What a Drag It Is Getting Old
60 is not the new 40; 60 is actually the year when the booby traps you’ve been unwittingly setting for yourself since you were young suddenly explode, sending your body spinning end-over-end into a litany of aches and pains too boring to talk about with anyone other than yourself.
I had been led to believe that an active life and a healthy diet would lead to sunny retirement years free of pain and agony, so imagine my surprise when right around my 60th birthday I woke up to my new persona of the Kvetching Old Man. Bending, crouching, getting out of bed— all of the slow, laborious, stiff movements I had previously associated with senior citizens in their late 70s and beyond — were now afflicting me.
I can trace my worst afflictions to various sins of my youth. The debilitating pain in the ass I get whenever I stand at the sink to do dishes? Caused by a bulging lumbar disc that probably started bulging after getting bowled over during a freshman football tackling drill when I was 14. The stabbing pain in my neck whenever I sit at my desk to do a little work? A herniated disc ruptured when I was 38 and stupidly grabbed onto a pole while shooting through an opening in a fence on my mountain bike to prevent myself from falling. The annoying constant cracking of my knee when I lie down at night? A tear in my meniscus due to a lifetime of pedaling. The painful cramping of my feet? Prancing around the UCLA campus wearing archless Capezios like Kevin Bacon in the eighties certainly couldn’t have helped. (The mullet I also sported at the time certainly couldn’t have helped my love life, either.)
The most surprising realization I’ve had since turning 60 is how dumb my body is. A lot of my back issues are caused by something called osteophytes — bone spurs that my body has been growing since my injuries in an organic but ill-fated effort to repair my damaged joints. Instead, these bone spurs are threatening to slice into my spinal cord and cause paralysis.
You know all the anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen you take when you’re injured? The reason you have to take them is because of the obnoxious activation of inflammation that your body generates to fight infection or injury. I mean, WTF body? You’re supposed to help, not hurt.
I had been led to believe that an active life and a healthy diet would lead to sunny retirement years free of pain and agony, so imagine my surprise when right around my 60th birthday I woke up to my new persona of the Kvetching Old Man.
How much of this is Nurture vs. Nature is hard to figure out. I’ve now been diagnosed with something called “Degenerative Disc Disease” meaning the discs in my spine are slowly but steadily disintegrating, which will ultimately lead to my vertebrae bones crunching together like dried toast. And there ain’t nothing I can do about it. Though there are plenty of companies who claim I can do something about it by shelling out 60 bucks a bottle for supplements derived from the green-lipped mussel. The nagging question I have is, would I have contracted DDD if I had never been injured, triggering all this “obnoxious activation?” Or would it have happened anyway due to my genetics even if I had spent the better part of my youth as a couch potato?
I’ll never know for sure, but here’s what I do know and can pass onto you Mr. Millenial and Ms. Gen Z.
1. Know Your Limits
Of course I’m not saying you should give up all the thrashing, gyrating, alley-ooping, barrelling, inverting, etc. you’re gonna—and should — do in this short lifetime of ours. But be a little more mindful as you go for those bursts of adrenaline. That opening in the fence on Mount Tamalpais I tried to shoot through when I was 38? Had I just taken the 30 seconds to dismount my mountain bike, walk through the opening, re-mount my bike and continue barrelling down the hill, I would’ve saved myself 22 years of appointments, therapy sessions, supplements, epidurals, two surgeries, and the embarrassment of performing weird pigeon neck gliding exercises while riding to work on the 1 California bus.
2. Get It Diagnosed Immediately
If you feel a little twinge, tear, tweak — whatever — get it diagnosed immediately. The sooner you know what you got, the sooner you can begin researching the various treatment options that might help stave off some of the later obnoxious activation degenerative stuff that kicks in as you get older and pushes parts of your body into a hole of nagging injuries you may never be able to crawl out of.
3. Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light
I’ve spent literally thousands of dollars on chiropractors, physical therapists, acupuncturists, surgeries, supplements, equipment, medications, and you know what? I’m still in pain.
But in spite of all the money invested I’ve picked up ideas along the way about what works best for me. No therapist is going to give you better treatment than you can give yourself. And these days you can probably save yourself a pile of money and a bunch of time by doing your own research and watching a few YouTube videos.
Nowadays I try to bring the same zeal to my zen-like stretching routine as I did to zipping down a black diamond run. Finding that perfect isometric stretch, triggering that myofascial release point (don’t worry if you don’t know what that is; that’s probably a good thing), getting that joint to crack in a way that feels more organic than paying a chiropractor to manually do it. Not the same adrenaline rush that I once got, but I’ve developed a bit more appreciation of my temple, if you will.
What’s been most difficult is finding acceptance. Acceptance of the fact that I now have to limit what I can do. Acceptance that I will probably spend every day of the rest of my life in a little pain, which sure makes me more understanding of opioid addiction. Acceptance of the fact that my sunny retirement years will actually be partly cloudy. My body is ready to grow old. My brain isn’t.
But with acceptance comes the same kind of relief as finding the right myofascial release point. Effective, but temporary relief. When I go into doctors’ appointments these days I like to tell them I’m suffering from “GFO Syndrome,” and watch the momentary wave of panic that washes over their faces as they wonder if there’s some new medical condition that somehow they’ve missed in the literature.
“What’s that?” they ask.
“Getting Fucking Old,” I reply, with a smile. It brings me effective, but temporary relief.