Friday, September 26, 2008

Ageing and Nervousness

Next Monday I have to go for the post-graduate induction meeting at my new university. I have to admit that I have got beyond the excitement of having a new pencil case and freshly sharpened pencils and am now feeling downright apprehensive about the whole business! I am not very good at spontaneous conversation with people I don't know very well and my mental processes tend to grind to a halt when confronted with a question that I was not expecting: I go red and stammer away incoherently. God knows what'll happen if someone asks me to sum up my PhD proposal in a room full of people! I'll probably implode....

I recognise that as I get older I am becoming less initially confident in unexplored situations, and sometimes I have to force myself to push through my 'comfort zone' and do stuff that I'm not feeling too positive about. In fact it seems to be a widespread symptom of aging: The unwillingness to engage is possibly a biologically programmed mechanism to protect the elderly (and hence more vulnerable) from 'risky' situations, and it makes me wonder if the old folks who lead solitary unengaged lives are not so much deliberately excluded or ignored by others as imposing restrictions on social involvement upon themselves.

Just as muscles ache and protest at unaccustomed exercise, and the mind atrophies through lack of stimulus, so the social persona withers unless exposed to new social situations. Often an opportunity is greeted (either internally or actually) with 'No, I don't feel like it'. This excuse must be rigorously examined and teased apart until the fibres of the true reason can be seen. Quite often the fear of failure or humiliation is a factor in rejecting an invitation or an opening. The thought that we may be exposed to scrutiny is quite daunting, especially if our confidence in our physical appearance or intellectual capacity is waning. But we owe it to ourselves to push out the comfort zone, do things we maybe feel unsure about, because if we start to say 'no' to life our world starts to contract bit by bit until we are the folk sitting fearfully alone at home. If I can keep doing new things, experiencing new situations and meeting new people, maybe I can keep the 'shrinking world' at bay: There are, out there, some wonderful, really old people and despite their wildly different backgrounds, what unites them is their unafraid zest for life. I want to be like that and, however hard it seems to be to get out there and live, I'm going to make it a priority to accept any opportunities that come my way. Moreover, I intend to make my own opportunities, as I have been doing for the past few years. Aging? 99% in the mind!

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