Sex

 

I hesitated before writing about this topic. For a start, I did not want some smutty fella doing a search for the topic and possibly using a photograph of me to – well, you know.  Eeeuuuwwww!

In addition, I did not want to have to reveal my own position on sex in older age, though I am sure the very fact that I am writing about it might make some of you wonder.  So I will say it now.  I am not about to tell you anything about my own sex life or lack thereof.  Sorry if that disappoints.  You are perfectly at liberty to stop reading right away.

So why is this topic important?

Well, for a start-off, I am sure there are still lots of ageist attitudes out there about older people and sex.  We should not really be doing it, and if we must – well, per-leeeeeaaaaase!  Just don’t talk about it.  These ageist attitudes can then get internalised, and as older people we can feel a bit guilty if we are ‘doing it’.

Of course, these assumptions that sex is just for the young can be useful to some older women.  For some women, it is a relief to be free of having to respond sexually to a partner.  The reasons for this are legion: some women might find sex uncomfortable or even painful, for example due to a prolapse; others might no longer find their partner attractive, but not wish to split up; still others might feel tired or depressed; and for some women, sex has always been distressing due either to negative messages about sex during their formative years, or due to abusive experiences.  About a third of women over forty report low or no sexual desire according to one American study (http://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(11)00655-3/fulltext) and I would be the last person to suggest that those women are in some way abnormal, or should change to fit some kind of imposed norm.

However, there is a growing body of research about older people and sex which suggests that quite a lot of us are still having sex.  A longitudinal (1971 to 2000) Swedish study of 1506 people (946 of whom were women) showed that the proportion of 70-year-olds having sexual intercourse increased over this period in both married and unmarried people, and for both men and women.  Not only that, but those from later birth cohorts reported less sexual dysfunction and higher rates of sexual satisfaction.  In short, we are luckier than our mothers in how many of us seem to have a happy, healthy sex life (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2483873/).

Staggeringly, having regular sex is not uniformly good news.  A recent American study suggests that it might just put older men at risk of a heart attack, whereas it has the opposite effect for women in that it can help keep blood pressure at a healthy level (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160906084835.htm).

So, what are the risks for women, of sexual activity in older age?  Well, it depends who you do it with, and under what circumstances.  Older women might think less often than younger women about the risks of STDs including HIV and Hepatitis C.  Many older women might forget to take the usual precautions to ensure their safety, including insistence on using a condom.  They might think that since they cannot get pregnant, there is no need.  But given the good news that more of us are having sex, we can assume that more of us are also having more than one sexual partner in our lifetimes – who probably has also had more than one …

Alcohol plays a big part in putting older women at risk sexually, whether it is in forgetting (or not caring) about condoms, or not being on our guard enough to protect us from situations in which rapes can occur.  Some older women are lonely, making them more vulnerable.  Others are disabled and dependent on others for care.  None of us, whether old or young, gay or straight, woman of colour or ‘white’, disabled or able-bodied, is immune to the risk of sexual assault. I don’t want to be a downer or scare my sisters out there, but we all need to be vigilant.  And being out of your head on alcohol or drugs is not going to help you to do that.

I have found very little from my cursory searches that focussed on lesbian, bisexual or transgender older women and sex.  However, one study found that lesbians are more likely to orgasm during sexual activity than heterosexual women (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-017-0939-z). However, they also found that women who orgasm frequently were more likely to have oral sex, have sex that lasts longer, be happy in their relationships and be able to ask for what they want in bed.

Q.E.D.

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Climb every mountain?

I struggle sometimes.  Well, I struggle a fair  bit actually.  One of the things I struggle with is finding that happy balance we need as we get older, between giving up on physical activity and going for it in ways that might just cause a heart attack, injury or worse.
Let me give an example.  I write this while I am on holiday in South Africa.  A beautiful country, by the way, which I would not have visited had it not been for my oldest stepson falling in love with and marrying a lovely South African woman.  We came over for the wedding.  While staying in Cape Town, my husband and I agreed we wanted to walk up Table Mountain.  The last mountain I walked up was Ben Lomond in Queenstown, New Zealand in February 2016 – so roughly 19 months ago.  On that occasion, I got a laryngeal spasm, for the second time in roughly a week (the previous occasion being on a fairly steep but familiar hill, Queenstown Hill, when I was still recovering from a virus).  My first experience of a laryngeal spasm was a couple of years before this, walking up a very familiar hill in the UK which I had previously taken in my stride (pardon the pun).  On that first occasion, we were walking with some particularly fit friends.  I was embarrassed to be lagging behind, and so I pushed myself.  Nearing the top I got breathless and thought at first it was an asthma attack, but I found myself making a very scary rasping noise, unable to talk without sounding as if I might be breathing my last.  I know, I know, I am being dramatic.  My inhaler didn’t touch it, and my GP later diagnosed the incident as a laryngeal spasm.  
So, having now a history of laryngeal spasms when exerting myself on hills, and knowing I had not trained for this mountain hike, I was a little apprehensive about Table Mountain.  I made sure my husband knew where to find my inhaler in my backpack should I find it impossible to talk,  and warned him I would be taking it easy.  But let me tell you, the Platterklip Gorge is steep, with almost no relief from the constant climb.  

I took rests, drank water and ate frequent small amounts of chocolate.  However, I knew that if I was ever to reach the top I must get going as soon as possible after each brief rest.  My husband and I were the oldest people climbing that day.   The young people we passed were all very sweet, telling us we were doing well and bless them, openly amazed that such an old woman would even attempt such a climb.  
But sure enough, I spotted the early signs of a laryngeal spasm as I found myself clearing my throat repeatedly and swallowing frequently.  When I stopped, I was suddenly aware that my breathing had got a whole lot worse and when I tried to talk my voice had that familiar sound of someone with a very nasty throat condition.  By now we were about an hour and a half from the top, but the way down looked even more treacherous than the way ahead.  And so I went on, cross and embarrassed that I was holding us both up.
As I continued, I was also aware that I felt dizzy (especially if I looked round!), and after a while all four limbs began shaking.  But the views were to die for (I hoped I wouldn’t!), and eventually as we entered the gorge about 45 minutes from the top we encountered some welcome shade.  Here, I sat and ate one of my two sandwiches.  It tasted like the food of the gods.  
Finally, we reached the top.  I felt elated, high fived my husband, and we wandered around the top marvelling at the 365 degree views.  It had taken us two and a half hours to get there (including a stupid half hour detour).  Average time, in fact, though my hubby admitted later he could have shaved half an hour off that if he hadn’t been with me.  It was one of those peak experiences that I will never forget.
I wonder what my doctor would say?  Would he say I was foolish to attempt it, given how manifestly unfit I was, and my age?  Or would he secretly want to high five me?  My arthritic hip was painful for days afterwards and still has not fully recovered more than a week later.  It gets caught and clicks, painfully.  Have I made my arthritis worse?  Was I close to having a heart attack or stroke, given that my BP was probably through the roof?  Where is the advice for people my age who want to get fitter?  
Where is the line between a failure to accept the limitations of ageing, and giving up?  I am not yet ready to put on my slippers and watch daytime TV.  I want to live.  I want to have adventures while I can.  Should I worry, or just carry on doing crazy things?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I suspect I will keep on keeping on.  I am currently planning how I might get more used to hills and train to walk up to Scafell Pike next year, maybe doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks in one week (not one day, and not even consecutive days, in order to give my hip a break).  I am not daft (though my family might disagree with me).
I would love to hear your comments below.

Are you over 60, fit and healthy, or battling against physical limitations?

Do you find yourself wondering how to strike the balance between doing yourself harm through exercise, and doing yourself harm by not exercising?

Do you have specialist knowledge that might be useful to people in my situation?
Looking forward to hearing from you!

Grief and survival

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On Friday July 7th, 2017, at 22.05 I heard the house phone ring, and leaped up to answer it.

The voice on the other end confused me.  It sounded like my brother’s, but was too young.  For a while, I felt as if I was in a parallel universe, or had gone backwards in time.  I rather hesitantly asked who this was, feeling embarrassed and sure I should actually know.

The voice on the other end told me that this was my brother’s youngest son.  He told me he was ringing with sad news – that he had found my brother dead in his bed after being alerted by someone (my brother’s long term partner) who had been expecting him for the week-end.

What happened next was somewhat unreal.  I heard someone crying, and realised it was me.  I sort of felt my way to the sofa, aware that I was standing and my legs were giving out under me.  My husband quickly realised what had happened, and helped me to sit beside him, offering much needed physical contact. I had trouble taking in the news.  Even though I knew he had been ill, the shock hit me like an express train.  For a split second, I wondered if this was a joke (but my nephew would never be that cruel), or maybe I was dreaming (but no, this felt too shocking to be a dream).  I wanted time to adjust. Some kind of warning, as there was for both Mum and Dad, who were taken into hospital and died later.  It felt so final.  One day, my brother was alive, and the next he had gone to bed and never woken up.

I spent the next day in a daze, but I had things to do.  Most pressing was the fact that this was the week-end, and at 9 am on the Monday morning I was due to begin examining a PhD in another part of the country.  My husband and I quickly agreed that I could not let the candidate down; to have one’s viva cancelled at the last minute would be awful.  And so, I packed my bag for travel on Sunday.  I met the other examiner at breakfast on the Monday morning, and warned him I might not be at my best.  The viva went smoothly, but I was relieved when it was over and I could go and rest on a nearby beach (which just happens to be where my parents used to live when they were alive together).  I could not actually rest, however.  I wandered around, like a small boat adrift at sea at the mercy of the currents.

I had arranged to stay with friends that night after the viva, and travel home on the Tuesday.  On the Tuesday morning, I began sneezing and streaming, and put it down to hay fever.  By Wednesday evening, after a stint of grandchild sitting, I developed a sore throat and started to feel unwell.  Then followed a long period during which I tried to keep on doing things (I tried lying in bed but it just made my back ache), battling a feeling of being totally wiped out, headachy, hot and cold, a throat like the night of the long knives, and then the cough set in.  Two weeks on from the first symptoms, I still feel lousy but the cough is loosening up a bit.  I have a GP appointment booked for tomorrow.  The phrase ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’ comes to mind.

During this time, I have had two lots of people come to stay, which was all pre-planned.  I could have asked them not to come, but I didn’t.  It was lovely to see them, even if I did find it harder than usual.  I went to bed early, and got up late.  People understood, for which I am grateful.

However, what this period has reminded me of, quite apart from how grief hits the body and not just the tear ducts, is how some people some of the time get it right in how they deal with others’ grief, while some people some of the time seem to miss the mark.  Not that there is a right and wrong way.  We all do grief differently, whatever the textbooks tell us.  Some of us want to talk, others want to be alone or avoid talking about their grief.  Some want to be touched physically, while others recoil from it.  All of this is normal.  However, from my own perspective both as someone who has been through grief a few times now and who has worked as a therapist with people who are grieving, I can offer a few tentative pointers about how to respond to others’ grief.

First of all, do offer your condolences.  Some people find it very hard to know how to do this, but I have been touched by simple Facebook messages saying ‘I was so sorry to hear about your brother / so sorry for your loss, Bonnie,’ followed by something caring like ‘I do hope you are able to take care of yourself at this difficult time.’  Unless you know the person shares a particular spiritual or religious belief with you, resist reassurances like ‘He is now up in heaven with the angels,’ which frankly makes me want to puke as it is based on mere superstition and is thus not at all reassuring to me.

Next, when you meet the person – and this is the really difficult one, I know – don’t run away / cross the road / hurry off with some lame excuse.  You might feel really awkward and wonder what to say, but as with the condolences I personally have appreciated it when my husband (who is a complete star) asks me how I am feeling, without expecting me to be OK, and then listens rather than talks.  Asking if the person wants to be alone, or with people, in silence or talking can also be a good start.  Would the person appreciate a short walk with you?  If they want to talk, what do they want the conversation to be about?  Would they prefer to avoid the topic of the person they have lost?  Or maybe to talk about her or him?  You can reassure the bereaved person that they don’t have to be a particular way (some of us laugh, somewhat hysterically, or to take a break from active grieving).  Tell them they can ramble on, or be silent, talk about something very specific that is bothering them, or watch a romcom (or anything else, for that matter).  But don’t, whatever you do, try to fix anything.  That is not your job.  If they regret that row they had in the morning, just listen, show you care about how they are feeling, but don’t give false reassurances.  Or any reassurances.  Oh, and don’t use this as an excuse to tell the bereaved person all about your third cousin twice removed, who also lost their brother / sister / parent / lover.

Be honest about your availability.  When someone is bereaved, typically the family swarms round them, not wanting them to be alone for a minute.  But families can’t usually keep that up.  By all means, stay the first night if your loved one isn’t ready to be alone.  But make it clear that you are offering this for the first night.  Oh, and do ask.  They might not want it.  Don’t tire yourself out so that you feel resentful and then start getting snappy.  That simply is not worth it, to anyone.  But when you can, offer practical help.  Is there anything that feels too much right now, that you can reasonably take off the bereaved person’s ‘to do’ list?

We have yet to have the funeral for my brother – another hurdle to face.  His ashes will be committed at sea (he was a naval man), but I don’t need a place to go in order to feel close to him.  As with my parents, I find myself saying and doing things that are like him, and I have a little chuckle to myself when that happens (usually followed by tears, but that is normal).  In addition to the sea he loved a particular part of Yorkshire, where he worked voluntarily on a railway.  I might go there some time.  My brother loved trains.  The last time I saw him, he was waving me good-bye on the station as my train pulled out.  That is how I wish to remember him.  Waving to me as I pull out of a station.

 

Good enough

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Today, I have been mostly grateful for just being good enough.

Now, that is not a statement I could have made a few years ago.  You see, I am – no, I used to be – one of life’s perfectionists.  Let me tell you two things that happened this week.

I have to go back a bit. In January, I started two things.  I joined a choir, and I gave up alcohol.  I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to give up alcohol for, but I joined Dry January to begin with.  I had done it before, but this time I had a different mind-set from the start.  I had been reading more about how there is no safe level of alcohol, now that the World Health Organisation has acknowledged it is a carcinogen (cancer-forming). For anyone who wants to read up about this, there is a recent article here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_and_cancer.  True, people usually under-report their drinking, making most of the epidemiological research flawed, but I was uneasy about taking that risk.  Then, I was aware that by drinking (and I only drank at week-ends mostly, but then I went over the ‘recommended’ limit), I was peeing out calcium and other nutrients, which is not good for my osteoporosis.

During Dry January, which is supported in the UK by the charity Alcohol Concern, I realised I would like to go on further this year. By chance, I saw a posting in the DJ Facebook group that mentioned another group called One Year No Beer.  And so, in February, I joined that, started their 90 day challenge, and have not looked back.  They have a Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/Oneyearnobeer/?fref=nf), and run challenges for which a charge is made but other resources are available to assist you in making the change.

I was, frankly, amazed at what changed for me.  I could list everything, and certainly while my health has steadily improved in ways I could not envisage, I think the most surprising changes have been in me, and in my relationships.  My husband says I am much nicer to him, for a start!

As I said, the other thing I did in January was to join a choir; the Hallé Choral Academy.  The Hallé choir is a highly respected amateur choir (http://www.halle.co.uk/the-halle-family/halle-choir/), but that was not the one I was singing with!  As a rusty older woman, I joined the Academy, which ran for the first time this year from January to June, culminating in a performance at the amazing Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, which was a week ago today (June 23rd, 2017).  It was the most amazing feeling, to be standing up singing in the choir stalls, behind the orchestra, to about a thousand people; an experience I would not have dreamed was possible until I heard of the Academy and joined it.

Which leads me on to this week.  Or rather, first of all this month.  As part of On Year No Beer, a wonderful participant called Sally Wilkinson, who runs her own juicing and fitness business (https://www.facebook.com/getfitterwithsally), very generously took those of us who committed to do so through an amazing process, building up to a five minute ‘plank’ over the whole month.  I completed that today, with much huffing and puffing and going to my knees and what-not, but I did it.  One might say, I did it my way!

The other thing I did this week was to audition for the Hallé choir.  Some might say I was mad, and I might have been, given that I don’t have to put myself through stressful auditions at my time of life, but I realised that if I did not have a go I might always wonder if I could have done it.  To cut a long story short, my nerves got the better of me, and I was turned down.  It felt like a blow to my ego, but my lovely hubby was proud of me for trying, and he was right.  I had a go.

What both of these experiences reinforce for me, is that whilst I do not actually believe the rubbish spouted about anything being possible (we all have limitations), I do know that if you do nothing, nothing happens – or rather, what happens is not within your control.  I had a go.  I didn’t get into the choir, but that means I am not over-filling my time even more than I already do.  And I probably will never again do a five minute plank, but at least now I know I can do a minute.  I couldn’t have done that before.

And I’m still not drinking.  And do you know what?  I don’t miss it.  I am living life, with bells and whistles.  And I am not peeing out my calcium.

Light in the darkness

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I have been troubled of late.  Recently, there have been terrorist attacks in my home city of Manchester (on May 22nd 2017), and then when I was in London recently there was another one on June 3rd – in an area where I had been walking only the day before, and through which I had travelled by train just earlier that day.  Both were horrific attacks, condemned by all decent people.  Both cities responded with strength, love and determination to overcome the trauma that had hit them, but the attacks have left their scars.

I also have been troubled for much longer however, by what I see as a creeping move towards an ‘I’m alright Jack, pull up the ladder’ kind of mentality.  Interestingly, this is in contrast to the outpourings of love I have seen in Manchester since the attack.  But I can’t ignore it, and I can’t ignore the creeping racism that comes after each such attack.  It seems that we can only love each other if we hate someone else.

Recently, I decided that I need to get up earlier, in order to develop a morning routine for myself that allows for me to engage in my spiritual practice, as well as some morning exercise and some chance to get some writing done (I am writing a novel as well as this blog).  The first day did not go well.  I was dizzy all day, and seriously wondered if I was doing the right thing.  But it was great to be able to meditate early in the day, for twenty full minutes.  Today is day four of my new routine, and in my meditation this morning I found as usual that my mind wandered.  Today, it is hard not to be pre-occupied as Britain goes to the polls.  I found myself feeling uneasy.  Being interested in the mind-body connection I decided to follow the feeling that had developed in my stomach, to see what it was telling me.  I quickly recognised the familiar feeling of not getting it ‘right’, not being good enough, and wanting so much to be good enough.  Sigh.  I often say that one of the benefits of getting older is that I no longer feel the need to please and impress – but this is only partially true.  I am much, much better at being honest about my own needs than I used to, but I have a long way to go.  For example, yesterday when I was in a Nordic walking group for the first time (they had all been doing it for years) I was at great pains to do it properly, to keep up, and not to complain about my hip hurting.

Once I recognised this old familiar pattern today in my meditation, I could let it go.  Immediately, I felt easier, and the tension in my stomach disappeared.  I found myself smiling serenely as I went deeper into my meditation.  I was just enjoying the bliss when two things happened:  my husband called up urgently, reminding me that we needed to vote before I went off to my clinical supervision; and the phone went very soon after this, offering me a place in today’s beginners’ Pilates class.  And so, I only got 15 minutes in, instead of 20.  But 15 minutes well spent.

Perhaps I will eventually learn to be more loving and kind to myself.  I know full well that I need it.  Someone recently wondered aloud on Facebook how to foster resilience in the face of these terror attacks.  I responded from what I know, as a Quaker:  Be open to the Light, in both yourself and others.  So what does this mean?  Well for me, if I take this intention seriously I have to look for what is good in life, and welcome it with gratitude – not ignoring the pain and suffering of others, but doing what I can and not getting caught up in suffering along with everyone. That is hard for me.  I tend to feel others’ pain, perhaps a bit too much.  But if I don’t heal my own spirit, how can I be there for others?  And how can I bear witness to the Light within each and every person I meet?  That Light might seem pretty small and distant in some people who are intent on hate, but I do believe it is there somewhere, if only as a potential.  Some people have been so badly hurt that they find it hard to reconnect with the place in themselves that was once there as a baby, when they first learned to smile at a smiling face – the place of recognition that can blossom into love.  We all had that innocence once.

And so, I will stay connected, if falteringly, to the Light within, the Light around us, the Light in others I meet – the Light that connects and binds us to each other, in love.  And I will keep on working on not needing to please.  There has to be some advantage to getting older, right?

Worker bees

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I was feeling a bit miserable when I woke up this morning.  Today I have been missing one very important thing about my former work life; that wonderful feeling of being involved in the transformation of lives.  I felt proud of each student as they left around this time of year.  They were all, without exception, very different from when they started their courses three years previously.  I was a part of their transformative learning for thirteen years, and it is a hard thing to let go of.

I became curious about why I didn’t feel like this last year.  Well, last year retirement was still new and I was still finding out what it meant, I guess.  We had not long got back from our ‘big trip’, and I was delighting in having time to pursue all kinds of hobbies, including creative writing; I was just finishing off a completely free futurelearn course this time last year (If anyone fancies following that one up you can find it here:  https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/start-writing-fiction).  I was all fired up, after that.

So, I had a buffer last year.  This year, I miss my students.  Funnily enough, I am meeting one of them later this week, which is nice, but I miss that sense of purpose I had – a reason to get up and get dressed each day.

Of course, another reason I might be feeling a bit low is that it has also been a pretty hard time recently for those of us who live in Manchester.  On May 22nd a suicide bomber killed 22 people at Manchester Arena, at an Ariana Grande concert.  Some of them were parents collecting their kids, and the youngest victim was eight years old.  Manchester folk won’t be defeated, and there have been many wonderful examples of random acts of kindness following this awful event.  The worker bee (above), the symbol of Manchester for many years, has become a symbol of hope after hate. But the atrocity has shaken many of us.

Well, I never promised you that every post would be positive, did I?  I don’t think I am depressed, but I know I have to get a grip so that I don’t become it!

Anyway, I decided today to get on my bike.  I haven’t ridden it for about a year, since my diagnosis of osteoarthritis in my right hip.  I had read or heard that cycling was not a good idea, but recently I have seen a physio for my left shoulder impingement, and I asked him for advice about my hip.  He kindly gave me several booklets from arthritis research (http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/shop/products/publications.aspx). In them, I learned that cycling is actually encouraged, which perked me up no end.

I thought I had better take it easy, so I pushed it up the hill from our house, before getting on and peddling.  I had forgotten how to use the gears, added to which the chain was rusty (note to self:  keep oiling!), so it took a bit of getting used to (I pulled on the break instead of changing gear at one point – luckily did not go over the handlebars!).

I went past an old lady, who was sitting on a bench.  She had a dog, who was sniffing and wagging nearby, as they do.  I said a cheery hello as I cycled past, and then I decided to turn round and have a chat.

I found out her name is Selina, and she is 89.  I asked her if she knew what the internet is.  She said yes, though she hasn’t used it.  I explained the concept of blogging, and she gave me permission to use her picture and tell her story.  Selina is a twin.  Her sister’s name is Florence, and they live together, not far from me (their mother was called Selina Florence).  About ten years ago, she fell and broke her hip, and was in hospital for about ten weeks.  Her daughter, who is in her fifties right now, took the dog in, and when her mother came out of hospital she suggested they share the care of the dog.  The daughter used to be a dresser at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon, but moved to be near her mother and auntie so that she could care for them.  She had hoped for a job in a Manchester theatre, but it never worked out.

Selina’s daughter is typical of so many women in the prime of their lives, and often much older, caring for even older relatives.  A recent newspaper article (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2818298/Burden-caring-family-takes-toll-women-50s-Health-suffers-juggle-responsibilities.html) reports research by the University of London which suggests that there is a significant negative effect on women’s health when they care for others in this way.  Some women in that age-group find themselves sandwiched between caring for their parents and caring for their grandchildren, as people live longer and child care costs become a strain on young families.

Selina is lucky, not only in that she has a daughter to care for her.  I don’t want to suggest that all caring is negative; I am sure Selina’s daughter is happy to do care for her mum.  Selina also lives with her sister, which further protects her against the loneliness that comes often with old age.  Loneliness in oder age is, according to one study, twice as likely to kill you as obestity (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/feb/16/loneliness-twice-as-unhealthy-as-obesity-older-people). But then, poverty is an even bigger killer …

So, to end this cheery blog post: women like Selina are role models in more than one way.  She sits on her bench and waves a cheery hello to anyone and everyone.  She keeps as active as she can, despite having broken her hip some years ago.  She sees her daughter regularly, and feels cared for.  And she lives with her sister – a very precious gift.  Incidentally, her sister smokes and drinks, which Selina does not.  Both are still alive at 89.  Which kind of underlines the importance of positive human contact in older age.  I just wish that the improvement in Selina’s chances of living healthily into older age could be mirrored in her daughter’s.  That daughter, whatever she gains from her role as carer, has given up a lot, including the job she obviously loved.  I do hope she also feels cared for, by someone.

You rock

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I have been thinking lately, about how we are all potential role models.  No.  We ARE all role models.  That is a huge leap for me.  It means I have to accept responsibility for the way I am, knowing that I might just be shining a light for someone else, or if I am not careful leading someone in the wrong direction.

On January 1st 2017, I gave up alcohol.  Initially, I did so for a month – Dry January has become a thing that many people do, and I knew from experience that it would be difficult but rewarding.  I have, or had, several health conditions that I knew to be exacerbated by alcohol, and I had become increasingly concerned about the news that it is also a carcinogen.  In fact, in 2015 (the most recently released figures), there were 8,758 deaths associated with alcohol in the UK; that is 14.2 deaths per 100,000 adults.  While the rate is higher for men than women, the highest rates are in the 55-64 age bracket (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/causesofdeath/bulletins/alcoholrelateddeathsintheunitedkingdom/registeredin2015).  I am 64.

During Dry January, I became increasingly aware that I wanted to take it further this time, but I was concerned about needing support.  I came across One Year No Beer (https://www.facebook.com/groups/199505820380513/), on recommendation from another DJ-er.  The support I found there, and the extra support I gained from paying the small one-off fee for extra support, was transformational. I have genuinely found that the longer I stay Alcohol Free (AF), the more my life rocks.  And the more I rock you rock, and the world rocks.

Which leads me on to my responsibility.  I am beginning to share in this blog what I have learned and am learning, in the hope that it can shine some light in someone else’s darkness, or maybe just make it easier to see that needle and thread.

One of the things I have been thinking about lately, is that when we get rid of something addictive, we miss the dopamine rush we get in our brains when we indulge in that addiction.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, released when we experience something pleasurable.  When something makes us release it, we want to go back for more – which is why it is so hard to give up something like alcohol!  In addition, we develop a myriad associations with drinking, which become triggers for the craving.  We drink because we want to celebrate, because we are sad, because we are angry, because we want to be sociable, because the sun comes out, or because we are on holiday or it is the end of a long working week.  Undoing each and every one of those associations is like untangling the wires you find behind your computer desk, then rewiring each plug.  Only a lot more difficult.

So how can we begin this rewiring?  Well, the answer I feel lies in the dopamine.  Lots of people I have made virtual friends with on this journey engage in 5 k runs and other hard core exercise.  I do love a bit of exercise-induced endorphins, but sometimes I just want to have fun!  So, I am seeking more and more of the fun stuff in life, to get it into my brain (literally!) that there is more to life than alcohol.  In fact, and I often repeat this to myself, alcohol never made anything better!  But walking in the sunshine and looking at the view from the top of the hill – well, that is magic!  As is dancing my socks off.  Sitting and having a cuppa with a friend.  Reading a good book.  I could go on.

So, my challenge to you, dear reader, is twofold:

  1. Find something that rocks your world. Find that (healthy) dopamine rush.  Comment below on what that might be.
  2. And remember: you are a role model.  You rock. What are you going to do with that knowledge?

 

Medicine Man

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I have had a good week.

I have been on two walks, each about 6.5 miles.  One of these was absolutely stunning, and both were from outside our own front door.  We are very lucky to live in the Pennine foothills.

In addition to the walks, I have had time with all four of the UK based grandchildren, been involved in a Hallé Choir Academy rehearsal in Manchester, participated in a very good yoga class at my nearby municipal leisure centre, coloured my hair a fetching bright copper colour, been to a comedy night at the pub down the road, and attended three excellent classical music concerts in Manchester, two of which were free.  I have also done a bit of work (seen a supervisee and two clients).  And, I have seen my GP.

I first went to see the GP a few weeks ago.  My daughter and her brood went back to New Zealand (again) on 27th March, 2017, shortly after our youngest son moved out (again) on March 21st.  And so, in early April, my husband and I were busy re-organising, cleaning and shifting furniture in the three bedrooms they had all occupied.  I noticed myself becoming a bit dizzy, as I often do on exertion these days.  I have always had a tendency to postural hypotension (my blood pressure suddenly drops when I stand up quickly, and I feel a bit dizzy), but I have never actually fainted with it.  I have noticed that it has got a bit worse of late, especially when I am charging around like a two year old.  On this occasion, I had to suddenly lie down in the middle of the landing, because if I had not, I would have fainted.  And so, I saw the doc.

He duly ordered a baseline ECG, and some blood tests.  I mentioned that I was also thinking about asking for a referral to the local osteoporosis clinic, since I was diagnosed in 2010 and have so far resisted medication.  In truth, I thought it might be a way to get them to do another bone density scan, because I had been refused any more of those by one of the other GPs after my last scan results.  His view was, I have the diagnosis and I should therefore take the treatment.  The trouble is, that our mum was stuck on the usual treatment (alendronic acid) and forgotten about.  It made her vomit every morning, and did nothing to stop her suffering repeated spinal fractures, which left her bent every which way.  I am very, very wary of the stuff.  So instead, I had deliberately been requesting the scans every two years or so, plotting the results on a graph, and doing everything I could to self-manage.  This includes weight bearing exercise, eating prunes (for the Boron), and taking an expensive supplement that contains easily digestible calcium, vitamins D3 and K2, and magnesium.  My bone density in 2015 was no worse in my spine than in 2011, and actually better in my hips.  My hips have never been osteoporotic, and in fact were better in 2015 than in 2008.  I put this down to all the walking I do. I confess I felt pretty pleased with myself, but when I was told I could have no more scans it worried me.  How would I know when and if my self-management was no longer working?

My GP and I agreed it was not worth me being referred, until we knew what was going on with my dizzy spells.  And so, here I was on Friday of this week (yesterday, in fact), seeing the doc for my results.

Well, surprise, surprise, all the bloods were fine, and so was my ECG.  I thought that might be the case, actually.  I am just getting older!  And still pounding the hills.  And so, I brought up the issue of my osteoporosis, and a possible referral.  My GP looked at me, and asked: ‘If they give you alendronic acid, what will you do?’ I think he is getting to know me by now.  I had to admit, that I would probably refuse.  However, I did say that my personal cut-off point is a T score of -3.  In other words, if my bone density gets so bad that my bone density is three standard deviations below that of a 30 year old, I will take the dreaded drugs.  A score of -2.5 constitutes osteoporosis.

And so, much to my surprise, my GP suggested that the best thing to do would be to send me for another scan – and then when the results come back, we will look at them together.  And so, that is what is going to happen.  I confess, I was amazed.  He is such a lovely chap, and very respectful.  I don’t want to do him a disservice.  He is a very kind man, and probably would be this lovely with any patient.  I can’t help wondering, though, what would happen if I did not have such a lovely GP?  What if I were not white, middle class, well-educated and articulate?  How often, I wonder, do women of my age get put on these drugs and forgotten about, just as my mother was? And if I had dementia, would anyone be able to advocate for me?  It doesn’t bear thinking about. That day might come, but in the meantime, I will continue to do what I can, to protect my bones and enjoy life to the full.

I am always interested to hear about others’ experience with the issues I am writing about.  Please do feel free to comment, on this or any other blog posts you see here.

Women blazing a trail

me and phil in shadow_29.4.17 on marsden moorToday, I was out walking with my hubby in the hills near where we live.  For those that know Northern England, this was the Pennine hills.  We parked at Greenfield, walked along the canal to Diggle, then over the tops to Marsden, from where we got a train back to Greenfield – 6.6 miles in all.

Much to my delight, as we began to rise out of Diggle we came across some runners.  They were running back towards Diggle, and we learned that this was what is known as the cake race:  http://www.fellrunner.org.uk/races.php?id=4914. It works out as just shy of 10 miles, which is quite a run over the hills.  According to the Manchester Evening News (http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/oldham-saddleworth-runners-cook-up-7111366), some of the runners also bake cakes, which are judged while they are running, and which entitles them to run for free.

I don’t run these days, not that I was ever a fell runner.  I used to run for the train when I worked for the University of Leeds, because I always left the office too late and so it became a necessity.  It was when still working in Leeds that I started noticing the pain in my right hip as I charged along towards the station.  At first, it felt as if my right buttock was going into spasm.  It wasn’t until much later that I realised it was all part and parcel of the start of arthritis.

These days, I walk with two poles, which makes me very trendy.  Almost Nordic, you might say.  It is recommended for arthritic hips, as it helps to take some of the strain off the joint – though I have to say, that when mucking about and taking all my weight on my poles last august, I managed to injure my shoulder, just before going off to New Zealand to support my daughter who was having twins and needed help with her two-year-old.  D’oh!

walking on marsden moor 29.4.17Anyway, back to today. I have to admit that most of the runners were men, and in a certain age group – but I was delighted to see a few women among them.  I made a point of congratulating each one as she passed.  I do hope I did not sound patronising in my feeble attempts at solidarity.

And then, my heroine appeared.  I have no idea what she is called, but she gave me permission to take her pic and use it in my blog.  OK, she was fairly near the back, but what an inspiration!

older runner marsden moor 29.4.17

As it happens, I was recently listening to BBC radio 4 (we are so blessed to have intelligent radio in the UK!), and I learned something staggering about women and long distance running, so I followed it up with my own research.  According to one seemingly reliable source (http://www.marathonguide.com/history/olympicmarathons/chapter25.cfm) it was not until the 1980s that women’s long distance races were included in the olympics – a fact I find staggering!  Prior to that, the longest women’s race was the 1500 metres, and that was only introduced in 1972!  Women were deemed too fragile and weak to run very far.  Sadly, it seems that women are still rare in the longer and more arduous races, despite the fact that we now thankfully know they are not too weak to run.

Whether or not we choose to enter long distance running races, exercise is so important as you get older, and never more so than when you have some of the conditions we associate with ageing as a woman, like osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.  I didn’t want to hold up this wonderful woman by interviewing her, and so I don’t know her motivation for running.

What I do know, is that number 51 is blazing a trail, whether she realises it or not.  All I can do is walk in her shadow, and feel pleased with my average of 2.5 miles an hour, over a total of 6.6 miles.

About time

 

I am not sure what has been happening lately, but time and I seem to have fallen out.

The first thing that happened, was that when my hubby and I went to the cinema recently to watch a live streamed RSC Julius Caesar (wonderful, by the way!), I was sure that the advertising I had read said that it started promptly at 7 and ran for two hours straight, finishing at 9.  So, we parked in a car park which allowed for three hours for free.  On the way in, we clocked that it had read our number plate and helpfully told us we must be out of there by 9.35.  Bags of time.

However, when act 3 started at 8.50, we started to wonder if I had got it wrong.  We had a quick chat about it, as there was an interval between acts 2 and 3 (surprise!), and we decided we would just have to hope.  When we got out of the cinema, it was well gone 10 pm.  My hubby read the rules that were clearly up in the car park.  A fine of £70 for outstaying one’s welcome.  Oh dear.

The next time we were due to go out, which was last night, we both felt the need for an afternoon snooze as neither of us had had a wonderfully long sleep the night before, and we were due to be out late.  We had agreed we would leave at 5.30 pm, to go to some new music at the Royal Northern College of Music (once again, absolutely wonderful!  And free!). I reassured hubby that I had set the alarm (which sits on my side of the bed) for 5 pm, and we both drifted off into a contented sleep (me after him, because I am such a fidget bottom).

At 5.20 pm, I opened my eyes.  I had set the alarm for 5 am, not pm.  Oh dear again.

Today, I was seeing one of my clients for counselling / psychotherapy.  As I was ending the session I noticed that she glanced meaningfully at the clock.  And then I realised.  I had given her an hour, whereas our sessions are usually 50 minutes.  Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

So, what is it about me and time right now?  I have been wracking my brains, but I cannot understand it.  If I was going to be all psychodynamic about it, I would wonder whether I am trying to ignore time, because I am concerned about its passage.  I suppose that is possible, but I doubt it somehow.

I did a quick search for ‘why do I lose track of time’ on one of the major search engines, and it came up with some pretty alarming stuff.  Apparently, I am losing track of my life.  Or, I could have dissociative amnesia.  But then, that seems to be associated with Dissociative Identity Disorder and the kind of amnesia some of my clients have demonstrated, about abuse experienced as children.  No, that is not me.  Ah, but wait a minute.  I could be depressed.  Maybe that’s it.  I know that you can be depressed without knowing it.  I was, once.  Just felt rubbish, like a very bad hangover.  But I feel fine.  So, no, I am not depressed.

Of course, my greatest fear is that this heralds the onset of the dreaded dementia.  So, like a dog with a bone I decided to search ‘losing track of time and dementia’.  I immediately found a publication put out by the Mental Health Foundation called Losing track of time, but it turned out to be about the ageing prison population.

I eventually gave up.  The losing track of time associated with dementia is all about thinking that things that happened a long time ago were far more recent.  I am not there, yet.  So I guess it is back to the drawing board.  I will just have to concentrate more, when setting the alarm or checking when things finish, or watching the clock for the end of a very interesting therapy session with a lovely client.

But then again, maybe I just need to forgive myself.  After all, I am getting older.  Sometimes, the things I could do perfectly easily even a year ago, seem more of a challenge these days.  A serene self-acceptance is called for.  I must work on that!

At least I can still go walking in them thar hills.  Which reminds me.  I must get out for a walk tomorrow.  That will make me feel a whole lot better, I feel sure.  I must remember to take my watch.  But no.  The battery is going in that.  Oh, well.  Time is just a human construct, anyway.