Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states
As the title of this article implies, I am about to celebrate my 70th birthday. It has given me time to pause and reflect about what this really means. While there is available information on the positive aspects of aging they are far outweighed by the negative. In doing a Google search on the topic of aging I discovered that most articles dwell on issues of sickness, death and grieving. Is this what aging is really about? Not necessarily. So, what are my observations about entering my seventh decade?
For one thing I do not think of nor consider myself as “old.” Being in good physical health, I believe, has a lot to do with feeling youthful. Whatever aging is supposed to mean, I feel much the same as I always have. Perhaps that is why this birthday comes as a surprise. I’m 70? No, how can that be? I don’t feel 70! Errh, how is 70 supposed to feel? I am somewhat surprised that my daughters are adults who have their own private lives. How did that happen? I am even a grandfather! Yet, I don’t feel like an “old codger” grandfather. If anything, my wife and I are happy to let our children deal with the difficult aspects of child rearing. In that area, our work is done. It’s true what they say. We can enjoy the best part of the grandchildren and then go home feeling very relaxed. I do remember that when our kids were small, my parents would visit and then go home, leaving the task of dealing with sore throats and fevers and temper tantrums to us.
As I have aged I have discovered a well spring of wisdom and experience that have made me a much better psychotherapist. In working with young adults as individuals or as couples, I find it easier to relate to their experiences because I have been there. I can even relate to their parents and what they are reported to be experiencing in coping with their adult children. I have also learned the art of being very patient with my patients. I am better able to bring to bear on patients all of my knowledge and life experience. In fact, I have noticed that my thinking is much clearer than it used to be. In the same way, all of this background has made me more self confident even when I am dealing with difficult cases.
The stereotype of people who are aging is that they become more rigid and less flexible in their opinions and attitudes. Speaking for myself, it’s become easier to admit to mistakes when relating to family, friends and patients. If the saying goes that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” this old dog is even more opening to learning than when I was younger. Perhaps that is due to feeling more comfortable with learning. The need to learn is no longer fraught with anxiety. In other words, learning no longer implies weakness or lack of knowledge as though not knowing something is weakness. I can admit that I need and want to know something. Ego and pride are no longer associated with “not knowing.”
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Of course, the fact of death must not be overlooked. However, I have to question whether death enters anyone’s thoughts more at a later age than when younger? No one is safe from death. During my 70 years, I have witnessed the deaths of friends, family and patients whose ages ranged from teenagers to the elderly. Some died as a result of disease, traffic accidents and other disasters both natural and man made. In that sense, I suspect that death and dying occupy my thoughts more now than when I was younger. It is just too easy for people to presume that, because you are older, thoughts of death are more omnipresent. The fact is that, if people are living life, they do not have the time to be preoccupied with death. For those who are so preoccupied, it may be that they are as depressed in their old age as they were when they were young.
The bottom line is that, in our youth oriented society, it is easy to make presumptions about what aging is. It is not depressing, sad, end of life, or tragic. Tragedy and loss can and does happen all during the life span of any of us, regardless of our present age.
Finally, I am much better able to live in and appreciate living in the moment. I feel much less pressure to be somewhere, to meet some deadline and to attain some difficult to achieve goal. Maybe that is part of the solution to the stresses of living and aging: live mindfully, enjoy the moment, experience it and do not be in such a hurry to get to the next place, next moment, next task. In other words, the past is gone, the future may never be but we have the present. Whatever the age, live fully in the moment.
Your thoughts are encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD
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