Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Age and infirmity.

As I have mentioned, I haven’t been at all well lately. So it is no surprise that I woke up (early) from a feverish sleep, thinking about how things change as you get older. I have written about this before of course, but in a few weeks from now, I will be adding an even bigger number next to the 6 in my age. And I woke up thinking about just how fast that seems to come around.

If you have a long time to go before you can even think about retiring, or the thought of sixty candles on your birthday cake seems like some distant event in an uncertain future, then you might do well to read this, and take pause for thought.

I spent the last fifteen years of my working life planning for the time when I could retire on the pensions I had paid into. Research informed me that I would have to work until I was 60, to make it financially possible. So like many before me, I started to ‘count down’ the years until I would no longer have to work, more or less wishing away a great deal of my life, hoping to get older faster. Does that seem crazy to you? Then maybe wait until you get close to that yourself, and see how you feel. By the time I got to my 58th birthday, I was coasting in neutral. I had a date fixed, and had already applied to retire on that day, excited to receive pension forecasts and confirmation in the post.

One week after my 60th birthday, I was no longer a ‘worker’. I was now one of ‘The Retired’, a ‘Pensioner’. With five years still to go before the addition of my official State Pension, I took a 60% drop in monthly income, and moved to Norfolk to live the quiet life. Well, I didn’t plan on it being quiet. I would get a dog, do a lot of gardening, some decorating, and various jobs around the house.

At first, it went just as expected. I didn’t get around to the decorating, but I tackled the big jobs in the garden, painted some fences, and got that dog. That got me out of the house, exploring the local area, and meeting new people. And I tried my hand at starting a blog too. In most respects, life was quiet, also peaceful, and content. This was how I had hoped it would be, and I could anticipate the coming years, planning ahead.

Then one day, I found it difficult to lift a shopping bag from the back of the car. I thought I must have misjudged the weight of it, and was surprised to discover I needed two hands to lift it. After doing some minor digging and weed-clearing the following week, I could hardly hold a cup of coffee later. I went to the doctor, and she took blood tests. I had been taking medication for high cholesterol for around five years before retiring, and it turned out that I was one of the unlucky ones. The tablets had caused muscle wastage, predominantly in my arms. Cells and muscle tissue were found in record numbers in a liver function test, and the medication was stopped immediately, never to recommence.

I had to readjust. I was never again going to have the upper body strength I had enjoyed for most of my life. Jobs would have to be tackled slowly, and I had to buy a small hand-truck to move things around. My arms ached to the point of bringing me to tears, and simple things like opening a stubborn jar lid were now almost laughably impossible.

I was annoyed with myself, but had to learn to live with it.

Not long after that, I felt dizzy in the bath one day. I was sure that the bath had overturned with me in it. Impossible as that sounds, I scrambled out the bath in a panic, knocking over everything in the bathroom. I considered that it might be a stroke, and spent a long time waiting for the symptoms to subside. Then I went to the doctor again. It was Vertigo, a simple painless condition that can seriously blight your life. Lying for even a short time flat on my back was now impossible. Look up at a tree, or down at some weeds, and an overwhelming dizziness would convince me that I was about to fall. The doctor suggested head manipulation exercises, but they didn’t work. So she told me that I would have to learn to live with it.

I needed to readjust, again.

The next summer, I was bitten badly by horseflies, when out walking Ollie. Some of the bites became grossly swollen, and others I had scratched continued to hurt, and bleed constantly too. Back to the doctor, and this time I saw the nurse. She told me not to scratch them, (yeah, like that works) and gave me some cream to help with the swelling and itching. I remarked that I was surprised how long they were taking to heal, and she smiled. “You’re not as young as you were, unfortunately”. On top of having arm muscles with the strength of bath sponges, and feeling dizzy doing so much as changing a light bulb, I now had to contemplate the possibility that a simple insect bite might never quite heal, and provide the possibility of worse infections attacking my bloodstream.

Retirement was becoming a contest with my own rapidly-ageing body. And a contest I was losing.

So the next time you dream about the day of your own retirement, whether it be sailing that yacht around the world, spending time with your grandchildren, or landscaping your beloved garden, I have a tip for you.

Check with your body first.

You’re not the one in charge, whatever your brain tells you.