Why ageing scares me more than death

Sunday, 22 October 2017

A mural in Samcheong-deong, Seoul

"If it's time to go, it's time to go, what else can we do?"

My friend Julie put out this rhetorical question during a train ride where the driver kept repeating a "remain vigilant" announcement. When the terror alert gets raised in the UK you hear these kinds of things at stations and on public transport quite often.

Being two Londoners on a day trip out of town, our feelings were basically 'meh'. A woman sitting next to us seemed to heed the warning with much more concern. "See," she said to a girl we assumed was her teenage daughter, "you have to be careful these days."

And the teenager was like 'meh'.

Back to mine and Julie's very unhelpful conversation about death we were having next to this women. I pretty much echoed her sentiment. Death is the one guarantee for all of us, and once you're gone that's it. There's not a lot you can do about it.

I know my thoughts would probably be different if I had a major health problem or wasn't only 22 years old. But the reason I'm writing this morbid post is because I recently had the realisation that I'm more worried about getting older than I am about death, for a stupid amount of reasons. And then I started to wonder why.

The stupid amount of reasons include, but are not limited to:
  • Wrinkles
  • My body slowing down
  • My mind slowing down
  • Developing a range of illnesses
  • Having less free time
  • Feeling like I've wasted my time
  • Feeling like I've let my life go in a terrible direction
  • Feeling like I need to reach certain milestones at certain points in my life
  • Losing touch with friends/technology/pop culture

I know I'm being ridiculous. Seeing the thoughts laid out above especially make me know I'm being ridiculous. Worrying about wasting time is a waste of time. Having less free time won't necessarily be a bad thing if I like how I'm spending my non-free time (sidenote what's the real term for that?). Lives can be turned around. Wrinkles aren't even that bad, plus I'm pretty sure SK-II can fight that losing battle for a good amount of time.

I think what mostly makes me sad about ageing is ageing out of youth. It's not particularly easy to be a young person right now (hi terrible job and housing markets) but there's still a premium placed on youth. According to society, we look great, we're culturally relevant, and we have all the potential in the world or something like that. Meanwhile getting older is terrible, ending with us sitting alone in an old people's home unable to do anything for ourselves.

Society's really done itself a disservice by painting the beginning of people's lives as the peak and everything that comes after as a slow decline. Like a lot of people, I have the feeling I should be doing everything right now. Everything being enjoying crazy nights out, taking risks, yet still somehow putting together the foundations for a sensible life (again hi terrible job and housing markets). But I also had a thought hit me recently about why I worry about ageing more than I should: we're given the idea that ageing is something we can control.

Alongside being sold the concept of youth being The Greatest Time of Our Lives, ageing is presented as some sort of disease we can cure with the right products. We do have some power over the effects of ageing, of course. We all have to go at some point, but getting enough sleep, exercise, and generally maintaining a healthy lifestyle gives us a better chance at going down swinging. But then there are those natural indicators of age that adverts tell us we must 'fight': the grey hair, the dark spots, the damn wrinkles. For some reason, stopping them is our responsibility and completely achievable with the correct (expensive) tools.

Then I realised society is just ageist AF, particularly towards women. Ashton Applewhite's Ted Talk on ageism is a good eye-opener (and something I recommend watching if I've bummed you out too much with this post).

I guess I just need to approach ageing with the same nonchalance I have towards death. 

Now to focus on living.

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