It is more or less inevitable that as we age, our body will start to be less flexible, different joints may begin to ache, and accidents cause injuries that take longer to heal. How we deal with or adjust to these circumstances is not only about how we feel physically but it can also influence how we feel emotionally – and socially. Where is our focus? Do we focus on our self, perhaps our ageing and often ailing body, or do we stay focused on others and on living as full a life as is possible in our older years?
From my own experience, I have realised that it is difficult to explain how frustrating a physical situation is in a way that enables another to really, truly understand how it is for you. This can lead to a sense of feeling isolated. “They don’t get it. Nobody understands how I am feeling. They don’t know how limiting it is to have poor vision.” or whatever the current situation is.
I recently had cataract surgery in both eyes, a fairly standard procedure (at least in first world countries) as we age. It is a simple and almost pain free procedure. The miracle of modern medicine at its best. Suddenly the world goes from a grey-yellow, dark overcast version to vibrant green, blue, and pink sunrises and sunsets. That is a glorious experience, if everything goes well. But, if things don’t go perfectly during surgery you can end up with some worrisome situation, in my case a fluid build-up in the macular which makes the vision in one eye appear as a big water bubble. The whole world appears wavy, out of focus and the world may become more difficult to navigate. Hopefully this will be a temporary condition if the medicated drops eventually evaporate the excess fluid. So, it is not the end of the world but distressing all the same. Under these circumstances, you spend most waking hours with one eye closed, making your field of vision half of what you are used to and the depth of field entirely off. Try pouring a glass of water with one eye closed. (Tip: have a towel nearby to wipe up the spill!)
So, for me, and I can only imagine many people, when your body isn’t working properly or you aren’t feeling your best, you pull back, withdraw, limit your social interactions – if for no other reason than to spare your friends your complaining about how miserable you are feeling. It can mean that you want to drive less. It becomes easier to decide things can wait, that you don’t need to do that errand today, that you will call that friend tomorrow. Our world starts to become smaller. It’s like our inner state starts to change our physical and social worlds around us.
At first glance I wouldn’t appear to be the person to be writing an article about loneliness because I live in a close-knit supportive community where I have social contact, on a daily basis. So much so that I cherish those days when I am able to stay home alone and don’t have to go anywhere and don’t have anyone coming over. I don’t recall ever feeling lonely, at least not in an overriding sort of way. But what I have observed, especially in recent years as my friends and I get older, is that physical limitations, disabilities and illnesses seem to be a precursor to living in a smaller way, which can increase our sense of feeling isolated. Feeling isolated can easily lead to feeling lonely. Having this awareness of the potential to shrink our world through becoming overly obsessed with our physical body and its ailments may provide the incentive to keep our chin up and our eyes and hearts focused on the world outside of our physical being.
Asking after others, initiating connection, and staying engaged in areas of interest can shine the light on a larger playing field for us as we age, in spite of our physical limitations.
It’s something to consider, to ponder, as we observe our physical being changing. Do we let our physical limitations limit our social interactions? Where is our focus as we age?
Gayle C., Australia
If you enjoyed this article you may also like to read:
I Enjoy Ageing