Reasons To Be Cheerful: Why Don’t You Get Back Into Bed!
Dave R writes: increasing numbers of people living with HIV are being confronted with aging, weakened health, living alone and still having to deal with society, seriously depressing unless you can find the positives and glimmers of humour in the gloom.
I decided yet again, it was about time I ‘looked at life from both sides now’ and stopped moaning and bitching about my lost youth. That feeling lasted for the two hours between waking up with the nerve pain, to taking the tablets to dampen it down. In between, I had to take my HIV pills, eat something to cushion the chemical blow and take my daily vitamins. I rattle like a tin of dried peas before lunchtime but it’s preferable to staggering everything over the whole day when I have to set the alarm to remember when I need to take what. Besides, I have to repeat the HIV meds and the pain killers in the evening anyway. How my kidneys have survived all these years...
Anyway, I digress...I get these rushes of optimism and yearnings to look for the bright side of life every now and then. It’s nagging guilt at wallowing in self-pity that causes it but generally those moments of gung ho, up ‘n at ‘em enthusiasm don’t last long and the daily grind kicks in again. However yesterday, I got as far as jotting down things that make life not so bad after all and today when I looked at the list again, I thought there might just be an article in there. Apart from that, I often find that the therapeutic elements of writing mean that you start off with a dilemma to muse over and at the end you convince yourself; so, working on the premise that I could maybe convince myself to see life in a brighter light, I started typing. I’m sure some people will be saying that that’s pure self-indulgence and no reason to impose my scribblings on others but I know I’m not the only one living my life and there’ll be others who will know exactly what I mean (I’m ducking here!)
I just felt that getting older and well-worn must have some benefits or Mother Nature would have built in legalised euthanasia from the beginning. Isn’t it funny, when you’re 7, you long to be 12; when you’re 12, you long to be 22 but then it goes into reverse and when you’re 62, you’re trying to drop decades! So kids, don’t rush to grow up too soon; the benefits I’m about to describe are only crumbs from the cookie really but hey, they’re better than nothing.
So, let’s see. I’m going to shrink the demographic even further here and just talk about those who’ve worked all their lives and are retired; or those who have been forced into early retirement due to poor health. If you’re still working: a) kudos to have physically survived so long in the workplace and b) try to cherish it; it’s social contact, it’s keeping your brain and body going, it’s bringing in much needed cash and it’s a thousand times more rewarding than sitting at home. Convinced? Probably not. But if you are sitting at home, whether voluntarily or not, there are plusses!
For instance, you wake up and you can do what the hell you want: within reason of course and depending on financial and health restrictions but you’ve finally got out of the clutches of the Man and his roller-coaster, work-till-you-drop ride and your life’s your own.
You can get up when you want: though it takes years to get rid of the guilt that you’re lying in bed much longer than the working world!
You can decide whether to shave or not that day (ladies too!) or grow a ‘tache, or beard, or goatee. Nobody’s going to see the scraggy first two weeks, so go for your inner woodsman but take it easy on the hair dye! There’s a lot to be said for the rugged Grizzly Adams look.
You can sit on the toilet for as long as you want; though you may be back more frequently than you might wish later in the day and probably at night too. You can even fart yourself a symphony if you’re so inclined (though any live-in partners may have something to say on the matter).
Your home can become your own little Neanderthal, man-cave and the socially required suits, ties, combed hair, male grooming and gleaming teeth, can be binned until you need to make an impression again. That said, the first time your conscience and the mirror ask you where your self-esteem has gone, may prick your conscience. After all, didn’t your mum teach you that cleanliness was next to godliness? It’s fun to be a hobo for a few days but hey, we’re gay, we’ve can’t let the image go completely! To the grave in Armani...I wish!
When you do finally stagger out of the house; the world need not be such a bad place after all because there are certain perks to be found, you just have to acknowledge them. You don’t have to rush anywhere for instance, or do something at any given time. If you do happen to mosey into the supermarket, a certain visible decrepitude will cause most (not all alas) staff members to address you politely and offer you senior discounts (“How very dare you! Do I look that old!”) You’ll grab any offers out of their hands of course. Cashiers will be more patient as you grub around for your reading specs and the necessary correct change and even force a smile when you thank them and a glare over your specs at the ‘tutters’ further back in the queue should teach them to mind their manners. If the shelf-fillers, or produce packers don’t give you the respect you deserve, then never forget the: - “I remember when I was your age...” or the, “things were so much better when I was young...” bombs in your armoury. Smart arses hate those! Failing that, throw a good old tantrum. Everybody wants to steer clear of senior citizen, shopping aisle rage. It feels so good to play the age card and let rip every now and then...blows the cobwebs away! You don’t need to buy as much ‘stuff’ while you’re there either. A few rolls of toilet paper are probably enough and single food portions and airport security sized deodorants are the new marketing rage; win, win for us.
Having survived the shopping trip and reached the safety of the cave again; you can take a well-deserved nap in the afternoon, or if you’ve got the energy, go to an afternoon showing at the cinema in the safe knowledge that it will be less busy and not full of screaming kids. If you turn on the box; who’s going to care if you doze off in the middle of a show; or if your book falls off your lap; you know the endings anyway! That’s perhaps the greatest benefit of having lived a bit; there aren’t many story lines you haven’t already seen or read and you can revel in your own smirking cynicism when you predict what’s going to happen!
Having been thrifty at the shops, you can even turn your attention to changing from being a candidate for ‘Super Insane Hoarders’ on Bravo, to getting rid of three quarters of your shit at home. Seriously, I never realised how many things I hadn’t looked at for at least five years; how many clothes were last worn when watching Wham! videos and how many boxes of trivia were cluttering up my spare room! It hurts like hell but once you’re over the, ‘that brings back such memories’ sentimentality, getting rid of your life’s worth of clutter is detox for the soul! You can do it slowly (you need the time to sort through mountains of junk) so the extra time you have can be well-spent.
Then there’s the internet; which on a serious note, since its invention, must have saved thousands of older souls from dying of sheer boredom. What did people do before the Net for God’s sake? I can’t remember; did we take long walks! Now in our dotage, we can blog or social network to our hearts content. Senior blogs and social websites for senior entertainment are the fastest growing segment in cyberspace at the moment and I don’t just mean DaddyDater, or Granddads R US. Seriously there are more cool free games on the oldie sites than anywhere else!
That said, an HIV-positive, mature person, with other side issues is not the most desirable catch in the Koi Carp dating pond but the internet does give us the chance to window shop and sample from the comfort of our own rockers in a way that we never could 30 years ago. If you do happen to get lucky and score a physical contact in the real world, look what those clever science boffins have done to prolong our sex lives – now that’s Nobel Prize-worthy!
Family and friends, while absolutely essential for many things, can also be a tad intrusive on your new-found personal freedom at times can’t they? Strategies need to be fine-tuned. Even though your faculties are as sharp as they were when you were 21 (possibly sharper depending on your history of youthful drug abuse), they don’t need to know that!
“I forgot,” or “You didn’t remind me,” or, “I didn’t hear you properly,” or “Oh was that today?” or, “I could have sworn that you said...” and “I was just thinking of doing that when you rang,” and the ever-useful, “I didn’t hear the phone,” or “I haven’t checked my mail today” are all ploys to confirm their worst fears of oncoming Alzheimer Light but keep you in control of what you want to do and what not. The day that all of the above happen to be true however...might be the time to have a chat with the doc.
Kids can be both a delight and a pain; in very small doses. Remember, they’re a constant reminder of your mortality when they visit. Their boundless energy is enough to have you reaching for the valium before they start and their constant wondering that you’re so old and yet have survived a childhood with so little, just hammers home the message. It’s a sort of compliment that you’re assumed to be wise and experienced on the level of Gandalf the Grey, just because you’re old but their disappointment is palpable when you betray your lack of technical texting skills. I’m not begrudging kids their youth and no I wouldn’t invent a machine to suck it out of them but I’m so glad I’m not that age any more but that of course, is knowing what I know now!
Finally, in the day’s quiet moments, when your eyes are hurting from the computer screen, or TV glare and you’re beginning to suspect rampant tinnitus because your ears have been bombarded for hours by TV audiences who insist on screaming hysterically for no apparent reason; certain other, more abstract benefits of your situation become apparent.
Why should we worry ourselves stupid about the same little things we worried about years ago? We ain’t got that long to go...let it go already! Forget about all the bad relationships and the traumatic mistakes; what’s the point of going over those again and again? You fucked up now and then, get over it! Concentrate on the good bits and the successes and the happy moments. You’re outliving your enemies and frenemies by now too...how good is that! You also begin to realise that all those so-called experts in psychotherapy and social science, don’t know as much as they think they know, or that you thought they knew and that can be an epiphany! It’s wonderful when you realise that the emperors have no clothes. Okay, walking around constantly with a smile on your face may make people suspect that you’re forgetting your medication but fuck ‘em if they can’t take the jokes you’re laughing at in your head.
I’m not saying that the bowl of life-experience cherries hasn’t got quite a few sour ones mixed in and sometimes life really is a bitch and does your head in big time. Good grief, if old age was so much fun, cryogenics would be the world’s top industry. You sometimes just have to accept that you’re more often tired than you want to be and some days are just downright miserable when you’re hurting but realising that there are also still funny moments and moments when you can still pull a fast one over society, can raise the quality threshold and that’s surely what it’s all about. If you can’t raise a smile at Monty Python’s ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ and a finger to the dominance of youth culture, I give up; I think you passed away a while ago!
The title of this article is a gentle reference to the late, great Ian Dury and the Blockheads and their hit, ‘Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3'.