The subject matter of good dinner party chitchat has found a disturbing niche, now that we’ve hit our forties. Although ‘life was supposed to begin’ at this stage of our lives, we seem to be stuck at the ‘recognition of our own mortality’ roadblock far earlier than we anticipated. Whereas in my twenties we used to wax lyrical about alcohol consumption, sexual prowess and the female orgasm (apparently they were mutually compatible then), and in our thirties we circum-navigated career goals, marriage and babies, discussions these days seem to have stagnated around our health, or lack of it. I blame all those self-righteous health magazines and the Internet for our health obsession, but maybe it is just another symptom of the ‘midlife crisis’.
The ‘midlife’ alarm seems to resonate somewhere between your late thirties and mid forties, and serves as a reminder that you’ve reached the ‘half time’ point in your life and there’s not much time left to score some real goals. For some, those goals might be a new philosophy of life (Madonna and Kabbalah?) and for others they might involve a sea change. But at this stage in the game of life, sometimes your fitness doesn’t necessarily live up to your promise. It is a worrying indictment of our age group that in our circle of friends, more people take Statins these days, than drink alcohol.
Take my own health. Over the past six weeks, I have experienced debilitating lower back pain (I’m guessing it’s NOT a sports injury), the cold virus, severe toothache and the monthly peri-menopausal utopia caused by my female reproductive zone being forced into retirement. The old man’s sympathy has extended to ‘you’re getting old’ when I’ve sought comfort, whereas I suspect that I could be the first human, still walking, to suffer from cancer of every major organ. All other ailments aside, I am obviously suffering from mild hypochondriasis.
There’s no doubt in my mind that I have been assigned the ‘time-waster’ label by my GP, although, contrary to popular opinion, this hypochondriac is rarely spotted at the surgery. Consulting a doctor is a double-edged sword – if I go, she might tell me there’s nothing wrong with me (when I know that there is) and if I don’t go, and there is something wrong with me, I’m going to die anyway. A visit will have been precipitated by the ‘doom and gloom’ of self-diagnosis on the Internet, and the standard appointment time invariably stretches to double time as my telephone book of unrelated symptoms are analyzed. All roads lead to cancer when you pump a symptom into Google.
There was a time, before cancer began ravaging acquaintances and freaking the rest of us out, and when it was fun to smoke, drink heavily and consume vats of any ‘type’ of fat, that conversation at the dinner table covered world politics, the career vs children conundrum or religion. But these days, world news has lost its x factor in comparison to the anguish caused by faulty bodily functions. ‘Man talk’ now encompasses ‘piles’, ‘wind’, and ‘bloating’, while ‘girl talk’ dissects issues of ‘bone density’, ‘vitamin supplements’, and ‘muscle mass’. Can someone explain to me how, scientifically, you can still put on weight when both your muscle mass and your bone density are decreasing? You might want to note that we’re saving ‘death’, ‘erectile dysfunction’ and ‘loss of sexual libido’ for our fifties and sixties.
So if I’m not really ill, why do I spend more on health than retail therapy and possess the energy levels of a dying battery? My svelte, septuagenarian next-door neighbour is still surfing, so maybe my physical well-being is being compromised by a poor mental outlook to aging, and my dwindling estrogen is not the culprit after all?
In one of his more lucid moments (Friday night; 2/3 of a bottle of Penfolds, Bin 28), the old man compared retirement to Buddhism. Apparently, once you retire you stop worrying about premature death because your philosophy of life changes and you finally appreciate that it is a positive state of mind that brings happiness, not wealth. Retirement, (and the reason our neighbor is a living advertisement for Viagra), provides the luxury of free time, time to focus on happiness and make yourself that ‘better’ person you always dreamed of being, physically and mentally, rather than focusing on what is missing, when you are a small cog in the large wheel of the rat race.
Hypochondriasis is ‘health anxiety’ in disguise and it’s pretty common for us midlifers. It is a bonafide illness and we can seek help for it; middle age is not, unfortunately.
Dinner Party from Flickr.com courtesy of Alastair R
The 7 Gals of Menopause (back) from Flickr.com courtesy of HA! Designs – Artbyheather