Welp, We’re Not Getting Any Younger (Or, On Aging and Self-Image)
The news of Chadwick Boseman’s death hit me pretty hard.
I enjoyed his work.
He seemed like a nice and genuine man.
And there’s something about having kept his illness so quiet that stands out.
As a celebrity, Boseman’s life (and death) have no greater significance on a human-to-human scale than another person.
But his job was a public one, bringing with it more eyes, more scrutiny, more judgment.
And because of the way we, as a culture, lionize people in his line of work, it is a bit jarring.
Digging into that feeling of shock has consumed the greater part of the past 24 hours for me.
Why, given the number of people who’ve died in the past several months, does Boseman’s death rattle me?
I have no clear answer, other than that he was a relatively young man, and outwardly seemed to be healthy.
At 43, Mr. Boseman was a mere 5 years my elder. Young to die of cancer, but no longer young, in the strictest sense.
Which throws into sharp relief an uncomfortable truth: I’m approaching the age at which shit like this happens.
Death can take any of us at any time, but death from disease is a lesser concern for the young.
Those of us who can no longer lay claim to that title must, as a matter of course, accept that the risk for us increases.
Which requires a bit of recalibration.
In The Matrix, after being recovered from the energy farm by Morpheus and the crew, Neo awakes to find he looks different than he believed.
Gone is his 90’s-era corporate haircut, replaced with close-cropped buzz apparently maintained as part of being plugged in to the network of machines.
There are holes in his limbs, torso, and the back of his skull. Neo’s body is pale and weak, muscles atrophied from years of neglect.
Upon being plugged back into the Matrix, all of that changes. His holes are gone, his hair is back.
In the training construct, Neo’s physical form is not what he really is, in the real world, at that moment, but a representation of how he thinks of himself; a conglomerate image formed of memories and the associative feelings.
Morpheus calls this residual self-image.
As a newly-minted middle-aged man*, I’ve been grappling with residual self-image.
*(I’m 38, which is just about the halfway mark of the average lifespan for a man in the US)
The more I speak to men my age, the more common I realize this is. Some see themselves as older, many as younger.
Much of this is dependent on lifestyle and the trappings of circumstances: marriage and kids change things more than mere age.
Naturally, where you are in your life tends to be as big a factor in when you are in your lifecycle.
But the when is pretty significant.
During one of my ayahuasca journeys, I came to realize I saw myself as a man younger than I am. And through that experience, reconciled a few of my feelings about aging and the approach to life.
Five years ago, I announced to the world I had decided to “do steroids” — a cheeky way of explaining I had begun testosterone replacement therapy, specifically for anti-aging.
Much of the writing during the latter part of my tenure in the fitness concerned testosterone, specifically urging men to get their levels tested.
Which I now reiterate:
Even if you’re not experiencing symptoms of low T — which can include decreased libido or other sexual dysfunction; increased fat gain; decreased muscle mass; decreased energy levels; as well as anxiety—get tested to establish a baseline
If you have issues later, you can get tested again, and measure the discrepancy.
There has been no point at which I’ve second-guessed my use of testosterone; it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
My point here is not to discuss the merits of TRT (though if you’re interested, I suggest Jay Campbell’s excellent book), rather this:
While the benefits of hormone therapy are profound (most especially with regard to anti-aging), like all wonders of modern medicine, it’s
As Rocky Balboa wisely said in Creed, Time is undefeated.
Which is to say, please take care of your health.
We’re living in a scary time. While ongoing science and study are revealing to us that dangers of COVID-19 were likely (and thankfully) drastically overestimated for most people WITHOUT other health issues, the truth is, many of us DO have underlying health issues.
And since otherwise-healthy people who are likely to survive it tend to interact (often unknowingly) with at-risk individuals, we can’t just go out into the world like a bunch of plague ships sailing into harbor, potentially transmitting illnesses that won’t hurt us to those it will.
So while things are better, and recent news is promising, we’re not quite out of the woods yet.
In our lifetime, it’s never been more important to take care of your health, nor has there ever been a more obvious reason to do so.
But it’s still the case that, like Mr. Boseman, you can be young and (seemingly) healthy and be sidelined by disease.
I have no idea what Boseman’s lifestyle or diet was like (one assumes he was not feasting exclusively on Wakandan flora that granted super-powers), but he and others make something pretty clear:
If you can be doing everything right and still get sick, it might be a good idea to start doing fewer things wrong.
Certainly, it shouldn’t take the deaths of 200,000 of our countrymen and a superhero to drive that home, but you get there how you get there.
I have little advice you haven’t heard before, but here are a few bullet points:
- you may not as young as you think you are
- it’s never too early to start changing a few habits
- eat more veggies
- get your hormonal levels checked
- drink water
- make better decisions more often so you can make bad ones with greater intensity
Beyond that, this is probably a great time to schedule whatever test you’ve been putting off. Colonoscopy, mammogram, general check-up. Just call your doctor.
In any event:
None of us is getting any younger.
Accept where you are, and work to get where you want to be.
Because Time is undefeated.
PS – stand up and stretch your hip flexors.