One writer’s article underscores for me how we hand our lives over to fear or we use that fear as motivation
Earlier today I read a difficult article by a fellow aging person who wrote how they’re afraid to go places, whether by foot or bike or car or bus or train. As with other articles that feed the downward spiral narrative around aging, I am not going to link to it for I don’t wish for this to feel like a callout or a condemnation. It’s neither. However, as I have done with similar, this is a contrast.
In no way am I saying that being fearful is wrong or stupid. I have plenty of my own. I would offer that such fears are precisely where we get to look, make changes, or else be driven further into a limited life by those fears.
But first, if I may, a glimpse into my world:
The email landed sometime in the middle of the night. I had read it by 4 am, and by 4:15 I already had some flights selected on United. I am invited back to Africa. I. Can’t. Wait.
Let me say that again. I CAN’T WAIT.
I will be spending about a month between Kenya and Tanzania. I am triple vaccinated, will be wearing masks the whole time. In and around rhinos and big horses and all kinds of huge animals, clambering in and out of big corrals full of cattle getting treated for ticks, you name it. I’ve got a lot of reporting to do on one of the best conservation facilities in the world.
I CAN’T WAIT.
I will probably fall a few times. Fine by me. Because I am constantly practicing getting back up. There are some very, very good exercises for that. Stay with me here. At 68, I am very, very, very good at falling. I’m even better at leaping back up. I practice it regularly.
If you will forgive my pointing out the very obvious, for those of us later in life, such exercises are even more important. While the old saw of “Help, I’ve fallen down and I can’t get back up” is funny in a comedy routine, wait til it happens to you.
You really want that to be you? Then my suggestion is to train to be able to get back up. But that’s just me. Here’s one move: Turkish get-ups. I do not use a heavy kettlebell, yet. I do use body weight, and am working up to the kettlebells. I didn’t say it was easy. However, you master this, you will not be afraid to fall again.
This is one of THE best exercises for anyone, any age, any program. It is a full body movement which guarantees that if you take a header in your bathroom the way I take headers off horses, as long as you are still conscious, you’ve got a fighting chance to get on your feet.
There are other, easier ones. Start with your physical therapist. Or don’t. That’s up to you.
Falling is part of life. Why? Well, gravity. In my case, because I’m stupid, make bad decisions and am quite happy to clamber up a rickety ladder to clean my own gutters. I would never tell you to do what I do. But here’s the piece:
Fear doesn’t have to part of everyday walking, bike riding, climbing stairs. It just doesn’t. Building body confidence is available for most of us, unless you’ve already crippled yourself by giving up. Or, if you are disabled, which many are. That is not the cohort I’m addressing.
I’m talking to those of us who are disabling ourselves with utterly unreasonable fear.
It’s one thing to fear, or in my case, have very real respect for, the existential dread of Covid and the Covidiots who utterly refused to believe that a) it exists and b) they’re dying of it, and c) they’re spreading it along the way. That’s real, but after vaccinations, come on, man. Mask up for safety, I do, and get thee back into the world. But that’s just me.
This is different. This is about talking yourself into being scared to walk or ride or bike or shop. Or travel or drive or fly. Those are choices. Choices.
Let’s go back to falling, which many older folks fear, not without cause.
I read another Medium commenter who had returned to Aikido recently. He was inspired by one of my fellow Crow’s Feet writers. He doesn’t expect to win trophies. However, his comment, which stuck with me, is that Aikido taught him how to fall .
Let me say that again. Martial arts teaches you how to fall.
At any age. That is one hell of a skill. Years ago I learned how to do a PLF, or parachute landing fall. Any military paratrooper knows that move. Without going into detail, the simplest way to explain it is that you use your entire body to land, roll, and distribute the impact your landing from one foot to the opposite shoulder. Some folks leaping from several stories (they had good reason) used this to survive. They broke bones. And they survived. Learning how to fall, and learning how to get up, are life stills. Life skills. The better I am at them, the less fearful I am of falling.
Too many older folks fall because of polypharmacy, or mixing scripts with drug store chemicals, and not taking care of their health. Read, sit, eat, watch TV, sit, eat, read, watch TV. That is a recipe for a seriously untrustworthy body. An unworked, un-exercised body that is fed crap food will fail you.
I will say it again. Those are choices. Some of us have better or different choices, but they are still choices.
Just to prove the point about choices, let me share a smart piece by Element’s
Markham Heid, which speaks to how we allow things to convince that it’s awful, when it really isn’t:
Why the World Always Seems to Be Getting Worse — Even When It’s Not
Neuroscientists may have identified a brain quirk that encourages pessimism.
From his article:
If you’re exposing your brain to a steady stream of content that is excessively angry, snarky, aggrieved, despondent, politically preoccupied, or otherwise lopsided, these attributes will gradually saturate your reality. Your brain will detect them everywhere.
The way I see it, we can just as easily talk ourselves into trying a new sport as we can convincing ourselves that there are monsters behind every Starbucks bathroom door. Okay, well, there are, but don’t tell anyone.
When I head out to Africa or Mongolia or Argentina or wherever I am off to, I guaran-damn-tee you I will fall. I will come off my horse, I will do a header into a ditch. Fall out of a tree. It’s life. I live that life. That life gives me a serious case of the guffaws, the giggles, and the holy shits. Being willing to be fully in life with all the terrors and tumbles and tush-bumps that are an inevitable part of living on the knife edge is what inspires me.
I have been and will return to places where there are more deadly fish, snakes, scorpions and spiders than you can possibly imagine. And? So? Your point?
One woman wrote me recently that a home hack that I suggested could set my house on fire. Shit man, I set my hair on fire one Christmas by leaning into a candle.
Like I said, I’m stupid and I make bad decisions. But here I still am. Planning like mad to be on my way to Nairobi in about a month so I can go rub rhino ass again.
Ol Pejeta Conservatory. Julia and a buddy. Julia Hubbel
I don’t expect you to live that life. I don’t expect you to want to live that life. That’s my job. As it’s my job to make fun of the stupid shit I do, but also point out the simple, and remarkably easy things you can do to increase your life quality. Like practicing getting up and down out of a chair until it’s effortless. Until you don’t need to pull yourself up or use a cane. You can do this.
My getting up is usually after falling down some concrete steps. I’ve done it. It was hilarious. Busted a lot of bones. But it’s one of my funniest stories. I got up, walked up four flights of stairs with a double pelvic fracture, another concussion, broken wrist and elbow. Got to safety. My kind of trip. Ass over teakettle, sixteen stairs. My guess is that my blood is still on those stairs six years later. There was a lot of it.
I CAN’T WAIT.
This likely isn’t you. Nor is this comment or article intended to lash you into believing it should be you. Not that at all. However.
I discussed this with my fifty-ish riding trainer today. She’s got two very bad knees. She has no insurance and lives off her riding training income. Nine horses, lots of bills. She’d do anything to have decent knees. Yet she’s up at dawn every single day, stacking hay, cleaning stalls, tacking up her horses. She’s no spring chicken. When I told her that I was reading about folks who are afraid to go out into the world AND they have perfectly good knees, insurance, a working bike or two (she doesn’t), she was gobsmacked.
I don’t argue that folks can talk themselves into believing the world is a dangerous place.
Can be. I’m out in that big bad world all the time. Been hurt by it, been hurt in it. Still standing, still running, hiking, biking, swimming, body building, riding horses at nearly 70. That’s not a statement of superiority. It is simply a statement of choices. I love going places. Might someone hit my car?
Might someone smack my bike? Sure.
Might someone…you get it. I can play that head game with you all day. However, I am not going to let fear cost me the time I have left. I am not going to let what I personally consider absolutely unjustified terror, and that is strictly my opinion, rob me of a full life.
Not in a million years would I want that for you, either, if for no other reason than you have kids and grandkids watching your example.
Being in shape, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically allow me to live in full, play in full, and recover fully when I do a faceplant. One thing I will not do is end up in bed with tubes in every orifice, facing down my last few hours, realizing that I had a million million options to fill those hours with so much life, and I allowed fear to freeze me in place. To suck the very life right out of me.
That is why I love stories about folks out getting it done. Share them. Because I get messages like this which remind me of why it is so very important that we uplift each other rather than validate each other’s fears:
Thanks for sharing these stories and pictures. The one constant in my own regularly changing fitness activities, started at 54 (now 65) as an effective and healthy way to deal with the overwhelming stress of a parent with a terminal illness, is reading the stories of others who have chosen a similar path. There is no end to discouragement so I latch on to all the encouragement out there to bring my mind and spirit along on my body’s ride.
Let’s bring each other along on the ride, folks. Because time does run out. And I have no interest in running from life for the rest of my existence while the sands of my seconds slip through my aging fingers.
For every second lost to fear is a moment of life lost to eternity, which we could otherwise fill with memories.