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Embracing a Different Kind of Bad-Ass Aging

By Maggie Marangione January 18, 2023 Lifestyle

I got old too soon. I know what you are thinking, don’t we all. But I really did, or at least I felt like I did. Menopause at 46, debilitating arthritis that is causing my joints to be replaced, and let’s not even begin to talk about what happened to my middle. The final straw was a car accident that left me with a TBI and resulted in feeling like I was stoned a lot of the time.

Death by Adventure

Working out, riding horses, paddling rapids, hiking at high elevations and eating well did not protect me from aging and affliction. Neither did prayers. After two illness-related events occurred while I was trying to keep up with my adventure girlfriends (evacuation at high altitude; heat stroke), I went kicking and screaming into shifting my life.

I learned the bitter mantra of Who I was, is not who I am. And I mean this physically, mentally and psychically. This, of course, does not mean that I always like it. When I hear about an adventure, initially, I want to do it! But then I remember how I will feel during and after.

Learning My Karmic Lesson

For example, I was looking forward to a six-mile hike with a 3,000-foot elevation gain with my adventure girlfriends. Within minutes, they were far ahead of me even though I was walking with speed, determination and power.

The thoughts that went through my head were variations of What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I keep up – I work out five days a week! I want to stop and check out that flower but then I will lose more time. Then finally, This sucks.

I trailed them by about 10 minutes to the summit, and I was whipped and not loving life. Eventually, back at our cars, plans got made for a brewery. I was so exhausted, not sure I could drive home, and I melted into my driver seat as they chatted about what beer they would order. I went home. I felt traumatized.

Who I Was

At times, I feel weak and a bit sad because there was a time before that when I had stamina. I could ignore the arthritis pain, and I have limped my way though a 5K and Spring triathlon just two years ago. I hiked Half dome needing a hip replacement.

What drove me to be this way? It was fun! But was it really? What was I proving? I am tough, strong, capable, a bad ass!

A lot of therapy has made me realize how silly, as well as dangerous, these ego attachments are, how rooted in trauma and lacking in self-love, and my ability to ignore body pain was a type of detachment. Yet, this physically pushing of myself has defined me for all my adult life. Now what?

The Shift

Unexpected relief soon followed my begrudging acceptance of who I am today. Now, over a dinner with my adventure girlfriends, I listen to their stories about Peru, each day filled with another extreme sport.

My adventures are quieter, like a trail ride with my horse in a forest so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes because I am going slowly enough to see it. I work out for an hour, not two hours, and not five days a week. I do some HIIT, swim laps, take the dogs on long walks, do chores around my farm and do yoga.

I began cultivating slow adventure friends. We hike but at a nice rambling stroll for three, maybe four miles; we paddle rivers, but not with class IV drops that can kill you. We ride horses and if we chose to trot over a log we think we are going to the Olympics, but no more jumping five-foot pipe gates.

Interestingly, on the cusp of 60, I take greater pleasure in the company of women older than me, who are showing me, by example, that a thick middle does not define you, that less hormones does not mean you are less attractive, that you can be a warrior for yourself and your friends when you, and they, face illness and death. You can learn to play the cello at 75, write a book at 68, move to Spain at 81.

Now, that’s bad ass.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What is your idea of bad ass aging? How has it served you going into your 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond? What activities do you look forward to? Are there activities that fill you with anxiety? Why? Who are your role models for aging? How will your idea about aging impact you today, a month from now, next year, in five years?

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Jessica

I have had chronic pain – daily migraines and IBSD flare ups. Both are exhausting and interferes with my daily life. After so many years of the migraine, I have learned that I only want to do what makes me feel better not worse. That is something I can control. The migraines and IBSD flare ups where I can’t leave the house are things I resent. However, that just heightens my stress and makes my symptoms worse. I am better off just saying, this is one of those days, and find comfort in the fact I have comfy places to take care of myself.

Lily

I love to dance and sing but last week all my groups and classes started up at once, and now this week I am wiped out. So, need to seek balance and let go of some expectations… Maybe let the body lead..
Thanks for your article

Sue Grant

Great article, totally me fighting the adjustment!

Beth

thank you for this article. i am here!
after a love affair with motorcycles and being a gym rat and nightly runs, i relate to this so much. i am feeling some of the damage i incurred myself from being active (and dare i say young?) some of this was expected, and i prefer my active life memories to a sedentary rearview.
i, too, have had to adjust. i’m not ambitious, but ‘keep it moving’ is my mantra. i’ve chosen to retire for the moment, focusing on me. PT for the hip i keep nursing along until a solution becomes affordable, longish walks with my pup, and resistance training and floorwork at home. i have become the priority!
adjusting to this new state of being is challenging, but staying grateful and realistic are keeping me moving and happy. i also meet people who are pacing to my new speed – so it’s nice knowing some social interaction is still available at this new level of activity.
your article was particularly welcome in that i see so many things insisting ‘age is just a number’. my arthritis says differently, and it grates to hear that the age and mileage don’t seem to count in some circles. things smooth out when i hear there are others working with what we’ve got.

Jan Borgman

I am so there at 72. I’ve let go of who I used to be physically but now I’m trying to adjust to whom I am and where I am

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The Author

Maggie is a college professor. She teaches Writing and Literature and lives on a small farm in the Shenandoah Valley, VA. Her novel, Across the Blue Ridge Mountains, is under consideration for the Pen Faulkner award. She is not going gently into the good night of aging, but she is trying.

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