretty bad this year.  According to the paper, over 30 people here in California have died.  But, inevitably, it seems, the paper goes on to report that these 30 people are all under the age of 65.  And that probably the number of dead is much greater than 30 because of all the people over 65 who died of it.  But they don’t know how many of those people that might be because they only count the number of people under 65 who die of the disease and not the number over 65.

Frankly, I don’t understand this practice.  There must be some reason for it.  Is the number of people over 65 so enormous that they just can’t be counted?  Or could the paperwork produced by their deaths be too burdensome to doctors, clinics, and hospitals?  If this is the case—and I am not saying it is—surely there should be at least some reporting, some attempts to keeps tabs, on the massive number of people over 65 who die from the disease.  I really believe people, like me, who are over 65 might be interested.  Or maybe, they do know the number over 65, but they don’t report it because it would be just too depressing for words.

In any case, I am confused, and really wish they would clear up the matter.  I mean because I just can’t shake the impression that they don’t count the people over 65 who die because—I don’t know how else to say it—people over 65 just don’t count.  Isn’t that generally the case in all such matters: those who don’t count go uncounted?  Counting counts, if you know what I mean.

I am hard pressed not to infer that this is the case, especially when the headline to the article blares: 10 children dead while those over 65 who have died go not only unmentioned but also actually uncounted.  But the children clearly have been counted.  Somebody somewhere took the time and the effort to tally that score.  Of course, having a child die is a horrible thing, and, maybe, having an elderly person (somebody over 65) die is just not as horrible.  Still, would it take that much effort to count them?  Or maybe the elderly tend to die alone and penurious in their tacky apartments and nobody is there to count.  While people do tend to keep track of their children though occasionally they do get lost at the circus or something like that.

The Paper Arrived! Writing 6

 

                                                 Mud on 101

My paper was there this morning all neatly folded and wrapped with a rubber band.  That was comforting because it seemed to prove the claim, made yesterday, that the freeway, previously blocked for two weeks, is now open for business.  That’s why, as previously indicated, I thought the paper was late.  It’s the LA Times and comes up from LA on the road that was blocked by the recent floods.  So I figured they had to drive the paper up the long way taking about four and a half hours, so by the time the contractor got it to deliver to my place it was necessarily late.  But now things are back in order because the paper was there waiting for me when I opened the door.

Still the headlines were not all that reassuring, and another body was recovered so now officially, I think, 21 people died in the flood.  And at the club, where I work out daily, the flood remains the topic of conversation.  One of the guys there was driven from his home by the flood.  And he can’t get back in because they still have no electricity, or water, or gas.  He goes around spreading paranoia, since, he says, he has talked to experts and other people who have walked the mountain trails, and they say (he says) that the recent fires have destabilized the peaks, and come the next big rain the whole area will be buried in errant boulders the size of Volkswagens.

I discussed this possibility with my wife and we agreed that probably boulders would not get to us since they would have to travel a real long distance, and then they would have to cross a freeway, and then they would have to go through a shopping center and the walls of a Costco before they got to us.  Living as we do about a mile and half from the Pacific, we are in far more danger from a tsunami—a danger that recently increased, when over the last two years, the nine hole golf course behind our place was dug up and replaced by a huge hole—intended to be the site, we have been told, for a bird refuge.  Right now there is water in it—from the flood—and some birds.  But it will make a perfect channel up to our door for the tsunami when it comes.

And, of course, this is California, and there is always the possibility of earthquake.  So while getting the daily paper again in a daily way was somewhat reassuring, I am evidently quite a ways from feeling completely secure in my current circumstances.

                                          Errant Boulder

 

Where’s My Paper?–Writing 5

Well, at this point, my writing experiment or, at least, the attempt to make it a daily practice is not going so well.  I missed yesterday though I am not sure why.  Something got in the way.  I could do it easily, in terms of a daily practice, if I thought of what I am writing here as a diary—a daily record of events.  But I set a higher bar for this experiment.  I want what I write to have some sort of point beyond a mere detailing and recording of how many times I fart in a day (already done in obsessive detail by Samuel Beckett).  Though, I must say, at this point I have no idea what the point of this entry might be except to detail and record my frustration. The idea of having a point would seem to assume that there is some larger point to everything that is.  And I am not sure about that.  What the larger point might be.

Perhaps things like the recent fire and the recent flood rocks the foundations of our daily lives, our stability.  As long as things are stable we assume there is a point.  But when things become unstable, we see through the cracks in the daily routine…and what do we see there.  Nothing.   All of which is a roundabout way of saying I am not getting my daily paper on time.  Before the flood and fires my paper would arrive around 6.  In any case, it would be there when I opened the front door.  That is no longer the case.  I open the door around 730 and there is nothing there but naked concrete.

Usually, when I looked out around 10, the paper is there.  Some person has brought it and left it.  So I do get the paper, but not when I want it.  And this is upsetting.  I have been getting this paper for over twenty years.  Mostly, it appeared when it was supposed to over that time, surprisingly so in fact.  But not now.  I tried to contact the newspaper people about this problem, but I received some sort of generic reply about my contractor having been contacted that did not answer my question:  “is the paper delayed because the freeway is closed?”  I assume the answer to this question would be “yes” if I could ever find a person to answer it.

 

 

Fire! Writing 4

Hmmm.  I don’t think this writing experiment is turning out so hot.  I had thought that maybe the activity would add an iota of the positive to my day.  But now I think that, not only is it not therapeutic, it may be making things worse.  Or maybe this feeling of things being worse has nothing to do with the writing per se, but with events and conditions that gave rise to this idea that I should write something every day in the first place.  I find it a bit odd, at any rate, that I should decide to exercise my brain in this way right in the middle of a local disaster.

Briefly, starting in early December, 2017, a fire broke out that raged for weeks in the hills and on the mountains nearby.  Looking back, in retrospect, it’s clear my wife and I were never in any immediate danger.  But at the time, things were not so clear.  Yes, the fire remained miles away, but it was also moving quickly.  So while I calmed myself by thinking it was far away, I was panicked by the idea that it could and might move very quickly.  Big winds were coming, they said, offshore sundowners, I think they were called, and the tension in the voices of officials made it clear to me at least that they didn’t know what might happen when the winds hit.  This was a big fire they said; they hadn’t seen anything like it in recent memory.

Many homes had burned and many people had died in a fast moving, out of nowhere fire, up North, in Napa.  One old couple had been trapped by the fire, taken refuge in a swimming pool, and been suffocated by the smoke.  Our fire, though, seemed a bit different.  Yes, it might move very quickly, but, unlike the fire up north, it was not coming out-of-nowhere.  We were prepared or at least know it was coming.  And it was day light, we could see the smoke.  The people up North had been asleep when the fire struck.

These thoughts or ones like them circled the edges of my consciousness with varying degrees of intensity for nearly two weeks.  They might all be summed up by the question: are we going to be told to evacuate. Many people had already done that.  The motels in town were filling up with displaced persons.  Others were getting ready, putting together bags or suitcases with their most valuable possessions.  And putting those right by the front door.  And making sure they knew where their car keys were because if they had to evacuate in the dark (with no electricity likely) they might have a hard time locating their keys.

Every time I thought about this, about having to evacuate, about having to gather belongings, and credit cards, and cell phone chargers and so on and so for, and getting in a car, and driving somewhere, and trying to find a place to stay, I was overcome with an immense sense of fatigue.  I just didn’t know if I could do it.  I just didn’t know if maybe I was too damn tired to do it anymore.

Writing Experiment: Part 2

Well….

I experimented yesterday with writing something.  Putting words after words, as it were.  In some sort of syntactical arrangement, and, at this moment, I am unable to reach any conclusion about the therapeutic effects, if any, thereof…  I guess it was OK.  I didn’t hurt too much in the doing of it, and that is one of the rules I have made for myself.  Don’t write if it causes anxiety.  So, well, OK, it was a little anxiety producing…when I started writing about my cluttered garage and the cleaning up we had to do after our parents died.

And then reading over what I wrote yesterday, I had to do some cleaning up.  That was anxiety producing.  I always had to do some cleaning up after I wrote, but not like now, not like today.  I remember a colleague who was a really good writer who started sending out memos with all sorts of mistakes.  Words left out, for example, that sort of thing, indicating a failure of concentration.  And I remember thinking, so that’s what happens when you are 65 for she was 65. You are in the middle of a sentence, and suddenly, you can’t remember the name for the device that has your music on it, and you lose concentration and leave out a word.   And it’s like you have tripped on your shoe lace and you are stumbling down a step.

Of course, I know…it’s not as bad as that.  You aren’t going to break your ankle or anything, but it is alarming, and a consistent and persistent reminder that your brain is not what it was.  I guess your brain never is, as you age, exactly what it was.  I remember back in college I would hear a new word, I would write it down in my notebook and look it up later and wham! It would just stick in memory.  No effort at all, no repetition or anything like that.  And other words I picked up without even that little effort.  But when I reached 35…that just stopped.  I may have added a dozen words to my vocabulary since then.  Anodyne…I added that word in the last year.  Though, as I was looking it up, it seemed to me that I had known it at one time, but I had forgotten.

So just writing a sentence can plunge one into the pits of anxiety, as you remember and forget, and forget what you have remembered.  It’s a bit like when I get out of bed, and first walk across the room, and I hear this concatenation of snaps, crackles, and pops in my knees.  And sure I get across the room, but all this noise, in the very effort of doing so, puts me in mind of the day…when I won’t be able to get across that room.  So—to sum up—I guess this writing experiment is fraught with all sorts of potential for anxiety…

Anxiety–Klonipin withdrawal

As I noted here a while back–June 21 to be exact–I embarked on a campaign to withdraw from the .25 milligrams of klonipin I take each morning. I have been employing the tablespoon withdrawal method. Dissolve the .25 in a cup of water and every fourth day go down a tablespoon. At that time, June 21, I was taking out 4 tablespoons and now, July 26, I am taking out 16 tablespoons each morning. Unfortunately I still have about 1.5 tablespoons to go perhaps because the cup I am using is imperfect. But we live in an imperfect world. As Plato noted it’s hard to draw a perfect triangle. The concept–cup–seems only incidentally to match the reality.

But going down 16 tablespoons is probably in part responsible for the recent compulsive thoughts about the death and dying stuff. The anxiety is back. That’s what klonipin is for–anxiety reduction, or at least that is one of its uses. They use it on the TV show “House” each time somebody has a seizure (about every other show); “Five milligrams clonazepam,” you can hear them shout.

Whatever its uses, the anxiety is back. Not awful. But when I wake up I feel edgy and restless: it gets a bit worse as the morning goes on. Not pleasant. And another telltale sign. I do this thing of rubbing my fingers, thumb against the other four digits, rather unconsciously most of the time when anxiety is on the rise. The last two or three days I have caught myself doing that frequently.

Finger rubbing. In the olden days, I would be smoking more.

Also I have had odd dreams. This morning I woke at 6 and then went back to sleep for about an hour, during which time I had a kaleidoscope of unpleasant dreams. I can’t remember all. But in one I was in an apartment, with other people, and it was raining and the rain started to drip in at the bottom of the walls. Then I noticed the ceiling was sagging, presumably from the rain, though actually no ceiling could sag like that without bursting. I stuck a pole there to hold up the roof. And then we were hungry and found a DIY restaurant (I didn’t know such things existed except for Kramer’s make your own pizza place) and I cooked up some little black looking hamburgers, and went some where and came back and was told that W.B. wanted something too. This upset me too since I didn’t know W.B. was there. Or wanted something.

When the walls starting leaking, and the roof starts sagging, and I can’t find food, and I fail to do what W.B. wants…well, these are anxiety dreams.

So the anxiety is back. I will see how that goes. Six days left and then no more of the .25 morning klonipin. Then we will really see whaz…up.