Tuesday, March 28, 2023

I'm ageing – and I'm appalled

She looked me over and said, "What a relief! We've been looking for an older counsellor. The students need a mother figure. You'll be an excellent addition to the team."

It was a dagger in my heart. As I was desperate for the job, I put on my best poker face and smiled. But afterwards I rushed to the loo and gazed in the mirror. I looked same as always. Nicer than usual, actually. I had lipstick on. And I'd brushed my hair.

"You're not so old," I muttered as I examined my face, searching for crow's feet.

That was eight years ago. Today I don't need to peer in the mirror to see lines. Actually, I do because I have to wear glasses now, but what I meant to say was that the fine lines have deepened. You can see them quite clearly from across the room, thank you very much. Also, the sprinkling of grey hair has expanded, dominating my fringe.

It's undeniable. I'm getting old. And for the record, I am not happy about it.

I'm not the only one. With declining fertility rates and increasing longevity, we have more old people than ever before. And like me, many are absolutely refusing to recognize the truth of their mirror.

Thanks to the collective hissy fit and rejection of reality, age is now the focus of a massive global positivity drive. Sixty is the new forty!

Well, on the inside I'm 32 but my back doesn't agree. The dratted thing packed in twice last year. The eyes aren't doing so hot either. I now have computer, book, and TV glasses. It's completely ridiculous. When I put on my computer glasses the other day and picked up a novel, I thought for a moment I'd gone blind.

While this does not happen to 32-year-olds, the adage that you're only as old as you feel now has scientific backing.  

A 2021 study of 2253 people by researchers of the Universities of Montpellier, France and Michigan, USA confirmed it: people who feel younger than their age, have a younger biological age.

It's weird, isn't it? I'm not into woo-woo, and so I was skeptical. But other work supports the idea.

A whole bunch of biomarkers, nicknamed "deep aging clocks", that include MRI brain scans and blood chemical analysis can assess and predict biological aging accurately.

In fact, some very clever people have been monitoring changes in DNA, so-called "epigenetic clocks", too.

And the consensus so far is this: while your actual age is important, your biological age is affected directly by the age you feel yourself to be on the inside.  

So it's probably excellent news that my internal mirror is a few decades behind. However, repressing reality isn't going so well for me.

When I set foot in the wet market, I'm 'auntied' mercilessly. Only the chicken butcher and the veggy bloke still call me sister.  Mind you, this may be because I'm a foot taller than both of them and have a steely glare, even at 7AM.

My mind keeps flashing back to when I was a teen.  I was taking a tube somewhere. London, perhaps, or maybe it was Madrid. Anyway, I stood up for an older gentleman, minding my manners and offering the cotton-top my seat.  

He glared, grumped, "I'm not THAT OLD!" and stomped off. I was mortified. Also miffed because a slick bloke slid into my spot and refused to move on the basis of, "Use it or lose it."

Well, my chickens have come home to roost. I can't go near the MRT now without some super civic kid smiling and acting helpful.  

While I'm horrified, my mate Michelle is making hay. She went off to get her booster jab and called me, cackling with triumph, from the health center.

"It's busy, with queues everywhere," she announced. "But guess what? There's an auntie line!"

"You haven't!" I said in awed horror.

"Have so," she cast back triumphantly. "They gave me a chair and they did my paperwork for me. All I had to do was sign and stick my arm out."

I've tried not to let that influence me. But the other day, when I was in the bank, bored out of my mind and looking at my number, 3128, I snuck a peek at the helpdesk.

Yes, I admit it freely. If there had been a clear sign to an auntie VIP pass, I may have caved. However, I wasn't wearing my glasses. And now they've replaced the sweet knowledgeable lady with a fiendishly complicated machine that's unhelpful in three languages, I couldn't be bothered to investigate. So, I waited my turn.

But I fear my denial will be vanquished by my loathing of queues. The next time I go, if I remember to think about it, I'm going to see about the auntie line.

As for the machine, if it tries to defeat me with its endless unfathomable questions, I will have to hope that the grey fringe and crow's feet prompt some helpful Gen-Z to jump in and rescue me.

Ageing sucks. But if it allows me to skip queues, I am willing to concede there are upsides.

Ellen Whyte is a British-registered counsellor and psychotherapist who loves to laugh and has a soft spot for cats. She founded an online practice in 2016, and works with clients in 20+ countries.