The lights are still on and there is still somebody at home
#Mentalhealthawarenessweek: The fifth and final anonymous blog in our series. This one exploring the experience of againg on our mental health.
Warning: contains content that some people might find upsetting
Nobody warns you about how ageing starts to affect your thoughts about how you look. Yes we all grumble about it in our 40s and 50s, but nobody talks about the reality of looking in the mirror in your 80s and seeing frailty where there used to be strength.
Its not about the grey hairs, the aches and pains, forgetfulness, or even about the gut aching loneliness. The hardest thing for me was realising that people look at the failing packaging and think that I’ve become irrelevant. The lights are still on and there is still somebody at home!
Before you get the wrong idea, I should explain that I’m not a grumpy old man. I’m actually pretty cheerful most of the time. But there have been dark times. Like many ageing people I had to learn my lesson somewhere between my 70s and 80s after a period of depression (or as I used to call it – the call of doom and gloom).
The loneliness and isolation that starts to happen as you get older can overwhelmingly damage your mental health. It’s a slow decline that started somewhere in my 60s when my wife died after a long illness. Then into my 70s there didn’t seem to be a week go by without getting a call to say a friend had died. My children and grandchildren check in to see if I’m coping, but they live over 2 hours away. There are some weeks, where, if it wasn’t for the postman putting junk mail through the post box, I’d think there’d been some kind of apocalypse.
I’ve done all of the things that they tell you to do, volunteer, join groups, go for walks, try and find ways to keep those human connections going. I’m lucky – I’m still physically mobile, I still live in my own home. But there are days when I still sink very low because, as happy as people are to speak to me, it seems that those connections wouldn’t happen at all if I didn’t keep instigating them. When did our society ditch respect and decide to “Ignore your elders”.
I know that sometimes I repeat myself - you see that glazed look in someone’s eyes being too polite to tell you that you’ve told them this comment before. But if I could remember to repeat one thing over and over it would be to ask people to not cast me, or my ageing compadres, aside.
The one thing that the older generation are good at is reflection, and if there’s one thing that we should do more of for the sake of our mental health, it’s to reflect. Reflect on Life, reflect on mistakes, reflect on alternatives, reflect on learning. Folklore and literature call it wisdom – but really it’s just the relevance of elders.
What I would say to others…
- We spend a lot of time planning with our families about preparing for our demise – how about planning for our life. We still have a lot to give.
- Nobody ever wishes they’d done more work, more commuting, more TV, more shopping – generally we wish we’d spent more time connecting and talking to the ones we love. Our Mental Health – regardless of age – depends on remembering that.
- This happens to everybody - so act now if you want something to change.