When I think about getting older, the first image that comes to mind is that of my mother. She and I share some pretty important genes. I look like her, both facially and in terms of body shape. And, I inherited her tendency towards certain age-related conditions.
I don’t like listing my ailments, for fear of being accused of being an old woman – oh, wait a minute, I am! But then, we all know that when we are accused of being an old woman, we are hearing the voices of both gender and age oppression. Two for the price of one. The accusation sub-text runs something like this: Old women moan on (so we should not listen to them); young women do not (they are gorgeous, healthy and never whinge); and of course, men never do (they are gods).
Of course, I don’t buy into that. But do I? Actually, I do, because I have internalised my own oppression. Basically, you don’t need to beat me with a stick. I’ll do it myself, thank you very much! I am trying to challenge this sort of rubbish, hence my very tongue-in-cheek blog title. Because, you see, that is the other thing old women do. They ramble on. I ramble. I am sure my darling hubby would say I do indeed ramble on, but not because I am old. More, because I am Bonnie.
But there is a very serious side to this. Many of us will one day get dementia. Rambling (as in walking, which I also do), or indeed any form of exercise, has been proven to protect against the onset of dementia, at least for some. There will be others who are unable to escape it, no matter what they do. Let me say at the outset, it is not my intention here to make fun of people who have dementia. Not only have I worked with such people, and done research in the area, I have known some absolutely wonderful people who have been struck down by one of the many diseases that can cause the condition we call dementia. Some have even been role models.
So, when I think about getting older, one of the role models that comes to mind is my old supervisor for my Dance Movement Psychotherapy practice. She worked in a related field, and was kind of famous – revered, even. One day, I confessed that I wished I was more like her in terms of her assuredness and the esteem in which she was held by her peers. Her response: ‘Bonnie, you just have to get older.’ And I did. And she did. She died a couple of years ago, some years after her diagnosis of dementia, which she almost certainly had (undiagnosed at that point) when she completed her PhD. What a woman!
Another person I think of, when I consider role models for getting older, is a man I will call Fred (not his real name). Fred used to volunteer for me, in a therapeutic theatre group, when he was merely in his seventies. I remember one day, we went into Manchester with our project members (all of whom had serious and enduring mental illnesses, and most of whom were in their thirties), to see Les Miserables. It took some time to get everyone off the train, and start heading on foot to the theatre, but when I had assembled them all, I saw Fred walking at a pace, the gap between us and him widening all the time. I had to call after him, and ask him to slow down! Some years later, I spotted him on another train on my way into Manchester. He was standing up on the crowded train, looking as dapper as ever. I felt cross with the assembled masses that no-one other than me offered their seat. He declined, of course. He was, by now, in his nineties.
So, when I think of growing older, which role model do I choose? My mother, bereaved and with an ever-growing sadness at the loss of her physical prowess? My ex-supervisor, esteemed by her peers, who had a good life and a loving husband, yet was later struck down by dementia? Or my ex-volunteer, refusing to sit down in his nineties? I guess the choice is mine. I may not be able to choose what happens to my body or my mind, but I can choose to stand on my own two feet for as long as I can, walking towards the very best in life. I can choose to ramble.