One of the problems for older people is how much about yourself do you keep to yourself? People ask you how you are. It’s a natural greeting for British people. Every week when we meet for cardiac rehabilitation exercises, my co-conspirators ask each other if they are alright. We don’t expect a long response, but as you get older, the answer can be quite long for there’s a lot to tell. And just to answer the question by saying ‘oh, the usual aches and pains’, ends the conversation before it has begun. You may want to say much more than that. You may need to.
I shall be seeing an old mate tomorrow. Seriously ill himself some years ago but now coping wonderfully with a fulfilled life, he will want to know about my health; and he will really want to know. And I shall tell him. (There’s no big story behind these thoughts by the way. I’m pretty well, though reassurance on a couple of things would be welcome!).
Of course there is always the doctor. He or she doesn’t have an easy job: a succession of ill people presenting their needs to you must be very demanding.
No laughs in that. In my experience doctors rarely say ‘how are you?’ – I presume because they fear there will be no end to the response. So you specify some of your more identifiable ills, they may examine you, and then you leave the surgery with a prescription or the promise of a referral to the local hospital. Holistic medicine is an unrealistic expectation in our otherwise excellent U.K. health system.
I was talking today to someone who grew up in a tough environment – ‘you manage’ he said; and ‘when you can’t, you keep it to yourself’. Anyone involved in counselling or pastoral care will tell you that’s not a good idea. Anxiety about those ‘aches and pains’ can make them worse. There’s always the danger of course that having come clean on your worries to someone, they will then tell you about theirs.
But it’s a danger worth taking and could end up with mutual support and understanding between you.
The people closest to you may not be the best to confide in, for in many families there’s a sort of mutual protection going on which prevents total honesty and openness. Friends at work have other things to think about. Perhaps someone who goes to the same church as you and with whom you have always felt comfortable, could be the person.
If you are worried about this strange business of ageing and the odd things that are happening to your body, you do need to share your worries. But with whom?