Shocked to Discover I Was Aging

From Rust
“From Rust to Dust”  Photograph by Sondra Diepen

 The first signs of aging began one morning in my early forties.

I was an elementary teacher back then. I use to spend my summers with my sister Donna and my longtime friend Linda, backpacking among the Minarets in California, exploring Grand Gulch and Canyonlands in Utah, trudging along the trails of New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness—partly due to our love of the great outdoors, and partly to exercise our muscles, stay fit, and keep up our girlish figures.

I was lying in bed on a Saturday morning thinking about how to plan my day. Should I wash clothes, clean out the chicken coop, or get out there in nature. Nature won as a reward for a week of teaching 6 year olds.

Still contemplating, I glanced over at my arm resting on the pillow and got an up close view of my skin. (Being extremely near-sighted can allow me to examine something two inches from my eyeballs.) “What in hell are all these little criss crosses I’m seeing?” They couldn’t be wrinkles. I’m only 43.

I lifted my arm up just a little, twisted my wrist back and forth and they got even worse. Horrors! I instantly put my arm straight up into the air and poof! they all disappeared.

Must have been seeing things.

Growing Older: My Anxiety about Aging

I just have to write these things down. This aging process is hard to take. My body is eroding inside and out, along with segments of my mind. I’m only 66 years old. My mother lived to be 99.  And now I’m afraid I may have another 33 years of deterioration and coping with what’s to come.

I couldn’t comprehend these challenges my parents would complain about every time I visited. My dad would get up from his Lazy Boy and just stand there for a few seconds before taking a step forward. He’d give a little  embarrassed laugh, as though he too couldn’t understand why those legs wouldn’t just ‘get up and go’.

Now that I’m experiencing a little of this myself, I have some understanding and compassion for his teetering and leaning onto his cane before stepping forward. I wish he hadn’t died 20 years ago so I could tell him, “Now I get it. You just have to wait for the stiffness to subside so the feet, the ankles, the knees, the thighs and the hips can begin cooperating with each other once again.”

For awhile I was taking Vioxx for some ache or pain that I’m not remembering at the moment. Oh. My. God. It was heaven. In the morning I could bounce out of bed, waltz to the bathroom without a little staggering and feel like I could easily accomplish all those tasks on my list- including the ones that were carried over from days past. I was feeling like those old people I saw on TV, leaping across a  meadow and dancing into the twilight.

What Vioxx did was caused me to remember how I used to feel. What had crept up on me so gradually. What energy had been left behind.

A couple of weeks of feeling no pain, I had an appointment with my gastroenterologist for my first colonoscopy. It wasn’t as bad as everyone said, but I felt very tied down to my toilet for fear that at any moment…

The results? an inflammation at the upper end of my colon. The doc said, “Well, it could be Crohn’s disease or it could be an irritation from taking Vioxx.”

So much for feeling young and lively.