I recently told my physical therapist that until he brings it up, I often forget I have arthritis. The dreaded autoimmune disorder has very slowly taken residence in various parts of my body, occupying it as though it had squatter’s rights, but on days when I’m pain free, I feel like I did 30 years ago.
I went on to say that I am rather comfortable with my denial regarding my
arthritis. Dr. G, who is younger than me, was frank in his reply: That’s the problem with your generation, he said, you all are in denial.
Now that made me feel old. He didn’t say I was doing great. Or even that I was doing great for my age. He basically agreed that I was in denial about my physical condition.
In my own defense, many of us baby boomers are in fact healthier than our parents and grandparents were at our age. Many people in my generation were determined not to become sedentary and paid attention to the warnings of the surgeon general. We were also the beneficiaries of government funded research geared toward improving the quality of life and increasing longevity. So, my generation’s ability to go into denial and be youth focused has some basis in our reality. It can actually help us to have a nice life.
Contrast that with the crisis facing many young people today, who are tortured by not living up to the images and narratives on social media platforms.
A very bright young man I worked with recently relayed to me his feelings about himself. He feels that his own accomplishments pale in comparison to what he sees and hears on social media. Other people seem to be living the lifestyle he wants. The images of young, successful, innovative, creative, good-looking, gender neutral, gender fluid and nongender-conforming young people and young, perfectly shaped men and women, have diminished his own sense of self.
So, at one end of the generational divide, I use a dose of denial to help stay focused on feeling well. And at the other end, a young person with every reason to feel good is hurting.
Aging is not easy. But, once again, I was reminded that being young is not easy either.
Lionel Shockness is a psychotherapist. If you would like to submit a question for Lionel to answer in this column, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org