Is it normal to be so anxious about approaching 70?
A big birthday looms on the horizon
I wasn’t too happy about approaching 60, but this next up-and- coming decade fills me with anxiety. It hasn’t helped that the pandemic has left me far too much time to be introspective. The list of things that I would like to do, and haven’t been able to do, due to reduced stamina and lack of opportunities to travel, simply lengthens by the day.
The DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) points a finger at us by invalidating our current driving licenses on reaching 70, and require a new one. So are they assuming that we suddenly become less adept at driving? There is no gradual decline in their eyes. Ageism rears its ugly head.
If you take to the Internet and look up 70th birthdays, you will find multiple suggestions on how to spend money on lavish parties and gifts. Oh yes, the commercial aspect is alive and kicking! Hidden among the advertisements you might come across one or two articles about birthday blues. I may be biased, but I think it is rather more common than you might think. Contemplating the passage of time, the unfulfilled dreams, and the increasing proximity to death don’t make for happy thoughts.
Of course, I am grateful to be still alive. I am vaccinated against Covid-19 and managed to avoid infection up to now, but various health issues are beginning to impact on my consciousness. What it comes down to is the fact that I can no longer rely on my body to perform faultlessly.
There is something else that might be only relevant to retired health professionals. We see ourselves as role models. Inexplicably, we believe our health status is due to our own excellent personal care and so when things begin to go wrong, we have failed. And that sense of failure is bound up with the concept of becoming a patient. Suddenly we are sitting on the other side of the desk and the transition is painful and, dare I say it, humiliating.
So how can I approach my 70th birthday with a little more cheerfulness?
I am not greatly fond of parties. Too much noise makes it difficult to have any meaningful conversation, and inevitably the people that you want to talk to are too busy talking to others. It also seems to be somewhat reckless to be organizing a party when the pandemic rumbles on in the background ( though perhaps I won’t feel that way once we reach 2022).
Getting the whole family together also poses problems. Some live in a different country and may not be happy to travel. A rift between me and one of my daughters also means that the family would be incomplete. Having lost my brother to cancer a couple of years ago, he would be sorely missed. Overall, the family gathering route isn’t giving me very positive thoughts.
I need some other way to make the occasion an enjoyable experience.
I could have a holiday with my husband. There haven’t been many of those in the last few years. Despite the popularity of cruises for the older generation, it is not for us. I can’t think of a worse situation; being trapped on a ship and forced to spend time with people who I didn’t choose to be with. I am much more of an independent traveler. I like to visit places that are out of the way and not swarming with tourists. I am perfectly happy sitting in a remote forest listening to bird song. Alone.
Another thought came to me. Perhaps I should celebrate the event by accomplishing some altruistic volunteering work. One of those trips where you travel to a remote village and do some community work. The concept is good but I am not sure that sending an older white privileged woman to a remote community serves a good purpose. Imposing Western idealism on the underprivileged in the name of charity. Or am I overthinking this?
I had considered working for Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) when I was younger. Having children and managing a career cost me that option. And of course, the time has passed now. Too old and too out of touch to be of any use.
It is not all doom and gloom. New opportunities have arrived for me. Writing has taken a hold of my life and given me purpose and pleasure. A writing challenge could be a very good way to celebrate the start of a new decade. I will seriously consider that.
I wonder whether any of my readers have faced this dilemma? How did you celebrate turning 70? Was it traditional parties and flowers, or something more unusual? I would love to hear about your experiences.
Previously published on Medium