I’m Not Afraid of Aging
The year I turned 30, I experienced a vague sense of panic. It seemed like the age at which the fundamental aspects of life — career, family, hobbies — coalesce into permanence. I had recently moved across the country to resettle in a new city that I enjoyed. My work was fulfilling. Relationships had stabilized. I generally appreciated my lifestyle.
Despite this positivity, the number 30 still bothered me. It was truly, as John Mayer sings in “Why Georgia,” a quarter-life crisis. It took months to accept that I was no longer 20-something.
But this feeling was only exacerbated by a premonition I’ve had for much of my life: that I won’t live to see old age. Whether this is some kind of superstition or completely unfounded nonsense is anyone’s guess.
I also wonder if it’s a twisted result of experiencing serious illness so early in life. At 17, I was diagnosed with granulomatosis with polyangiitis, an autoimmune disorder in the vasculitis family. Patients with this disease often sustain health complications, such as long-term organ damage, even with proper treatment.
The gravity of how much harm this inflammation could cause my body gave me a new perspective. It’s no wonder I’ve developed a “live life to the fullest” mentality, rather than ever visualizing myself as a septuagenarian.
Hypothetically, if I do pass relatively young, that means my life could be halfway over, now that I’m in my early 30s. And that introduces a slew of existential questions: What do I still want to accomplish? Is there enough time? Who will look after my houseplants when I go? (Sort of kidding on that last one, unless anyone wants to volunteer.)
American society tells us that getting old should be avoided, hidden, or mitigated. Creams, pills, surgery — take your pick. Just make sure you look a decade or so younger than you are. Transformation is health! Falsity is beauty!
However, many Asian cultures take the opposite approach. Old age is revered and honored. They believe there is wisdom to be gleaned from their elders. Older folks often live with family, rather than in nursing homes, and are treated like royalty.
So, what is it about old age that many of us fear?
There’s the loss of physical beauty, of course. We also feel a decline in athletic ability, which can be discouraging. Sometimes it’s frustrating when we struggle to accomplish tasks that were easy a decade ago.
But here’s the clincher: These are all things a newly diagnosed patient faces, no matter their age. At 30-something, I’ve been there before. I’ve strengthened my coping mechanisms. My support system of friends, a medical team, and caregivers is in place.
After my disease onset, I realized that the time I do have is precious. What if I hadn’t recovered? Sixteen years wasn’t enough to experience all of life’s people, places, and joys. I’m lucky to be alive now, on what feels like borrowed time.
Every day I engage in the Zen process of brewing loose-leaf tea. My garden and backyard are calming. Staying in and doing puzzles is a favorite hobby. Aside from the weekly night out at the local karaoke bar, a circle of close friends is usually all I need. My vasculitis buddies and I joke that we are already 85 years old — because for the most part, our lifestyles match the pace of someone who is!
Ultimately, growing old doesn’t scare me. It makes me think about what’s important, and it shows me that I’m essentially adept at, and prepared for, whatever challenges may lie ahead.
Our time on earth is so short. I can choose each day to utilize the resources I’ve gained from being sick, and to make sure I live whatever time I have left to the fullest. And if I can support other patients along the way, that’s enough to give me peace.
Note: ANCA Vasculitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ANCA Vasculitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ANCA vasculitis.