Am I Ill, Or Just Getting Old?

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, May 6, 2018

When I was young I thought growing old meant going bald and getting wrinkles. That didn’t seem too bad. I assumed I would stay the same mentally. When I was young I felt great most of the time, hardly ever got sick, and I wasn’t bothered by heat or cold. We didn’t have air conditioning until I was a senior in high school. At sixty-six I go years without getting a cold or the flu, but I do have chronic heart, stomach and back problems, and cold and heat annoys the crap out of me. I keep my chronic conditions in check with diet and exercise.

The trouble is, I don’t feel like I used to. Is that illness, or oldness.

Getting old

In recent years I’ve felt my vitality run down. I can’t decide if something is wrong with me, or this is what it feels like to get old. And I’m only young old. What will it feel like to be really old?

At my last physical my doctor said all my blood work looked good. My testosterone was at a proper level, various vitamins were on the mark, my protein level was fine, and a bunch of other numbers I didn’t understand were where they were supposed to be. She said I was doing pretty good. I needed to lose weight and lower my cholesterol, but she’s been saying that for decades. For years I’ve been eating healthier, lost some weight, and lowered my cholesterol. The only time she praised me for my cholesterol and weight were the periods I went vegan. However, I can’t keep that up.

The thing is I feel best when I’m eating sweets. Ice cream makes me feel younger. Junk food gives me mental energy, but it eventually makes me feel sick too. I constantly struggle with my diet to find the right mixture of healthy eating that gives me the most vitality, yet doesn’t lead to feeling bad.

Recently I started wondering if my problem wasn’t disease or diet, but I’m just aging. At my last physical, I asked my doctor, “How do you tell the difference between feeling old and feeling sick?” She laughed at me and gave me some sympathetic words I’ve forgotten. Besides feeling rundown, I can’t remember shit. And I was told that is normal too.

My wife thinks I’m a hypochondriac. I used to feel normal all the time, now normal is a rare few hours in the week. Is this the real reason why people hate getting old so much? Not for the decline in appearance, but the decline in feeling good?

I constantly read books about diet, health, and exercise. Many authors promise renewed vitality if I’d only do what they say. The problem is I don’t have the discipline or the vitality to consistently follow their advice. I was able to stick with a plant-based diet for several months. I lost thirty pounds, and my LDL went to 90. However, my energy levels dwindled away. I’ve since added yogurt, kefir, and eggs back into my diet and mental energy has returned, but not like it was. I’ve been a vegetarian since the 1960s, but always ate a lot of junk food. I’ve never been a high-energy person, but I was fine for a bookworm.

In my sixties, I’m feeling the creep of decay. I’ve fought it believing it could be cured. Now I’m wondering if it’s actually normal. Now I know why Ponce de Leon searched for the fountain of youth. Now I know why old people in my youth swilled Geritol. Now I understand my mother’s addiction to pain pills in her later life. Now I know why people hope B12 shots will give them a boost. It’s a shame that snorting cocaine is self-destructive because it sounds like a perfect drug for the Social Security years.


13 thoughts on “Am I Ill, Or Just Getting Old?”

  1. Know the feelings…. Am there, doing that, excess of T-shirts and mugs to trade… Would I like to be twenty again? Not if it meant never meeting my wife…

    1. I wouldn’t want to be young again if it meant giving up 66 years of wisdom. Even with memory loss and pains, I prefer my present mental state. Now if I could be young again and know what I know now, that would be a different story.

      When did you meet your wife?

  2. I’m in my 70s, and what you describe pretty much fits with me too, except I have Diabetes and have to take insulin. But I don’t have the energy, mental or physical, that I had 20 years ago, and I guess I shouldn’t expect to. I tried vegetarian, to lose weight, but I felt lousy and had zero energy. I guess I’m a meat eater, though I don’t have as much as I did when I was in my thirties, forties. My suggestion is enjoy what you have, don’t worry about the rest.

  3. Rick is right. Enjoy the Good Health you have. So many of our friends are fighting cancer (breast cancer, prostate cancer, melanoma, colon cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, etc.). Yesterday, we just received an email about a classmate we just talked to at our 50th High School Reunion. He died of lung cancer.

    Aging is going to slow us down, but let’s not let aging stop us from enjoying the time we have left!

    1. George, I thought about that too, all the people who haven’t made it this far. We have quite a lot of friends with cancer. There’s much to be thankful for. And I think about all the guys I know who died young. I’m happy for all my years. My father died at 49 and my mother at 91, so I figure I’ve got the genes for somewhere in between.

  4. You don’t eat meat, James? No wonder you’re low on energy. Eating other animals lets us consume their vital essences and absorb their energy. Heck, one could probably live forever by taking up cannibalism, but of course that is socially frowned upon.

    Seriously though, you may have heard that there are apparently some wealthy people who are currently trying to recharge their batteries by trading blood with a younger donor. In mice, this actually seems to benefit the recipient’s physical vitality but has the opposite effect on the donor, like a sort of real life vampirism. If this effect generalizes to humans, what if one could have one’s very own young-blood producing tissue culture to provide for periodic treatments?

    Not that you or I would live to see such a thing anyway. But I am reminded that one of the themes which has somewhat replaced space travel dreams in SF is biological and cybernetic enhancement. I wonder if that turn might have partly reflected a general aging up of the producers and consumers of harder SF?

    1. PJ, now that you bring it up, that is an appealing aspect of being a vampire.

      I’ve always envied robots. No confusing emotions, no messy eating or pooping, no aches or pains. If an eye goes bad just replace it with a new camera, maybe even one with more resolution.

      I’ve thought the idea of brain downloading is appealing, but I’ve realized a couple of things. One, I’d still die. And two, are my memories and personal interests really worth preserving? Does the world really need an immortal machine that loves to read science fiction and watch old westerns?

      I’m currently not tempted by an afterlife either. I’ll wait and see if I get one, and then worry. But there is one idea I’ve entertained that might be amusing. I’ve often wondered if it would be fun to reincarnate into my same old self but with the knowledge I’ve gained from this lifetime. Could I do it better if I got a second chance?

  5. I agree mostly with your supposition but i think it requires pacing one’s self as opposed to blowing all of one’s energy like in the old days. Movement is a key for sure. I also strongly believe in the placebo effect. I have started taking tumeric and i swear i dont creak or ache as much. I also have concluded that all these young doctors just want ro refer you to a specialist that ends up, in my recent cases, not really helping. Of course I do think inflammation is an issue and non THC weed may help. I am foing to check that out as a 4/20 store has just opened up. Ill let you know.

  6. I’ve found that walking regularly (4x + a week @ 30 or 40 minutes – not fast ) helps with energy levels. I eat a lot of non-meat protein (hummus and eggs and whole grain bread and black beans and so on, cottage cheese, tuna and salmon – heart healthy omega-3 stuff). That helps, but at 70 years old I’m no spring chicken –

    I have a friend who is 72 – she’s not sick or ailing in any way – she worked as a teacher of handicapped kids and adults since about age 25 with some heavy lifting there. She lived on a small ranch for many years with all the physical work that entails. And she adopted a very heart-healthy diet when her husband developed heart problems about 20 years ago. She’s still working but only 3 or 4 days a week, she volunteers a lot, she gardens in a smaller place but she still doesn’t even have high blood pressure or arthritis. I think maybe her energy levels have gone down a bit but still… Sickening I think she has good genes. lol! (probably that too.)

    I’m in as good of shape as my 5 siblings – all a bit younger. A lot of it is hereditary.

  7. That’s the question that pops up by default with every ailment after a certain age. I try to brush it aside, because the answer is irrelevant. As you say, you’re out to enjoy all the good things of later life. Therefore you will do whatever you personally can be bothered doing to minimise or modify or fix the problems that crop up. But changing habits is tough. If you fancy being kind to yourself (which I surely do) check out BJ Fogg’s tiny habits system. You can guess the URL.

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