I’m 59, But Feel 19, But Something’s Wrong with My Body

A common sentiment among older people is they still feel young inside, just like when they were teenagers, but it’s their body that’s aging.  I feel that too, but yesterday it occurred to me that I have changed because of a conversation I had with my friend Mike.  We were talking about how bad the old TV show The Monkees was – it’s in reruns on Antenna TV.  Back in 1966, when I was 14, my sister and I loved that show.  Watching it now makes me think I must have been brain damaged!

The Monkees is a horrendous TV show.  It makes Gilligan’s Island feel like Shakespeare, and that’s another old show I loved as a kid but can’t stand now.  So I can’t really say I feel like I did when I was young, something has changed.  But why do I feel unchanged?

If I think about it I can come up with all kinds of ways I’ve changed.  When I was a kid I did stupid things like own a motorcycle, hitch-hike and take drugs, none of which I would do now.  I now think a much wider range of women are attractive, but that’s true of food, music, books, etc.  The more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m not the person I was when I was young.  So why do we feel we are?

I think the tendency is to feel that we’re a little soul driving around inside our head, steering our body until it turns into a rusted old junker.  Now I guess some people feel they are different inside as they age, but I think a lot of people don’t.  What causes that feeling?  It just occurred to me that I’ve reread things I wrote decades ago and felt I was reading someone else’s writing.  Are our inner beings unconnected to our thinking and opinions too, like they are from the body?

Is there a me inside of my body that’s unchanging even though my body changes, my tastes change, my opinions change, my skills change, and so on?  I know when I’m sick I can feel the me-ness shrink inside, like its being physically assaulted, but the uniqueness stays there no matter how much pain or nausea I feel until I pass out.  When I fall asleep the me goes away, but a tiny bit of it exists in dreams.  When I’ve had surgery and have been put under, it feels like the me has been shut off like a light switch and then suddenly turned back on.

It’s interesting to think of the me, the part of me that’s self-aware, is separate from my opinions and tastes. There’s a science fictional concept called downloading, where people imagine having their brains recorded and then burned into a clone’s brain or digital computer.  They think of this as a form of immortality, but what if the me is a mechanism of the brain that doesn’t copy?  What if the me is the equivalent of a tape-head, and not the tape?  So experiences flow past it but it doesn’t change with them?

But that doesn’t explain why I loved The Monkees in 1966 and hate it in 2011.  It implies that it’s not the tape head, or that the tape head does change over time.  Even though I feel like I’m the same person at 59 as I was a 19 that might be a delusion.  If I could put my 59 year old brain back into my 19 year old body would would I keep my wisdom or turn foolish?  Of course, if I could I put my 59 year old brain back into my 14 year old body would I start loving The Monkees again?  I don’t think so.

I’ve read that people with brain damage feel like different people.  I’m guessing the brain is what feels homey and constant, and it’s the physical body that feels different with aging, and the informational content of the brain that makes my tastes change.  What I worry about is having a stroke or getting Alzheimer’s and losing part of my me-ness.  I’m already used to my body breaking down.  And I’m getting used to forgetting information in my brain, which doesn’t hurt by the way.  But I don’t relish losing that feeling of unchanging me-ness.  But sometimes the me dies before the body.

NOTE:  I think a lot of people read my stuff and think I’m depressed because I write about what they think are depressing topics.  But I’m not depressed at all.  I marvel at all the changes in my life.  I regret not being able to hang onto everything, but that’s not how things work and I accept it.  I don’t want to experience decline and death, but I don’t have any choice, so I like to philosophize about what I’m going through.  And I’m trying to learn from those explorers ahead of me, those folks in their 70s, 80s and 90s.

JWH – 4/11/11

13 thoughts on “I’m 59, But Feel 19, But Something’s Wrong with My Body”

  1. People always say they want to be 18 again, but they also want to have the experience of their entire lifetime.

    With your car analogy we want to put the old junker’s engine in a brand new chassis.

    My mom tells me that when she gets up in the morning she looks in the mirror and thinks “who’s that old lady?”

    I’m only 29 and I already feel like that sometimes. I
    had a lot of back pain over the weekend because I slept funny on a couch. I used to be able to sleep anywhere and be fine.

    I think you are right though, people always get very nostalgic about their pasts, but we aren’t the people we were even last month sometimes. Our experiences shape us and the people we are, for lack of a better word, evolve.

  2. I just happened to be contemplating this same thing recently, the phenomenon of feeling young in an ever-growing-older body. I definitely sense a difference in me from when I was a kid. My body of likes is much more broad, the experience of age and time has definitely matured my tastes in some ways. Yet in others they remain as childlike as they always were.

    Like you, I find a much wider variety of women attractive now than I did when I was a teenager, first coming to grips with those raging hormones. Around my mid to late 30’s I started finding much, much older women wildly attractive (while still finding younger ones attractive as well). I also see women of various shapes and sizes as attractive too. Despite the cliche, I do find that there are people whose inner beauty shines out and has a transformative effect on the way they are viewed.

    I also find it interesting how, like you, some things from my youth just don’t stand up to the test of time. Shows like Gilligan’s Island are a perfect example. I just don’t enjoy them the way I used to. And yet other things I love every bit as much if not more now: Bugs Bunny cartoons, The Muppet Show, Star Wars. I’m not sure what it is in some things that I enjoyed as a child that make them continue to be profound in my middle age. There must be some deeper connection I have to them that I didn’t make with other shows I watched, music I listened to, etc.

    I do like that you included the part about depression. It would be a mistake to assume that a post like this is coming from a depressed state, but it is a mistake that could easily be made. I find the whole thing really fascinating. It makes me appreciate my parents so much more, realizing they feel this same way. Realizing that mentally we are probably much, much closer to the same age right now despite our chronological separation.

  3. The Monkees analogy is a good one but I have a slightly different response when I see the show.  Here’s how I feel about that show and most of the others I watched as a child and re-watch as an adult.

    1. Nostalgia – the visuals of the show, aside from plot and acting, take me back and bring up memories I haven’t thought about in a long, long time.  I find that when I watch the shows, I’m looking for other things rather than entertainment.  I look at the clothes, listen to the music, watch the way the actors work.  

    2. Sadness – to think that I was once so accepting and now I’m so much more critical and jaded.  It was fun to watch those shows back then.  We didn’t care about plot and style.  We just wanted to see the Monkees.  I’m sure our parents felt the same way about the show then as you do now.  When they told us the show was dumb, they were seeing it like we see it now.  It would be fun to just roll with these old shows and accept them for what they were…kid entertainment.  No more or less dumb than the kid entertainment of today.

    3. Curiosity – When I watch these shows, (Monkees, Hazel, Father Knows Best, Gidget) I wonder about the lives of the actors.  Some are still acting (Sally Field) but what about the others.  Most are probably dead but I just want to know what else they did besides the show I’m watching.  I just want to google everyone in the cast and read about them.  

    I guess these are things that my inner soul, as you called, it feel.  My educated brain knows they are simplistic, pie-in-the-sky and pretty bad, but I still want to like them, so my inner soul finds ways to do that.

    1. I understand completely. I think of nostalgia as the beautiful desire to hang on to all the experiences of my life, even when I know I can’t. I hate letting the past go. I love watching old movies that rekindle old long lost feelings. I should be patient with The Monkees until the shows triggers something that I’ve forgotten.

  4. I find it interesting that some of the things that appealed to me when I was 20 still do, while other stuff totally bores me now. Overall, I think change is good, because I have also discovered things to appreciate now which would never have appealed to me then, and continue to do so regularly (jazz, for example, is relatively new for me). I think my life would be boring if all my likes were exactly the same after 40 years. I probably still have the same number of interests now, and they excite my sense of enjoyment as much as ever, but were I to list them all, there would probably be about 50% recent and 50% old stuff. For me, I consider that a good thing.

    1. I think my general interests have been the same my whole life, reading, listening to music, watching television, going to movies, but in each case I want more sophisticated input. Take movies – some films work on many levels, so I could love them as a kid and as an adult, so those kinds of movies became lifelong favorites. The Harry Potter books were wonderful in my fifties. So evidently writers and movie makers know the difference between young and old and what they like.

  5. This is a phenomenon that I’ve been contemplating for decades–your post and the replies have made me think it through a little better.

    Since I’m recently 60, I’ve had a long time to think about this and find that I do still feel young. Actually I still feel physically young even though I have the normal aches and pains that come with 60 years. But I still feel energetic and enjoy doing physical activities. I also look back at old TV shows and find them ridiculous but that seems really normal to me. My experiences since I originally viewed those shows makes me view them now from a totally different mindset. Plus the fact that TV and movies have become so much more sophisticated in the last 40-50 years makes me less interested in the old TV and movies.

    And I do stil feel young mentally – even though I probably don’t feel anything like I did at 19. So, what does still feeling young mean to me? I think it means that I am still interested in lots of different things and probably even more than at 19. The people that I know that seem old to me are those that don’t have a lot of interests–and some of them are chronologically not very old. One of the ways I think this manifests is my interest in music. I still the 50s-60s music but there is also lots of current music that I like a lot. Not all of it — but there has never been a time in my life when I liked all the music around me. So, I think to me feeling young is still being interested and excited about a wide variety of things–music, ideas, movies, books. Maybe I expected that to go away as I got older–and since it hasn’t, I still feel young.

    1. That’s a good point Linda, as long as we feel we’re growing then we feel young.

      Mentally, I don’t feel I’m that different from when I was 19, expect I’m a lot more satisfied, and I feel more mature in my thoughts. However, it would be interesting to be allowed an hour of being 19 again. I wonder if it would be joltingly different. It is true that everything I like now is far more sophisticated than what I liked back then. Does that mean I’m more sophisticated, or more jaded over simple stuff.

      But what most people mean when they say they feel the same as when they were young is they feel no different perceptually. I don’t feel more sophisticated, or mature, or jaded – I just feel like me. Maybe my thoughts deal with more sophisticated subjects, but I don’t think I’m my thoughts.

      I hope my enthusiasm for new things never goes away. If it does I’ll be dead, even if I’m still living.

      I wonder if anyone has ever written a book on this subject.

  6. OK–for some reason this topic is staying on my mind–mabe the remnants of that 60th birthday?

    I was telling my husband about this conversation this morning and talking with him about it made me think of when I feel young. And I realized it’s when something gives me pleasure or joy. And, then I started thinking about all of the things that give me joy–good conversations, comedy, children, nature, music, good books, a good movie or TV, learning something new—just a few of the items on my very long list. I said in an earlier post that I’m interested in a lot more things than most people. But, maybe what I really mean is that there are a lot of things that give me joy. And, I think that the ability to feel joy varies from person to person. It may be a function of whether or not a person is depressed or how depressed they are. I have no idea. But I do know that there have been times in my life when things were not going well and I could still find joy in lots of things around me. That made me feel a little guilty the first time I realized it but it didn’t take long for me to realize that that ability was a blessing.

    Then as I’m eating lunch today and reading my AARP magazine, I see a little blurb about a DVD called How to Live Forever – which apparently is a look at how to enjoy life and “stay young at heart” as you age. In the blurb they mention a Phyllis Diller quote, “laughter fluffs up every cell in your body”. And I realized that it’s not only laughter but joy of any kind that fluffs up my cells–and that’s probably why I still feel young!

    1. My parents were alcoholics and we constantly moved, so I was always switching schools, a lifestyle that makes most kids miserable – but I considered myself having a happy childhood. Something inside me made me interested in everything and as long as I could pursue my interests I was happy and I could ignore my uphappy surroundings. I think the same inner mechanism is helping me deal with getting old.

      Sadly, not everyone has this mechanism. I’m always surprised by people who say they are bored. It makes me think I’m very lucky. Nor do I think I did anything to earn this ability, it’s just a blessing.

  7. I read your post and wonder how you chose the age of 19? Do others who say they feel young mean they feel 19? I feel more like I did in my 30’s. At 19, I was pretty immature and naive. At 35, I felt mature,but not old. That is still the way I feel…until I look in the mirror.

    I admit though the I still love the same music as I did at 19. I wonder if that is because of the great memories that are attached to those songs.

  8. Hi Jim. I truly look forward the way you feel at your age. It might be a pleasure talking to you and getting all that energy from your words and life experience but in the same tome getting contagious from your vitality. Congratulations you have become into a model for me. Congratulations from Queretaro, Mexico.

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