A friend and I recently discussed the ‘fears’ we have acquired that we didn’t have when we were younger.
For example, one person said she would no longer play softball in fear of getting hit in the face with the ball. This person was a good athlete and probably got smacked in the face with a ball more than once in the past and my guess is she didn’t think much about it at the time. However, the thought of this occurring now scares the person enough that ball games are verboten.
People inexplicably develop fears about things that never bothered them before:
R.M., 65, a seasoned singer and performer: I am way more relaxed about everyday living but getting up to perform … I worry about opening my mouth and making a complete fool of myself.
I know a lot of older people fear falling, with good reason, and may avoid doing certain things because of this anxiety.
W.C., who is in her seventies: I do have a fear of falling. Our bones are more brittle and if I break a hip or leg I would have to go to a nursing home and that is a fear.
B.E.A., 58: Little things like falling — I broke my leg, double compound fracture, falling off the next to the bottom step — scares the heck out of me. So here’s my conundrum: I realize I’m running out of time and may be even more physically limited in the future than I am now. I fear simple little things like stepping in a hole and breaking something but have no problem traveling to Africa and hiking up a mountain. I would say I am more cautious and don’t take stupid chances like I did when I was, say, 22.
D.W., 62: I know my limitations. After fracturing my vertebra from falling off a step, I am very aware of my surroundings and always use handrails.
I was recently swimming in a lake. Once upon a time I was a damned good swimmer, a lifeguard for five years, and swam alone in farm ponds unsupervised when I was 11 and swam across a mile-wide lake. Now I am apprehensive. What if I get a leg cramp? I hung onto a raft or noodle the entire time I was in the water.
My 27-year-old daughter, who is an adept swimmer (former swim team member) was kayaking without a life jacket on. I worried … Should she be doing that? As it turns out, no. She got a ticket for not wearing a life jacket. (Mother is always right, you know.) I was concerned about her safety; the cop was concerned about that and the law, which she was violating. Ironically, she is an attorney. I thought maybe she could talk herself out of that one but, no.
When young, we don’t think about cataclysmic occurrences. The world is our oyster and we are invincible, or so we think, and that lends to risky and sometimes dangerous behaviors. Of course, many young people have found out the hard way that there are consequences to certain actions, such as death, injury, monetary expenses, addiction, arrest, incarceration and pregnancies.
Old people already know that and, ergo, have become very cautious and circumspect, maybe too much so. Maybe we’re playing it ‘smart’ or maybe we’re playing it too safe.
S.K., 59: I do find that I am not as daring as I once was.
J.P., 68: I refuse to get high now that I’m in my sixties. No airplanes, no more than three steps on a ladder, no roof tops, etc.
J.S., 67: I stay away from heights. I never liked heights; now I dislike them even more. I check my footing more often and wear sensible shoes to avoid falling.
C.K., 64: I still fly about 200,000 miles a year. Planes do not bother me. But a ladder? No way!
On the other hand, I have a 62-year-old friend, twice widowed, who has thrown caution to the wind and is traveling to exotic places and trying things she has never done before (e.g. recumbent bike riding; parasailing in Hawaii.). She is having the time of her life. I applaud her.
B.A., 62: Oh, heck, I’ll still try anything! Still crazy after all these years.
Frankly, knock on wood, I’ve probably been through the worst of it. Of course, another shoe inevitably drops but I’ve handled many catastrophes in the past so should be well-equipped to do the same in the future, although I certainly hope I don’t have to.
We learn from having lived long, and, hopefully, we get more courageous as we age rather than fearful.
B.L., 58: I went sky diving last year and would it again in a heart beat. Losing my 17-year-old daughter taught me a very important lesson: There are only so many things in life you can control. Your mortality is not one of them. Like the song says, we need to live like we are dying. Have fun and try new things. Take care of your body but quit obsessing over little imperfections.
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