Our Older Selves in the Age of COVID
Reading the newspaper and listening to the news, I think about all the messages that those of us over 60 (and some of us less than 3 months away from 70), keep hearing around Covid-19. We’ve heard that the “elderly” — which makes me think of the British expression of “old crumbly” — won’t get a ventilator. People over 60 will be the worst affected — save the younger people! Save the economy! Politicians and talking heads have even suggested we let “grandma and grandpa” die to save the economy for their grandchildren. What are we? Chopped liver? Once we hit the big 6–0 we’re disposable? There have been protocols in place in each state regarding the use of ventilators, but these were written prior to a pandemic. What we hear on the news, see on headlines in newspapers and alerts we get on our phones, is that it’s those over 60 may be considered last but who will be affected first.
For those of us who have always had body image issues and are now grappling with how our bodies change as we age, hearing the message that our 60+ bodies may not be worth saving leaves us feeling fragile and even more disconnected from ourselves. We don’t feel old from this side — what are they talking about? This feeds right into our society’s — and often our own — beliefs about aging. What most concerns me at this moment, is that what we hear about the Baby Boomers becomes internalized, so we believe that we’re no longer of value. My husband and I are healthy, have a good-sized apartment and enough devices to reach everyone virtually. But I, too, start to feel vulnerable and anxious. I can’t make the connection between our vitality and what we hear about “old people”. I’ve had horrendous nightmares lately, waking with my heart pounding in fear. Anxiety and fear are also highly contagious. Every day we’re bombarded with facts and figures and the reality of the end stage of the disease. These are terrifying. We compare how many people in our circles are sick and who has died from the virus. It takes a conscious effort to say “Cancel” when we start to think what would happen if we got sick — would we not get the care that could save us? We have to hold on to our reality and to know that if we fall into the trap of internalizing those stereotypes, then we’ve already lost ourselves.
This echoes the longitudinal studies by Becca Levy who concluded that older individuals with a more positive self-perception of aging lived 7.5 years longer than their friends who believed the stereotypes they heard growing up and internalized decades before about older people. Having the will to live is also a factor in living longer.
In this time of the pandemic and isolation, we need to hold on to knowing who we are. We should honor our bodies: take care of them, feed them well and thank them for staying healthy on this journey of life. Let’s continue to talk to our friends and families, turn off the alerts on our phones, limit our news and tell ourselves that our bodies are strong. We plan on living a long time and we are far from being “over the hill”.
Source: Becca R. Levy and Martin D. Slade, Suzanne R. Kunkel and Stanislav V. Kasi “Longevity Increased by Positive Self-Perception of Aging” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2002, Vol.83, №2 261–270