The Gerontology/Aging Studies program at Portland Community College has a weekly gathering, known as the “The Ageless Network,” for students, faculty, and anyone else who is interested. There are presentations or films and usually discussions. At one of these gatherings, we learned about the concept of befriending one’s older self. The idea aims at younger people as a way to get them to consider and understand what they will be like when they are older. The thought is that if a younger person can personalize the aging process and how it might impact them as individuals, it will increase their awareness and understanding of aging and ageism.
A couple of months later, befriending one’s older self was one of my homework assignments.
l chuckled, not derisively, but because, then, at age 70, I was my current older self, and if I were to befriend my future older self, I would, in effect, be befriending my future even older self. (Note: the class had a lot of younger students, so the exercise sparked some fascinating responses). Three years ago, when I looked back, I realized that I was not who I was when I was 65, either physically or mentally/emotionally. So, I decided that since I was significantly different than I had been five years earlier, I would project 5 and 10 years into the future and figure out what I’ll be like and how it would be to befriend me at 75 and 80-years old. I’m kind of updating this exercise now that I’m 73 to see whether I can befriend my 78 and 83- year old selves-to project who I’ll be and what my life will be like in 5 and 10 years.
I’ve written about the six cogwheels of brain health in several blog posts: exercise/movement, sleep/rest, stress management, diet/nutrition, positive social engagement, and mental stimulation. I have been practicing the cogwheels regularly over the years, although my stress management needs a lot of work. I’ve gotten better with sleep. This year I changed my exercise routine and added more rigorous cardio work. I am also consciously paying attention to my posture, trying to stand up straight and not slouch. All should have an impact on my future, even older self. I believe in five and even ten years, assuming I continue to apply the cogwheels to my daily life, I should still be physically able and reasonably hale and hearty.
So where will I be in 10 years, and can I be friends with this future even-older self?
The most significant change I anticipate will be my relationship with my now nine and seven-year-old granddaughters.
That relationship is already changing. When they were 7 and 5, they pretty much thought their Papa Eddie was too cool for school. Even though we still have a lovely relationship, they no longer think I’m all that cool. I envision more change by the time I’m my even-older self. Five years from now, they’ll be 14 and 12, and I envision the rolling of eyes when the future even older Papa speaks to them. My future even-older self will understand, and hopefully, there will be times when they decide to hang out some and share their adventures with me. The same for ten years from now, when they will pretty much be grown, and even though I doubt they will seek my “wisdom’, I believe we’ll still be close. In the years since I did the homework assignment, my grandson was born. He’s not quite 2, and he lives on the other side of the continent, but I look forward to my future even older self getting to know him well and enjoying a relationship with him.
I assume my current friendships will deepen, and I may even make new friends. I hope that my future, even older self will continue to apply the six cogwheels, enjoy time with my wife, read, and go to movies. I also hope I continue to get too involved in the fortunes of my favorite sports teams and hopefully learn to manage stress more. I believe that my assumptions about my future, even older self, are correct. Therefore my current older self likes my future even older self, both 78 and 83.
Finally, I hope my future even older self continues my progress towards accepting my aging body and my aging mind. One myth about aging that I internalized is that being fit means looking young. I am healthy, but I don’t look young. I never had a sculpted body, but when I looked at myself in the mirror when after a shower, I used to say to myself, “Ok, could be worse.” Over the past several years, when I looked, I saw a body that is sagging.
I railed against the sag and continued to exercise, and diet to restore what I have finally realized cannot be restored. I am a healthy, trim 71-year-old, which isn’t considered healthy or trim for a 60-year-old, 50-year-old, or 40-year-old. While I continue to work to integrate the six cogwheels into my life, I’m continuing to progress towards acceptance of my saggy self. I will continue to maintain my weight within 5 pounds of what I consider to be my ideal). I will continue to try to control what I eat (I love to eat, and unfortunately, I like to eat stuff that isn’t going to help me maintain my weight). As long as my clothing still fits me comfortably, I’m probably doing fine, and I will hopefully make peace with my sagging body.
In sum, when I am my future, even older self, I believe my brain will still be active and healthy. My body is still saggy but fit. The key is this: I will whether I like it or not, what’s vital is that this aging, saggy body still provides a right home for my fit, active aging brain. If so, my even future older self will be just fine.