In Control, Losing Control, Out of Control

James Wallace Harris, 12/10/22

[Don’t worry, everything is fine. The essay below might sound like whining, but I write to think things through. I’m aiming to sound comic but I’m afraid it might sound like bellyaching. But putting thoughts into words is very therapeutic for me.]

I’ve never thought of myself as an anxious person. Alfred E. Neuman was my self-help hero growing up. I had anxieties but I never thought much about being anxious — that is until I got old. Now that I’m retired and obviously aging I realize that things beyond my control might be creating new feelings to experience, and one of those new feelings might be anxiety over anxiety. Right now, that sensation is minor but I can see where it could become major.

This got me thinking about the nature of anxiety. If you’re a two-year-old and you can’t get the toy you want, throwing a tantrum is a way to communicate your anxiety. If you’re a teenager and feel like you don’t fit in socially anxiety might reveal itself in countless ways, such as a fear of where to sit in the cafeteria at lunchtime. As an adult and you feel overwhelmed at work, anxiety might manifest as a good old-fashion coronary.

I’m not sure what I’m feeling. It might be the existential angst of aging, the looming dread of civilization’s collapse, or the plain mundane fear of dying. Or maybe I just don’t have enough to do. However, I’m starting to think what I’m feeling is wimpy anxiousness over dealing with house repairs and visits to doctors. Components in my body and home keep wearing out.

I’ve always been pretty laid back, a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. I think that was because we moved around a whole lot when I was a kid, and so I just got used to things always changing and being up in the air. I never lived in any house longer than eighteen months until I was in my forties. I just solved problems as they showed up.

I also have the kind of personality where I avoid conflict and stress. I got a job in 1977 that I stuck with until 2013. And I got married in 1978 and have been married ever since. I don’t like rocking the boat. I think all of that has led to a low-anxiety life, which I was lucky to find and grateful to have.

But now I’m 71, and I realize I’ve been living in the same house for fifteen years. That has made me very comfortable and I worry more and more about losing it. And the body I’ve depended on for 71 years is becoming less dependable, and that’s freaky too.

Something is changing. Besides my body and house needing more frequent repairs, Susan is getting some health problems too. Susan and I both hope we can die in this house. I realize that I’m trying to control three big things. My health, Susan’s health, and the house.

Now, this anxiety is nothing compared to a family that’s lost their home in Hurricane Ian, or being the president and worrying over the national economy. But it is a feeling that I’m having to deal with, and I’m trying to figure out how to deal with it, and what exactly causes it.

In 2022 I had one operation, two ER visits, four ultrasounds, three CT scans, one MRI, and countless other medical tests. My doctor is talking about three additional operations I might need. Also in 2022 I had to replace the outside AC unit, replace the hot water heater after it flooded my computer room, had to have dead limbs removed in February after a falling limb speared a hole in the roof last December, and now I’m having to spend another three thousand having the trees cleared of diseased branches again after a giant limb fell across the back on the house.

I’m still a fairly la-de-da kind of guy, but I realize this slight background radiation of unease is not going away. I realize it’s because I’m trying to control things that are hard to control. I worry about Susan, but neither I nor her doctor can nag her into exercising — so I have no control over her. And there’s only so much control I have over my body even though I am willing to diet and exercise to help myself.

Although I can have the house repaired I realize I’m slowly losing control over our home (as I hear another small branch hit the roof). I can no longer do most of the repairs myself. I gave away my big ladder because I don’t think I should be getting on the roof anymore. Before I would have just gotten on the roof, sawed the big limb into pieces, and tossed them down to the ground. Now I have to wait for the tree people to clear it off. However, that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The tree guy spotted numerous diseased branches that need to be cut out, and some of them are giant and could cause significant damage to the house. I now have falling tree limb anxiety, to add to my flooding floors anxiety.

In a fantasy of gaining control, I considered having all the trees near the house cut down, and having an addition put on the back of the house so I could move the water heater and HVAC out of the attic so there would be no water lines above us. And since we have a few days of power outages every year, I’ve also considered getting a standby natural gas generator. However, all those considerations might be overkill.

In 2023 I’ll probably have more maintenance done on my body, and I’ll replace an ancient dishwasher, and a refrigerator that leaks, and have some other plumbing problems fixed. And there will be other unforeseen things to fix too. I’m amused that my body and my house both seem to be breaking down equally as often.

I sometimes contemplate moving to a retirement complex. A friend is investigating assistant-living apartments for their parent and the assistant-living facility they described sounded super-attractive. I would no longer have to worry about controlling a house, just my body. But I think we’re too young yet for such a facility.

Still, I realize that between now and oblivion I’ll be fighting to control my health. That’s nothing I even considered when I was young. For now, I’d say I was in control, but I can foresee losing control, and even being out of control.

All kidding aside, I’ve always felt anything I was anxious about I could fix myself. One aspect of this new feeling of anxiety is a sense that I can no longer fix my problems myself. I must hire people. I’m becoming more and more dependent on doctors and repairmen.

My sister Becky once observed that we start off life in one room with people taking care of us and end up in another single room with people taking care of us. (I think she said it more graphicly, with references to butt wiping.) Maybe I didn’t feel particularly anxious most of my life because I felt I could fix my problems, and these new anxieties I’m feeling because I’m getting more and more people to take care of my problems and I’m spending more and more time in fewer rooms.

JWH

6 thoughts on “In Control, Losing Control, Out of Control”

  1. I’m your age and trying to face the same issues. I’ve just started researching graduated care, at least that’s what I call it. Independent living that evolves to total care when and if you need it. Of course, I too am not nearly THAT old yet 🙂
    Experience has taught me that no one thinks they are ready for the next step until it’s just past time to do anything about it. Without children it’s even more important to get ahead of these issues before they pile up.

    1. I think a lot about how many of my friends and I and my wife are without children and how aging will be different for us than my friends with children.

      You are right about how we should take action one step sooner than the one where we are forced to act. Maybe that’s the demarcation between being in control and out of control.

  2. Oh I can relate to this at 75. So far my health is good, but there are some minor heart issues and I too love my current home. As a woman alone (widowed and no children), I know anxiety. I can afford to have help with my home when needed and my mind is still good.
    I am most anxious about ending up in a nursing home and not being allowed to die at my own freedom of choosing. I fear a stroke. I fear losing control. That I think is the biggest of all.

    Dying bothers me for two reasons. One is never knowing how this mess of a world we are in, turns out in the future. Do we make it or not?
    And second, is the fear of some continuation of consciousness like some of the new age physics gurus talk about. I don’t want to remember some of the hurtful things that happened to me. I want it just to end. I’m not in the least religious.

    Another anxiety producer for me is being lonely. I don’t need or like a lot of people in my life, but I do want to keep a few close friends and they are unfortunately older than myself…

    I have been just looking at independent living options…some you just rent and some require a big money buy in and you still pay a monthly fee. The difference is continuing care move up if needed in one place. Going to an apartment just for some meals and light housekeeping doesn’t seem worth it to give up my home. So at this point I’m staying put.
    So I’ve rambled enough..just out loud thoughts. But yes I have frequent mild anxiety about the future that’s getting ever closer. I think it’s an aging thing because we fear what is coming in many areas, not just health.

    1. I think we are a lot alike. I’m not religious either and I can’t imagine wanting eternal life.

      I’m also concentrating on keeping friendships going. It’s hard to make new ones and the old ones are dwindling away.

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