Ageism. It’s everywhere. I experienced it yesterday at the doctor’s office. I see my doctor at UK Clinic and, during the school year she often has an internal medicine resident working with her. The resident, who is in her late twenties, came in full of concern, because I’d been to the doctor a lot in the last year. We talked about the pneumonia I had in December. She looked at the wrong x-ray report and said, “It doesn’t appear you had pneumonia. You know when we get old, regular viruses can make us sicker.”
I resisted the urge to smack her, figuring that would not end well. I didn’t even directly address the issue, instead I resorted to being passive/agressive. I said, sweetly, “Well, I think you’re looking at the wrong x-ray, because I had an x-ray two days later that clearly showed pneumonia. Dr. F___ called me to tell me I had pneumonia, this is not a diagnosis I made on my own.”
She then went on to tell me I couldn’t have had shingles (also diagnosed by Dr. F___), because what I had wasn’t typical. I indicated I had researched it, and found that, because I’d had the chicken pox vaccine, I could have had a milder case. She looked at me, smiled and said, “Well, I guess I’ll have to research that, I’ve never heard of it, but I really don’t think you had shingles.” Well, I thought to myself, is she thinking I’m a hypochondriac, is she thinking I’m lying, is she thinking I’m a dottering idiot? Again, I remained silent and so I was complicit in her behavior. I didn’t mention it to Dr. F___ when she came in to see me. I just let it go, but I was pissed. Pissed at being treated like I was an idiot. Pissed at being dismissed because I’m “old.” Pissed at being treated suspiciously, because I have a background in public health and know a thing or two about medicine.
The thing is, everything that happened says more about her than about me, and I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but I did and I do. Age is not something to be ashamed of, not something to be hidden, yet even thinking about writing what age I am fills me with trepidation, because of what people will think. I’ll be 59 in May. Don’t say to me, “Oh you look good for your age.” Don’t say to me, “Oh, I would never have thought you were that old.” That’s ageism, plain and simple.
Today, examine the hidden beliefs you have about aging and about people older than you. With luck, you’ll age too. How do you want to be treated?
Life is so interesting. I write and, admittedly, I write about what is interesting to me and I write about what I believe to be true. I don’t expect anyone to agree with me, or to share my opinions. People comment on what I write, based on their own interests and their own beliefs. People read into what I write and interpret it in ways I never would have thought and in ways I didn’t intend. That’s okay, but what is really interesting is when peole insist that they are right about what I intended, based on their opinion.
Last week I wrote about living in San Francisco, about living on the fog line and about how there were days when it was foggy in my backyard and sunny in the front yard and I could choose my experience just by picking a particular door. Many people assumed I valued the door leading to the sun over the door leading to the fog. That is incorrect and yet, when I mentioned this a few people became indignant, wanting to know why on earth anyone would prefer fog to sun. Well, that’s incorrect too. I don’t prefer one over the other, I appreciate both. That idea was, apparently too much for some people.
Here’s the thing, I love fog and I love sun. I love experiencing life to its fullest in all its permutations. Fog, to me, is not negative. I grew up in Californa (mostly) and fog is magical. I remember tule fog in northern California. Tule fog rolls in suddenly, blotting out the sun, so thick you can’t see a person standing right next to you. Then, after a time, it rolls out just as quickly. In the midst of the fog everything is fuzzy, uncertain, indeterminate, just like life is some times. The best thing to do in the midst of Tule fog is to be still or move slowly and carefully, knowing soon the air will clear and the sun will return.
Today, can you be still in the midst of fuzziness and uncertainty? Can you allow the fog to swirl around you and remain centered, knowing this is just another life experience?