37 Going On 73

It seems as if our society is getting younger and younger all the time. “Fifty is the new forty” has become a catch phrase. It has become difficult to think of people in their late sixties as senior citizens. Shortly before my daughter was born in 2010, I heard a statistic that half of all babies born in that year will live to be 100. Yet, while prolonged life spans and increased vitality often make it seem like our society has found a fountain of youth, and that as a 37 year old I should feel at my peak, my rheumatoid arthritis often makes me feel far older than my years.

Recently I was very achy so I took a hot shower to loosen up. The hardness of the tile floor in the shower was intensifying the aches in my ankles, knees, and hips, and I considered sitting down so that my joints wouldn’t absorb the impact of standing on a hard surface. However, thinking about the difficulty of getting back up from a seated position on the ground kept me upright. Then I thought, “It would be really nice to have one of those shower seats for days like this.” However, before any thoughts of an online shopping search came to mind, my mind screamed, “Shower seat?! Are you kidding me? You’re 37 years old, you can’t use a shower seat yet!”

My body and my ego are frequently thus at odds. Things that feel supportive and comforting to my body often seem premature and unnecessary to my ego. I want to be living in the fast lane, but my rheumatoid arthritis often leaves me feeling like my best days are behind me. I get stuck between feeling like I should accept my reality and embrace it and feeling like I should dig my heels into my youth and refuse to budge. However, the frequent reminders my RA gives me make the fight for my youth seem a bit fruitless.

For instance, I own a cane. I am fortunate enough to only have to use it on rare occasions, but still it’s there in my closet, reminding me that I am not your standard woman in her mid-thirties. I often know when it’s going to rain, feeling the barometric pressure changes deep in my bones before the first raindrop ever hits the ground. It seems like that’s something that only grandparents and horses should be able to do. Sometimes my hip will seize up, stopping me in my tracks if I’m upright and making me wish I had one of those motorized scooters some elderly people use to get from here to there. And when it comes to romance, I’d so much rather use the cliché headache line than say to my husband, “I’m sorry babe, my hip hurts too much.” Declining sex due to arthritis pain definitely leaves me feeling far older than my actual age, which many people say is supposed to be a woman’s peak. Yet when I’m in a flare, I don’t feel at my peak, or even in a valley; it’s more like being at the bottom of a pit.

Furthermore, looking young and feeling old gets you none of the benefits extended to seniors. People do not surrender their seats to me on a crowded bus, as my invisible disability doesn’t make it obvious that the “please vacate seat for elderly or disabled passengers” might apply to me. I don’t get discount days at stores or cheaper movie tickets, and I’m not eligible for reduced plane tickets through AARP. Yet I do get the creaky sensation in my bones, the slowed pace, the decreased mobility, and the increased need for rest that old age can cause. There’s a Mark Twain quote that goes, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” While I don’t at all mind the number of times I’ve been around the sun, the way that I feel physically can’t help but matter.

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