It's also a day that reminds me that time is one thing I can not control. The angst is often related somehow to my body.
I'm always a little weird about my birthday. I don't so much count down the days as dread them, and then I just accept the well wishes on the day of, and move on. Mostly, it's just another day. Birthdays used to bother me because they were a reminder of what I had not accomplished by certain ages and societal expectations. But, even though I haven't achieved the standard measure of success (marriage, kids, house), I've done a lot of things of which I'm proud. I'm happy with who I am. Birthdays in my mid-thirties were tough because they were reminders of the biological clock ticking down. I've pretty much come to terms with the thought that this body will not likely conceive, carry, or birth a child. There is a certain peace and acceptance that comes with aging.
Still, every year around this time, I start freaking out just a little about getting older. Why is that?
I think it's the feeling that I'm running out of time.
You know, I don't actually mind the physical signifiers of aging that we talk about. Sure, I point out the white hairs that need to be plucked, and I see the wrinkles around my eyes, and my teeth aren't as white as they used to be. I'm never gonna get carded again at the liquor store. It's easy to point to the aesthetics and complain, but that's just because we measure beauty in terms of youth. It's a battle most of us lose, and if I really cared I could cover up with dye and makeup and moisturizer and money. So, I'm really not so concerned with those things. They're just easy ways to give voice to the more deeply complex and troubling aspects of aging.
Ultimately, I think we all fear death, but perhaps even more so we fear frailty. (Or is that just me?) And the older you get, the more realistic it becomes. It's human nature. When you are young, you are invincible. You can ignore and deny that it will happen to you. If it does, you can bounce back. We tell ourselves that good nutrition and exercise will keep the wolves of old age at bay. If I just do the right things, I can out-smart time and evolution. Yeah, right.
I'm not alone in this. A great blog post at stumptuous.com called "the winter of our content" pointed out how unreasonable some of our thinking really is: "In my vision of my 40s, I’d be one of those women who murmurs through still-full lips that Why no, she hasn’t noticed any changes to her body, thanks to perfect nutrition and regular exercise and by the way yoga and Swiss chard juice is quite magical! I’d keep patiently adding, say, 10-20 lb to my lifts per year. You know, reasonable expectations. Modest. Do-able. By the time I was 90, I’d be deadlifting 1500 lb. Of course. I’d say shit like Age is just a number! I have the body of a 20-year-old! (Well, not my 20-year-old body, which was saturated in alcohol, 50 lb overweight, and usually parked in front of a daytime talk show.) Somewhere along the way, the memo to my body about How This All Works must have gotten confused."
This year, in particular, I think I am struggling with getting old because I am starting to feel it. It's not an abstract idea anymore. I feel it in my knees. My back. My shoulders. My eyes aren't what they used to be. I don't have the same stamina to stay up to all hours of the night. I don't have the ability to sleep through the entire night, either. And, for the first time in my life, I want to be able to DO things I never imagined I'd want to do. I came to this fitness thing pretty recently, when you look at the big picture. I struggled with weight from a pretty early age, and was never really active. The fear and anxiety around getting older is that I won't be able to do the things I want to try. It's not just that losing weight gets exponentially harder the older you get (most people tend to put weight on as they age, so losing fat is also a bigger battle). You start to lose strength, flexibility, and agility, too.
All of a sudden, the mantra "it's about health, not vanity; I want to be fit, even if I'm not thin" becomes much easier to say with conviction. Because the chances of something breaking, becoming diseased, or no longer working increase with every passing year. And that is a sombre reality.
Except that it could all be in my head. I'm not dead yet. I'm buying myself some time by making the changes I've made. I have no way of knowing how many years I've added by swimming and lifting weights, nor do I know how many I've taken off with every binge. It's all unknown. That's the reason to keep going. If I buy myself one more day of feeling healthy, happy, and strong, isn't that worth it?
As she says in her Stumptuous post, I'm still here (and, really, if you didn't read the link above, stop what you're doing and go read it NOW: http://www.stumptuous.com/rant-69-the-winter-of-our-content). I'm here. Showing up. Still fighting for health, still fighting the urge to give in or give up. "I’m still here. Breathe. Move. Rep. Creak. Still here. Because this is it. It doesn’t get better than this. This is how it works. It’s all the road. It’s all part of the journey."
Today's training session with Mat was killer. He came in, smiling, and said, "Happy Birthday. I was going to make today fun ... but I changed my mind. It's gonna be HARD." Insert evil grin. It was what I was expecting and, predictably, he had me do 39 of everything. Started with 39 push ups. Then 39 squats with weights on the barbell on my back (in the squat rack). 9 to warm up, with just the bar (which weighs 45 lbs). Then 3 rounds of 10 squats. I looked at the weights he was adding on each side. "Getting as close to 39 as we can," he said. So ... 37.5 lbs on each side of the 45 lb bar. 120 lbs - the most he's ever had me do. Same story with the leg press: 9 to warm up, then 3 rounds of 10. And so on. That was just the first half of the hour.
They say you're only as old as you feel. I guess if my knees feel 80 and my soul feels 10, then 40 is about the right average. I know the reality, that this gets harder the older I get. I also know that there are some bad-ass 50, 60, and 70 year olds out there who are as strong and as fit as they come. I watched American Ninja Warrior earlier this week, and while most of the contestants were in their 20's, there were a few who are older than I. Age isn't an excuse. It's a reason to keep going, to keep working hard.
It's not going to get easier.
On my 39th birthday I squatted and pressed the heaviest weights I've ever done. Age had little to do with it. Of course, it may have something to do with how I feel tomorrow, and whether I require a nap later on today! But, despite facing 40, I still showed up. I'm still here.
And I'm not ready to act old just yet.