Monday, 22 Jul 2019

The Aging Experience

Getting Real about Getting Older

Linda Stroh, Karen Brees

THE AGING EXPERIENCE. NOW YOU SEE ME, NOW YOU DON’T

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me…”

Ralph Ellison

We may not remember the first time we experienced invisibility, and we’re not sure how to label it. It’s something akin to loneliness. It’s that moment when we first realize people aren’t really listening to us anymore. It doesn’t happen to everyone, of course, and not in every situation, but it happens from time to time and it’s troubling. So, what’s the deal with invisibility? It shows itself in a variety of subtle and not-so-subtle slights, from being ignored in conversations to finding ourselves referred to in the third person while we’re standing right there, big as life. As we age, we seem to have a more difficult time getting people to pay attention to what we have to say. When we speak, our words may not be acknowledged. It’s as if nobody hears us. We’re overlooked in a meeting or group or family setting. It isn’t that others are being rude or purposely ignoring us. They simply do not recognize that we are part of the ongoing discussion or, for that matter, that we are even there.9 And so, we may find ourselves retreating, our voices silenced. The Aging Experience.

The Aging Experience. There is no simple explanation for why this happens, although much of the blame can be placed on our youth-oriented (some might say youth-obsessed) culture. Also, we have become an impatient society. Everything moves fast. There is no time for reflection to process all the sensory inputs we’re bombarded with. Older people may move more slowly than the young, and given the fast pace of life today, there just isn’t the patience for the older members of society to catch up. Fashion, entertainment, even the latest handheld tech devices with their small keyboards that are difficult for arthritic hands to use—everything is geared toward the young. Also, it’s possible that older people may make some younger adults uncomfortable. The elderly are reminders of how fleeting life is, evoking fear in younger people who don’t want to be reminded of their own mortality. The Aging Experience.

The Aging Experience - photo 1

The Aging Experience

Nearly all of our respondents indicated that they’ve experienced the awkwardness of feeling invisible. Making ourselves visible can be a big challenge, but there are ways to do it. It takes a little finesse, a little effort, and an awareness that we have control over the situation. The difference between being visible and invisible comes down to two letters—in. We’ve got to actively decide to put ourselves back in the picture. What I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is the difference in the way various individuals treat you. The treatment can range from deference to disregard. Many clerks, some medical personnel, and others see gray hair, some wrinkles, and immediately assume that you don’t know what you are talking about. It requires extra effort to convince these people that you indeed know what you are talking about, and they need to listen to what you are saying. The good news is grandchildren, on the other hand, are more apt to regard you as a fountain of wisdom. The Aging Experience.

—Sixty-five-year-old disregarded grandma. The Aging Experience.

For the first time in my life, I understand what it must be like for some women and minorities. I’m ignored, my opinion really doesn’t matter to most, and I often feel invisible unless I’m with people of my own age.

—Seventy-one-year-old invisible guy. The Aging Experience.

From deference to disregard—that’s a wide range of ways you might find yourself being ignored, and it highlights the complexity of this conundrum. In times past, gray hair and wrinkles indicated experience and some hard-won wisdom from which younger people could benefit. Society has changed a lot since those days, and, more and more, we worship at the altar of the fountain of youth. As those of us with the gray hair and wrinkles can attest, however, the fountain of youth is an illusion, and the worship is misplaced. The Aging Experience.

The Aging Experience - photo 2

The Aging Experience

THE AGING EXPERIENCE. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED, AND EMBRACE IT

I got one of those survey phone calls last night. The young woman asked to speak to the head of the house. I told her she was. Then she asked me if I were over sixty. I said I was. She thanked me and told me they were looking for younger people. I’d just been snubbed by a telephone survey taker. How desperate does that make me sound? The Aging Experience.

—Sixty-eight-year-old not-so-young man. The Aging Experience.

Honestly, who could have seen that one coming? We do our best to get out of conversations with telemarketers, but we’re not used to doing it on their terms. It’s the ultimate rebuff. When they hang up simply because we’re too old—it surprises us. As does our shock when we are filling out any array of forms and we find that seventy, eighty, or older isn’t even a category on a form—we’re all lumped into sixty-five and older! The Aging Experience.

The Aging Experience. Forewarned is forearmed, however. It’s important to realize that what you perceive as an insult may not have been meant to be one. Suppose the survey-taker had been looking for owners of basset hounds or people with type A negative blood? Would you have been offended if you didn’t fit that profile? Probably not. At least, the caller thanked our respondent. The takeaway? Don’t take offense where none is intended. Once we have developed the perception that we are invisible, we must guard against feeling invisible in every discussion, situation, or personal interaction where it may not exist. We must ask ourselves if we’re really being ignored, or if it’s our own insecurities and self-doubt coming into play to make the interaction seem more offensive than it should be. The Aging Experience.

The Aging Experience - photo 3

The Aging Experience

Sometimes our overreactions are rooted in a perceived loss of power or in not feeling needed or in the recognition that we can no longer do some things. Everyone wants to feel needed, but as we get older there may be an increasing number of occasions when our roles are no longer necessary. In some ways this can be liberating. To not constantly be needed or be on somebody’s go-to list means there’s more time to do what we want. As with most things in life, though, striking a balance is important. To not be needed by anyone, ever, can be a recipe for a very lonely existence, but that doesn’t have to happen. Find a need and fill it is good advice, regardless of our age. To do this right, we’ve got to stop thinking about ourselves first and think of others instead. Those who do are always needed. The Aging Experience.

The Aging Experience. It might be easy for a cynic to say, “Sure, there’s always somebody worse off than I am. I could be dead.” That’s true. But we’re not dead, and we have talents and gifts to share with others. Last night we went to our community’s annual “Mystery Theatre” event. It was the first time I bought a ticket instead of manning the ticket booth. It was the first time I enjoyed a glass of punch and a cookie without worrying about keeping the tables filled. And it was the first time I actually got to enjoy the entire presentation without wondering if I’d ordered enough trash containers for the cleanup afterward. I’d either chaired or served on all of these committees over the years. Truly, a burden lifted. Others had taken over these tasks. I was free to totally enjoy myself. The Aging Experience.

The Aging Experience - photo 4

The Aging Experience - photo 5

The Aging Experience

 

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