Are You Suffocating Yourself with Your Own Pillow?
Growing older gets a bad rap. But as far as we know, it beats the alternative.
Something many people look forward to as children and adolescents is all the independence that is coming their way. And ironically, something people fear most about their later years is losing their independence. It shows up a lot when we talk to clients about where they will live as they age.
Young adults look forward to their independence with both great anticipation, but also anxiety. At the same time, most of them know that their living situation will change dramatically through their 20s and even into their 30s and possibly 40s as they change and adapt to their life circumstance. Their goals in these early years are to maximize their life and while the location of their home comes into play, they are not attached to the home as much as they are to the dreams of how they spend their days.
This is often not the case for people as they approach their later years.
We believe this is because sometime around the age of 50, we start looking in the mirror and wondering who the “older person” looking at us is! Of course, at 70, 50 seems young. At 90, 70 seems young. It’s all relative. But the older we get, it is challenging to see our limitations and it is for sure challenging to admit we need a little more help than we did before, or that we may need more help in the future. Then the risk is we get stuck seeing ourselves tied to the same lifestyle we have had and can’t imagine one for ourselves that will bring us real happiness.
There is no magic age when things start to change. It’s so unique to each individual and is usually based on their social circle of support, their physical and mental health, their mobility in their community, and often their finances. A physically and mentally healthy individual with a wide circle of community who can still transport themselves and afford their lifestyle, is obviously just fine at home. Challenges arise when these areas are not solid. The primary one is surprisingly social circle of support. Even introverts get lonely. When someone is isolated or relying on too few people for too much of their interaction, they can become even more isolated as their circle can’t or won’t handle the responsibility. Once people no longer have access to transportation, this can magnify the social isolation even more. When people are having physical and mental health challenges, such as significant memory decline, this can also put them in danger if preparations are not made.
But if you are having trouble seeing the real you in the mirror, how can you possibly envision your future self? Journaling exercises can help you. In these exercises, fast forward yourself to age 100. What does that look like? Use the internet to search for some pictures and stories of people over the age of 100. Not just the superheroes, but regular folks, living regular lives to get an idea. Jot down what you will most likely look like at that age. Who might be in your life- who might not? What would you be doing with your day? What would be most important to you at that age? What do you think your body and mind would need to stay healthy? What do you think you could provide yourself with financially? Now, what requirements do you need to be able to get as much of what you want of that? These are your REAL priorities, not where you put your head on your pillow. That is just your expectation. It’s a different thing.
Now, come forward and do the exercise for yourself at age 95, 90, 85, 80, 75, and maybe even 70. 70 to 100 is a LONG time, and yet it’s predicted that ½ of the people that make it to 65 now may make it to 100. We have found, in our experience, that every 5 years in this life stage, people continue to change in many ways as they grow older. By thinking backwards, you are thinking of yourself as the most vulnerable to the least vulnerable. This can help you have some vision and reduce some of the anxiety.
Once you are done this stage of the planning, use it to put parameters around when you may want to adapt your lifestyle. What will you need at each of those ages to make those priorities you set for yourself a reality? For example, if you said at age 70 you want to be traveling the world, will you be able to take your desired month-long trips if you are still maintaining a huge home? If you said that at 80, you want to make sure you are active in your grandchildren’s lives as a large priority- are you even going to be in the same town as they are? If at 90 you want to still have lots of friends and be enjoying their company, will you be able to get to them? Or are you suffocating yourself with your own pillow? Are you so set in staying in your own bed in the location it is now, that you eliminate your own happiness?
Don’t focus on the age, focus on your abilities versus your priorities. At each stage of development, what will you need your living situation to be to maximize your real priorities, not how do you alter your priorities for where you live? That is backwards, and often how people think to just to avoid change.
The bad rap growing older gets comes in part because people forget to grow older- they just get older. Even the most beautiful home can become a cage if it’s not what you need to live your best life. We should be putting thought into this at all ages of adulthood, but it’s most important in our later years to give us what we want most.