on getting older and feeling “different”

While out on a Sunday afternoon walk with our furball Sammy, Mark said something interesting that’s been brewing around in my head: “I feel… different.”

This was in context to a conversation we were having about why he might’ve caught a nasty cold, even though he took all the typical precautions to keep himself healthy (hand-washing, eating healthy, regular exercise), which gradually shifted to talking about getting older (in general) and what that meant for him. That’s when he said the bit about feeling different.

For him, it was feeling a little less scattered and a lot more focused, especially when it came to his career and the goals he wants to accomplish. He has a fascination with learning about young inventors and lamented that he often feels less successful as he hasn’t had his “ah-ha!” moment yet – a feeling all the more magnified as he nears his 35th birthday.

I get what he feels. I turned 34 and often feel like a failure for not having accomplished more by now. But I don’t know where the measurement of “accomplishments” comes from. Most likely it’s societal pressures and norms of the culture and environment I grew up in. You know, the familiar Roadmap of Adulting – go to university, get degree, get job, find partner, get married, buy house, bear 2.5 children, retire at 65, etc.

But feeling different as it comes to specific accomplishments isn’t necessarily what’s been brewing around in my head. I’ve already accepted that I travel my own path and get things done in my own timing – I’m perfectly content with the way things are going, as it relates to the Roadmap of Adulting. I was more interested in the more intangible, emotional and well-being sense of feeling different. And certainly on the physical side, too.

I already knew that my body would start showing signs of wear and tear by the time I neared my mid-30’s. I spent a lot of my teens and 20’s abusing the hell out of it, so it was only a matter of time until it decided it had enough of my shit and started making me pay for it. Although I joke that I was blessed with the youthful appearance made possible by Asian genes, I’m seeing a lot more wrinkles, especially around my eyes. My skin isn’t as “fresh” as it used to be. I still get goddamn acne. I can’t eat as much as I used to (and if I do overeat, I really suffer), I get tired quite easily, and naps don’t feel as refreshing anymore.

Naturally, these physical changes would definitely make me feel different. On a deeper level, I realize how fascinating it is that the human body can be simultaneously resilient and fragile. I’m aware of my own limitations, my mortality. As much as I miss those days of gorging on pizza and ice cream and popcorn and chips and cake and cookies and …okay I need to get myself off this train of thought… I’m hyper aware that my health and well being is not to be taken for granted, that it could all crumble suddenly, like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Physically speaking, I try to focus more on what I’m able to do with my body than just the appearance of it. My limbs are all working fine. My legs carry me where I need to go. My arms are strong enough that I can hang multiple grocery bags on them because I simply refuse to make more than one trip from the car to the front door. My hands still know how to function as if on autopilot. My eyes – even if I’m blind as a bat without corrective lenses – have stayed the same prescription for the past five years (so at least they’re not getting worse). All in all, I’m in pretty good shape.

But I can’t deny that I don’t recover as quickly as I used to. A few years ago I could function just fine for weeks on less than stellar sleep. Now, I’m able to go for two, maybe three days max, until I become a slobbering mess of a zombie that ends up putting the milk in the pantry and not the fridge. Even though our typical wake-up routine for the past 2+ years has been to get up at 5:00 a.m., it’s becoming more and more difficult to feel rested. And this is even after going to bed a little earlier each night.

These physical changes certainly make me feel different – how could they not? Physically – it’s all there. I am different. I am older, maybe a little weaker, my body has been worn down by the abuses its suffered over the past 34 years. It’s an inevitability.

On the emotional/mental side of this equation, I like to think I’m more attuned to my own rhythm as it relates to thought patterns, moods, that sort of thing. Coming out from the other side of a fairly deep depression last year, I’m all the more aware how important it is to take care of my mental well being. My tendency to torture myself with reels of regretful and cringeworthy moments from my past have certainly contributed to the downward spirals. I tell myself what happened happened. The particularly ugly moments that are still as sharp in my memory as the day they occurred… those were the hardest to let go of. But ultimately I can’t change the past. I will always be a loser if I play the “what if” game.

Mentally speaking, I’m not sure that I’ve become any stronger as I’ve gotten older. Certainly, I’ve developed better coping methods. Practice makes perfect. From writing in a gratitude journal to reflecting on at least one positive thing that happened in my day before going to bed, these have helped to re-frame the way I naturally approach the world. As important as it is to nourish my body with good foods and regular exercise, the mental side is just as (if not more) important for me to focus on.

So as I come nearer to my mid-30’s (I’m still early 30’s until next year, dammit), I may feel different but it’s not necessarily a negative different. It’s the inevitable shift of things both physical and mental. Getting older is not such a bad thing – although I do wish time would stop moving so fast – and reflecting on feeling different has been a good touch point to refocus my efforts on the things that will help me as I continue to age.

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