As a teen back in the 1960s I recall being fascinated by an interview with a former glamorous Hollywood movie star who was rejoicing in the fact that she was no longer “burdened” by the need to take care of herself. She framed it as “liberation from the tyranny of others’ expectations,” as one of the rewards of growing older, which puzzled me no end, since in the same interview she complained about her health problems caused by this very issue. Overweight and dowdy and ill, she expressed relief — no, let me change that: she CELEBRATED that it was no longer required of her to do “all the hard work” of caring for herself.
Echoes of her lemmings-headed-for-the-cliff philosophy have reverberated all through my life as I watched relatives, friends and acquaintances relieve themselves of the notion of maintaining health, fitness and attractiveness and claim to be happy about it even as they limped around struggling to breathe.
At the gym I am unhappy about lifting a 50 lb. dumbbell off the rack and carrying it ten paces to the workout bench, so much so that despite being strong and fit and being able to easily lift the dumbbell I instead place it on the floor and roll it to its destination. So for me to contemplate how anyone can willingly add 50 lbs. to their body and carry that around 24/7 just boggles the mind. Their justifications are as stupid as they are endless, but their main theme is that older people just can’t eat right or exercise; it’s too hard, it’s pointless, it’s physically destructive, their metabolism is shot, their knees hurt, their health problems prevent it despite their health problems being due to their not taking care of themselves in the first place. They’ve constructed a convenient Catch-22 that allows them to bemoan their state of health and disability while taking no responsibility for their state of poor health and disability.
One of my lifelong dear friends some years ago began blacking out in public. He was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes and immediately went into rescue mode. He joined a gym and hired a trainer and became dedicated to eating right. Within months the diabetes subsided and he was able to go off insulin. He had developed impressive musculature and expressed wonderment at how strong and fit he felt. He felt reborn, but perhaps more importantly, because by his own will he had more or less conquered a deadly disease, he felt substantially empowered. Recently we spoke on the phone and he is no longer going to the gym or eating responsibly, and of course the diabetes is back. He brushes off any worry about blindness, amputation, diabetic coma or other catastrophe looming on the horizon. When I questioned him he made it clear it wasn’t up for discussion. I am bereft. What the fuck is he thinking?
So this made me wonder if indeed this willing intentional rush toward premature old age and painful death might be due to some instinctive genetic trigger that allows for old people to cheerfully move off this earth to make way for the young. What else could possibly explain the bizarre and troubling nature of people willfully hobbling themselves with illness and disability as they age, accelerating their demise?