My birthday was three weeks ago. I turned 39 and, according to Harvard University, I’ll hit my midlife crisis in six months. That is, I’ll be halfway to the average life expectancy of an American woman, currently at 79.1 years old. I don’t feel like the peak of my life’s climb is just ahead, though I’ll be able to retire from the Marines in three years. That’s pretty freaky to me. I mean, I’m not old, right?
Then again, body facts tell a different story:
I bit the bullet and admitted to myself I needed driving glasses last year. I had PRK on both eyeballs when I was 20 – eons ago – and Dr. Vukich in Madison, Wisconsin told me natural aging could not be stopped. And I couldn’t have more PRK because, well, they burned bits of my eyeballs off. Hard to do that again. So, okay, driving glasses. I’ve made my peace with that and I even embrace the sexy librarian vibe. You know, when I’ve had a shower and the kids are at school and I’ve not had to clean up cat vomit that morning.
Number two: tinnitus. I’m not saying it’s inevitable pilots and aircrew and anyone working on or near loud machinery will develop tinnitus, but the chances are pretty good. I’ve been to an annual hearing test since I was 18 and I have great hearing. It’s actually weird, maybe a bit ironic, to me that I can simultaneously have good hearing and a constant ringing in my ears. It’s like an annoying background noise of an electrical bent, like a TV being turned on but not yet up to speed. Actually, it’s the exact same pitch as my in-laws’ Mr. Coffee machine, which drives me batty. Seriously, I have to pour my cup and then turn the thing off. They think it’s mildly hilarious. My husband, also aircrew, and I joke we’ll (soon) have to communicate through those gramophone-type ear gadgets, with both of us shouting, “Eh? What’s that? Speak up!” It’s funny now, but…
Number two-point-five: hypoacusis. Say what? That’s right, hypo-a-cu-sis. I didn’t know what it was either, until the night before I went to the hospital to see an ENT for my nose (funny, that) and this sudden sensitivity in my right ear. Of course they ask you to pinpoint when the symptoms started. When you’ve also got permanent ringing in both ears, a toddler and a newborn, a worldwide pandemic, and sky-high stress from all of it. Hard to do. When do you remember certain noises being painful? When did you go from not having symptoms to having them? When did you need to start keeping, and wearing, 3M construction-grade ear muffs in the kitchen during breakfast? To the best of my knowledge, it was shortly after my boy was born. Sure, newborn screams hurt everyone’s ears. Sure, a metal spoon being banged repeatedly on a metal bowl by an enthusiastic toddler is painful to listen to. Sure, the ears defend themselves naturally from deafness, flexing the middle ear muscles in a protective acoustic reflex. But I was still in agony, like someone was ramming a sharp needle into my right ear during these loud, jarring moments. Like someone was physically punching me, very specifically, in the earhole. I’d never experienced anything like it. Of course I wrote it off. It’s just a newborn. I’ll get better in time. This will go away on its own. I’m being overly sensitive. But it didn’t. Maybe it takes two years to sort yourself (and your sleep) out before you admit there’s a problem and actually schedule someone to check you out. Which takes ages because you have to go through your GP a handful of times, then the ENT, and only then the audiologist. But there I was. I walked in, sat down, and said I thought I had hypoacusis in my right ear because my symptoms matched almost perfectly with the description, and the doc agreed. Plus, tinnitus and hypoacusis go hand-in-hand. The audiologist told me to come back in a month to get fitted for hearing aids. Oh yes. But not to hear; to be able to help me with my “quiet time” activities like writing, reading, and falling asleep using white, pink, and red noise (who knew?!). Well, alright then.
The third thing, reading glasses. I’ve always had great vision up close, even when I was in the fourth grade and couldn’t see more than 20/400 (“low vision”). I’ve watched my mom go through the phase of not admitting she actually needed her (always handy) reading glasses by trying to take a picture with her cell phone by holding it as far away from her as her arms would let her, which, admittedly, isn’t very far as she and I are both shorties at 5’3” on a good day. I vowed I would just accept I needed glasses if the day came. Surprise, that day is surely here. But only in one eye. The left. Of course. So, now the question becomes: bifocals or varifocals? Or, if I’m being daring, a reading monocle?
What’s next? Ah yes, arthritis. It’s not an official diagnosis (yet), but something is up with my right big toe knuckle. I know of no other way to put it. It hurts. Badly, if I’m wearing boots, a child (or bouncy Labrador) steps on it, or I’m in a weird position with my feet, like in the plank position while trying to train back up for the new Physical Fitness Test for the Marines. I’ve never had a broken bone in my body, unless you count a stress fracture in my pinky toe in high school during track season, so I’m not sure how much it’s supposed to hurt. It’s not all the time, but it comes close some days. I had an x-ray ages ago in the States while drilling and they mentioned mild arthritis. In my toe?! I’m not even sure how that develops. Too much… being human? But, more worryingly, is how much it hurts. If this is mild, and if arthritis is something that will likely affect more and more of my joints, I’m in for a hellacious journey through old age. I’d better get cozy with a prescription for ultra-strength Ben-Gay.
And the final cherry on top – incontinence. Oh yes, my friends. The days of going pad-free among my daily chores, on runs through the woods, hell, even doing jumping jacks for fun (I know, I know) are long past me. This is undeniably brought about by passing two children through me, but for crying out loud, let’s teach our daughters, and sons, that they have a pelvic floor! And that keeping those muscles strong is simply good physical hygiene for everyone. The pelvic floor – the muscley hammock that stitches your undercarriage together – is a damn important body part for all of us to know and keep strong. I was flabbergasted no one had told me until I was pregnant… and about to severely test its limits. So, I’ve religiously been doing my pelvic floor/Kegel exercises. At least, I think I have been. It’s hard to work a group of muscles you don’t know how to feel or condition. I downloaded a reminder app, Squeezy, that prompts me to do slow and quick squeezes, though their recommendation of “holding” the long squeeze for 10 seconds is ludicrously out of my league (and I’m a competitive person). I’m still working up to five seconds, but hopefully, you know, one day. However, I can confidently say I haven’t sneeze-peed in some time and, fingers crossed, I can crank out a set of five or ten deadlifts without having to change clothes now.
Maybe it’s a good thing I can talk to my pension-aged South African neighbor about our shared ailments. Ears, eyes, joints, bodily functions. We laugh about them because the alternative is crying. In a way, I guess I’m ready for the next half of my life, assuming I’m along for the entire ride. I miss the carefree days of signing up to a triathlon “just for fun,” the idea that I can stay up all night and simply catch up on sleep the next night, taking my extraordinary hearing for granted when walking through the woods and listening to nature, and, you know, jumping on a trampoline without wetting myself. But I also know that time is never still, life moves on, and we all age. I can be prepared for that aging with humor and education, or I can deny it and hide from the truth.
Might as well have a good laugh.