Taking Care Of Yourself Is No Longer Optional

Remember the days when you could pull an “all-nighter” before a big test, sacrificing sleep in order to cram for an important exam? And after it was over, instead of going to bed, you might have headed to the nearest college bar to celebrate with a quick beer or two?  And (for those with naturally pale skin) when you wanted a “little color” before the big dance, you spent the afternoon laying in the sun wearing nothing but a swimming suit and a whole lot of baby oil?  One way or another, I think we all took silly risks with our health when we were young enough to get away with it.

But guess what?  Those days are over.  The last time I went an entire night without sleep was the night my son was born, and believe me, that wasn’t by choice.  (Why do babies never seem to enter this world late in the day, so we can get a decent night’s sleep afterwards?)  These days, if I’m awake after midnight, it’s a given that I’m going to be a cranky, sleepy mess the whole next day.  And I never spend time in the sun anymore without wearing a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF.

We may not like it, but the fact is that our bodies require more care than they used to.  We have to be more careful about what we eat, what we drink, how regularly we exercise and how much sleep we get, and that’s the easy stuff.  The harder, and certainly less pleasant, part of keeping our middle-aged bodies healthy are the screenings, shots and procedures we have to endure once we reach the wrong side of fifty.

Flu shots aren’t considered optional anymore, and once we turn sixty, neither is being inoculated against shingles.  (Well worth it, as anyone who has suffered from shingles will tell you.) And although I understand there is now some debate about how often women over fifty should have a mammogram, I follow my doctor’s advice and go get my breasts squished by an X-ray machine once a year.

Most intrusive, of course, is the colonoscopy, with its dreaded prep routine followed by a procedure that can’t be discussed in polite company.  But according to my doctor, colon cancer is absolutely preventable through regular screenings, and colon cancer is often deadly.  So it’s pretty hard to justify wimping out and not getting a colonoscopy.  I know, because I tried, and it didn’t work.

Staying healthy in our middle age can be complicated and is not always for the faint of heart.  But the people who care about us are counting on us to do everything we can to make sure we stick around long enough to enjoy our old age.  Which means we really don’t have any choice but to suck it up and do it.

The Middle Age “Must Have”

A few years ago, my husband and I took a trip to France to celebrate our thirtieth anniversary.  Although I prepared for the trip by studying guidebooks and memorizing as many French words as I could, there were times when being in a foreign country just overwhelmed me.  While trying to buy an apple tart at a small bakery, I finally gave up trying to find the correct change and simply held out a handful of coins, letting the clerk take what she needed.  She was very nice about it, but I still felt like a clueless idiot.

Sadly, there are still times when I feel that way, and the reason is that I can no longer read regular print.  Fading eyesight, combined with dim lights in many public places, has made me completely dependent on my reading glasses.  The problems start when I don’t have a pair handy.   If I go out to dinner and forget my glasses, I have to either have someone read the menu to me, or simply point at something when the waiter comes and hope I’ll like what I’ve ordered.  Ditto for trying to read a text on my cell phone, the expiration date on a carton of eggs, or the price tag on a sweater I’m thinking about buying.  It’s no fun to get into the brightly-lit dressing room and discover that the sweater I thought was $49 is actually $149.  Especially if it fits and hides my back fat.

I’ve accepted that I need reading glasses, and keep several pairs scattered around the house and carry a pair in my purse.  But there are times when I don’t carry a purse (walking dogs at the humane society, for instance), and also many times when I reach in my purse only to find that the glasses aren’t there.  And then I am just as vulnerable as I was in that French bakery, only I don’t have the foreign accent that makes people more willing to help.

But it’s no use complaining, so like middle-aged people everywhere, I just muddle along as best I can.  I’ve been known to simply hand a receipt or pamphlet to the nearest young person and say, “Your eyes are still good.  Can you tell me what that says?” And they usually do.   I have a friend who is more creative:  when she couldn’t read the small print on a parking meter, she simply whipped out her cell phone, took a picture of it, and then expanded the picture until she could read the words.  I’ll have to remember that the next time I’m in a dimly-lit restaurant without my reading glasses…..