On reaching the ripe age of 67 …
Tomorrow, touch wood, I reach the ripe old/young age of 67. Except for my family and friends that doesn’t necessarily mean all that much to anyone else, but it sure means an awful lot to me. I never thought I’d make it.
If matters such as Suicide or Childhood Sexual Abuse raise concerns for you then it is only fair to inform you that I do not intend to skate past them lightly in this article. Too much light-skating has been done with such matters, by too many, for too long.
As any of us grow older it is quite normal to reflect back upon a life either lived well, or badly, or neutrally, or desperately, or happily, or quietly, or dronishly, or distractedly. In my case all of those things have applied at one stage or another. To be more exact, perhaps they have all applied all of the time. Whatever the truth of that, life is still good.
When I reflect back on my own life I do so with the understanding that there are many people out there who have lived a far harder life than I have, and that helps me keep truth and perspective up front and centre as I write this. And it also explains why somebody like me abhors the thought of sympathy received at my end, but who is quite happy to extend same to others.
But why write this? Well, why not? I can’t always write about Artificial Intelligence, or Space, and I can always write about the weather tomorrow.
As a scribe I have had many articles published in the ‘citizens’ voice’ sphere. Articles on welfare, social justice, politics, the nature of time, and sometimes just simple quirky fun stuff. But who is the person who does the writing? Why do I think the way I do, and why do I pursue the social justice causes that I am so passionate about?
To answer all that would take a book-length scribble, so I’ll go for the short version instead.
People now talk quite openly about matters such as Childhood Sexual Abuse and Suicide. Over the course of my life such matters were not openly discussed, they were under-carpeted, and most people in my experience, except for an exceptional few, ran a million miles rather than listen to whatever I may have had to say. So be it, that’s the way it was. But now is different.
When I think about reaching the age of 67 I think about the people who did not reach that age, and the reasons why they did not reach that age, and I think about how for me the truth of the possibility of not reaching a point of happy old crustiness was such a close run thing.
At the moment I’m working on an article about the contemporary ALP, my usual take on the ludicrous nature of Australian politics, but in the background I’m also assisting another Survivor to get the story of the life he has lived into a coherent written form. Providing that assistance, though I am very determined to do so, is proving to be more difficult than I had imagined. It’s called the mirror effect. You see yourself reflected back.
Why have I lived my entire life with Suicide Ideation bubbling away just below the surface?
If you have read my articles on Childhood Sexual Abuse on AIMN you’ll have done the dot-joining thing ages ago, so I don’t need to reprise the details. Suffice it to say that there have been so many times throughout my life where I thought it would simply be easier, and less painful, to no longer be here, to no longer endure the painful feelings. Quite frankly, I’m bloody amazed, and thankful, that I am still here.
The other day I remarked to the other Survivor that if I had to describe my life it would be like this … My life was snuffed out and shut down at 5 years old and I didn’t start to wake up until I reached the age of 60 years. That’s a literal truth. No wonder I thought that not being around was better than being around.
I’d love to say that there was some sort of miraculous experience that made me dump the thought of suicide out the window, but there wasn’t. Such thoughts, and the affects of my childhood experiences, are permanent. They’ll be with me always. The reality of all that used to gut me out, and I fought against it with all of my energy, which simply left me permanently exhausted and seriously considering self-termination.
Yet I am still here. And why is that?
A good Psychiatrist simply made me realise that I was involving myself in a battle that I could never win. He made me realise that I was fighting against something that would never, despite herculean efforts, ever go away. Your condition is permanent old bod, so get used to it, work out a way to live with it, run with your intelligence (ha …. such as it is) and your strengths, and live on. It was a truth I needed to hear, and it sure as shit made me think about things.
There was I hoping for a release that would never come. There was I thinking of killing myself because the weight of depression and PTSD, despite all my efforts, was not getting any lighter at all. So it took a change of perspective from me. I had to change my view of everything.
My afflictions are permanent. They cannot be undone. They cannot be fixed. It has taken my whole life to come to an acceptance of those facts. Thank the stars or whatever that acceptance has come.
I have given up the fight. There is no battle to be fought. I now see the permanent nature of the injuries to my psyche and my being as stubbed bent toes that are simply solidly and permanently attached to me. They are part of me, they are a permanent part of my body, and they have shaped how I think, and what I think about.
When I write about social injustice in our society I write from a very solid, solid, base. I know what unfairness feels like, I know what demonisation feels like, I know what to be the recipient of rape and abuse feels like, I know what to be the recipient of violence feels like, I know what cruelty feels like, I know what to be the target of others’ warped anger feels like, I know what to be impoverished feels like, I know what to be disadvantaged feels like. That’s why I’m an experiential, and not a bookish or an academic style of writer.
I don’t always write about the Australian Welfare System, but when I do I am consciously scathing of it, and of those who designed it and of those who administer it. Reform of our system of welfare is a cause that I am passionate about. Welfare Recipients are human beings and deserve to be treated that way.
Refugees, who are legal seekers of asylum, and who are fleeing the warfare, and the bombs, that we have inflicted upon them because of our involvement in all of the Coalitions of the Willing, do not deserve to be treated inhumanely, nor do they deserve to be incarcerated.
I mention those last two matters to simply example how my own experiences have formed my thinking. My experiences inform my thinking in all such matters and causes.
As I finish off now my thinking runs to you, the reader, and I wonder what sort of life you have had. I wonder what obstacles you have had to surmount. I wonder where your joys come from. And I wonder what experiences inform your thinking. I certainly hope that your life is a happily lived one.
So tomorrow. 67 years of age. I’ll be celebrating it with bells on I assure you. A glass of Shiraz, maybe even a pie.
No matter what, life is good. I’m glad to be here.
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You are a credit to yourself, a survivor of the highest order. I am glad your life is now good. In spite of all. I am not sure if I would have been able to be where you are now with that same history. My life has been regular, blessed, happy and sad, normal. Whatever normal is.
Welfare, it has become a dirty word, a shameful word, a word for people who take everything and give nothing. It should be none of these. What happened to us ? What can we do to fix it?
For a start, the people in charge of welfare should be experienced in receiving it, either by extensive investigation, personal experience, or even both. Same as disability assistance, the people giving it should be disabled. Don’t get me started on refugees. . .
We have no chance of anyone ever being helped while those who should be providing it are only interested in the bottom line, a surplus, a profit, a fat bank account.
What was it Jesus said about the money lenders?
Happy Birthday, my next one is 67 too in a few months. I’d like to think that by the time I am 70 we might be living in a society that cares.
Thank you so much for stating things that many of us avoid. Having a purpose in life is the key, finding it is more difficult.
Happy birthday young man.
It’s such a hard call isn’t it – do we talk about the things that have hurt us in the past, causing us to relive the pain, or do we try to forget them knowing that we can never really do so?
Things have changed because very brave people have, at great cost to themselves, said this has to stop. This is what happened to me and I do not want it to happen to anyone else.
Empathy is an essential trait but it is also an exhausting one. It is so much easier not to hear.
There are times in life that feel too hard to bear. We must hold each other up during those times because standing alone is just too much to ask. Why our government chooses to hurt the most vulnerable people is beyond me.
Dad always said every experience in life, good or bad, teaches us things. I try to remind myself of that but there are some things that should never have to be endured. To those who fight so others will not suffer as they have, I salute you.
Happy birthday Keith. I will raise a glass in honour of a brave man.
Happy Birthday to a courageous and honest man. May you have many more years of good life and happiness.
It is wonderful to hear of the way you have learned to live with all that – and not to try and fight it. It’s a battle that will never be won – I know that only too well.
Your article is a brilliant insight into what is wrong in this world – and how we should go about fixing it. Hopefully many more sufferers at the hands of others will read this, or get the appropriate help and understanding that is so very much needed. Of course, with the current Government turning its back on these problems, we have to do it on our own.
More power to you – – – – and to us all.
It’s one of the mysteries of life, Keith, that we generally have to endure over sixty years before we get it just how we want it.
Happy Birthday Keith and thank you for a wonderful, uplifting article which sets an example for all of us. Given my personal bias I am tempted to say ‘God bless you’. However, in case the perpetrator of your life-long challenge may have been religious I will instead say Very Best Wishes.
Thank you all for the comments. I intend to have a blast tomorrow.
Michael … yes … it takes time … an inordinate amount of time … but when a friend and I hoist a glass tomorrow all I’ll be thinking is “Life is bloody good, so here’s to it.”
Kaye Lee … your Dad was right. Lessons abound. Negative experiences are a downright bummer, but handling them, or trying to deal with them, has certainly taught me humility and has ensured that my well-spring of empathy for others stays full. There are positives in everything I guess.
Tim: Let’s just say I was in a Catholic Orphanage at the time. My abusers, as I see it, are not representative of the vast majority of religious people. Thank you for the best wishes.
Ah, the Welfare Sphere … we are all on the same page with that one I think.
Happy birthday Keith. You’re just about six months ahead of me. Good on you, beating your self-perceived odds.
PTSD is a strange thing. I’ve often wondered about it. I’ve lived a charmed life. I’m the happiest person that I know. I’ve been incredibly lucky, and can’t think of anything particularly bad in my life. Certainly nothing to strike me with the anguish of PTSD… yet for some strange reason I still have periods that make me squirm in awful emotional turmoil. So why the hell would it hit me? I wonder if it might be because when I was young and even more stupid than I am now I fell in love with a young woman who used heroin, so I began to use it too, so that I could be in the same mind-space as her. I never became addicted, and nothing terrible happened, but opiates trigger the endorphin systems in the brain and body. That system is there to handle stress. So now the limbic system in my brain is mistakenly responding to a stressful life I never lived. I occasionally remember things that were only trivially embarrassing at the time, but now are magnified almost intolerably. For a long time I couldn’t work out what was happening, until one day I caught myself feeling great anguish over something that happened to someone else!!… someone who probably didn’t even give it a second thought. Then I realised what is happening (or what I think is happening) and decided, screw this, from now on, when it happens I’ll just distract myself and try to take its power away. That strategy works fairly well.
Some years ago I read a study on soldiers in warzones who’d had awful experiences. Some were given tranquillisers soon after the bad events, some self-medicated with alcohol or opiates, and others were unable to receive any treatment. The ones who fared best were those who had no treatment. Medications seem to block the mind’s ability to deal with such events.
I used to be close to someone who had some trauma at one point in her life. Unfortunately as she grew older she began to abuse alcohol. The more she used it the worse the original trauma loomed in her mind. Now she is a mess, a total wreck, with little hope of recovery, it seems.
Another study I read about was to do with people suffering PTSD who had been in terrible car accidents. They were encouraged to retell their experiences many times. It de-fanged the experiences, reducing the emotional intensity each time. (I have a feeling there was something else to this too… something like moving around physically, looking at unrelated pictures, I think… not sure. I think the idea was that the other things that had no emotional load overlaid the traumatic memories.)
Have you seen the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”? It is based on genuine research which showed that taking a particular protein synthesis inhibitor after remembering an event can edit the memory out. Radiolab produced an episode of their wonderful series which covered it along with other cool stuff:
By the way, when I was in my early teens I used to read Scientific American each month. I remember reading one article about training a goldfish then dosing it with an antibiotic (most antibiotics work by inhibiting synthesis of a particular protein). They found the goldfish failed to remember what it had just learned. The human memory editing trick apparently works because in remembering something we also remake the memory.
One last thing… one of my all-time favorite SF stories is “Permutation City” by Greg Egan. In the story a guy has the ability to edit his memories, which he does, but in doing so becomes someone entirely different. I’ve often felt I wouldn’t like to lose the memories that upset me (they’re not terrible memories, after all, not like someone who has had truly bad experiences). I’d just like to blunt the emotional impact. Memories are what make me me, after all.
Anyway, forgive my blather. Thank you for writing something to prompt my thoughts. And I hope you have many more happy birthdays.
Here is the original Radiolab link from their 2015 podcast:
I love their shows.
(oops… 2007, not 2015)
Hi Miriam … as per usual you’ve raised interesting thoughts with your comments and they deserve a thought out reply. As for your wondering about PTSD … I live with it so I’ll do my best layman’s explanation of it …
Depression/PTSD, and the very real affects of same, are virtually impossible to describe to a non-sufferer … it is like trying to describe to someone who has never broken a leg bone how a broken leg bone actually feels. Mind you … a leg bone heals relatively quickly whereas, in comparison, Depression/PTSD can have the clinging power of a limpet … not in all cases, but in enough cases.
There are many PTSD cases out there in our society where an individual struggles to cope with the consequences of a single major traumatic life event, as you point out things like car crashes, or it could be a war experience, or a sexual assault, or bullying. The event was real, the consequences are real, and the healing from it is never instant. Recovery from even a single traumatic event can take a lot of time.
The complication for people who have experienced multiple major traumatic life events over an extended period of time is that the consequences of their multiple experiences are compounded … rip into one of the major issues and try to deal with that, and it then rips you into the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and on it goes. Overwhelming for most.
The issue of ‘self-perceived odds’ is an interesting one and hard to clearly define because it is more a case of self-awareness of the consequences on one’s life of factual and verified abuse experiences rather than a self-perception or memory of past events. A clear awareness of, for example, why I am the way I am did not happen overnight.
While I am acutely aware of the abuse experiences that happened to me over an extended period of time my own understanding of my own dis-functionality was fairly limited for much of my lifetime. Once Depression becomes habituated you tend to think that that is simply how life feels. Took a long time and a lot of effort to work out a coherent view of my own self. Wasn’t exactly chuffed with the ‘permanency’ diagnosis, especially when I sought five different professional opinions on the matter which simply confirmed it, but in the end I now just think … well, so be it.
A Canticle for Leibowitz is still my favourite SF novel (even though it has Monks in it) but I’ll check out the Memory Editing one you mentioned.
Don’t know about other survivors of major traumatic events but if I could I reckon I’d jump on the editing suite and wipe a few of my experiences off the map. I do understand that some people struggle to attain clear memory recall, but I belong to the camp of those who wish that they could, just even once, forget. But you are probably right … wipe the facts and you may end up losing a sense of who you are.
As for the Meds thing … I’ve nothing against them … but simply chose never to use them.
But do you know what I find the most uplifting thing to be Miriam? It is when someone says that they have managed to live a full life totally devoid of any sort of major negative experience. I am quite sincere when I say this … what a wonderful thing for them to have experienced … it shows that it is possible.
Thanks for the birthday wishes. A friend is shouting me a meal at a great restaurant in Coolum Beach tonight … how good is that!
Lovely article, to know our scars and not give up the fight – reminds me of that Dylan Thomas poem!
Reaching 67 (or any age, the sum of our parts as we are always all the years we’ve ever been) is never going to be good enough; what really matters is how we get there and what happens next thereon 🙂
‘Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light’.
Keith, “Permutation City” is about a bunch of people who live in a virtual world after uploading their minds. The one who edits his memory is a minor character in the story. You’d gain much more from listening to the Radiolab episode. As you’ll hear from the episode, you really can edit out memories. I’ll find the name of the drug which does the trick, if you want. It is a fairly common antibiotic.
I’ve tried to read “A Canticle for Leibowitz” (by Walter M Miller?) a number of times. It won awards when it was first published and many people have recommended it to me. I have both paper and electronic versions of it, so I should push myself to give it another try. My all-time favorite would have to be John Wyndham’s “Trouble with Lichen”. Currently I’m listening to William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” as an audiobook downloaded from YouTube which I converted to mp3 for my mp3-player. It’s been years since read it, and it feels like an entirly different story. It really is quite brilliant.
Coolum??? You’re in my neck of the woods. I was just in Nambour this morning helping my parents do their shopping. I live in the hinterland — over the other side of the range, near Kenilworth. Geez it’s dry there at the moment!
Jon, when I turned 30 I thought it was the end of the world. My father – sensing I was disturbed about something – asked what the matter was.
My response was probably typical for anybody turning 30: “I’m 30 now. That’s it. Life’s over. It’s all downhill from here.”
He laughed, but his reply was to shape my thinking for the rest of my life:
“You’re worried about turning 30! I’m about to turn 72 … yet I reckon the best years of my life are still ahead of me.”
Miriam … then we both live in the Best State in the Federation (QLD). I’m up the range near Mapleton. And yes, it sure as heck is dry at the moment.
Keith, if you enjoy SF you might like some of my stories. Most of my novels are set in Australia. “Companions” and “flying” are set in the Sunshine Coast. I’m never sure if my stories are okay or crummy, but they are free. 🙂
Easiest to read on a smartphone or tablet computer with the free ebook reader fbreader… or just with a web browser.
Wait until you come down our way, Keith. You won’t wanna go home. 😀
Where is your area, Michael?
Northern Victoria. Not too far from the high country.
A lot of Victoria is lovely. I spent many years there, but I have to say, when I came to the Sunshine Coast it felt like I was on sensory overdose for the first 6 months. It is so beautiful here.
I grew up first in outback NSW then in the bush north of Sydney, so I’ll always have a special place in my heart for those landscapes, but the Sunshine Coast is gorgeous. I first came up here about 45 years ago, after my folks had earlier moved here and I was blown away by the beauty here. But my work, and later, my love were in southern states.
When I returned here about15 years ago, some of the most beautiful places had been paved over, but what remains is still stunning. Interestingly, some of the ugly human settlements have now become quite pretty too.
It’s what’s in the heart, Miriam.
Carol and I enjoy quiet seclusion, hence we enjoy it here and here we’ll stay.
The only other places we would probably enjoy are Kangaroo Island or the Scottish Highlands. We’ve been to Scotland a couple of times. Our souls felt totally at peace there.
When I was young man, early 20s I thought 34 would see me out, michael then I met my darling 25 and whitlam 32 whose excitement blew all that silliness away(both still work) even a deliberate smash with a hockey (that gave me grief and pain feb 1972 till the final operation october 2017), a stroke that left me with pain at the touch of anything on the skin of my left side from the top of the head to the tip of the toe, .My brain registers the pain and even know there is nothing the pain is real. Add a constant roar of cicadas 5 cms from my right ear courtesy of silly 303 cadet days, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and cataracts.
The end result is I wouldn’t be dead for quids. I love life, love all my experiences from corny point, tent in ethelton, trust home without electricity 50 metres from the gate of the osbourne power station we scrabbled for the coal that fell off the trains. Who here remembers the tilley lamp and the black hole in the middle of the table? The ice man, the green grocer’s van, milk man’s bent head horse continuing down the street whilst he ran with the milk bottles clinking. I was a bit soft and sometimes missed the cues to shut up, so I copped many chinese burns, arm twisting and the occasional blood nose.
I can empathize with all but the Keiths and sexually abused children for whom I am sorry for tose who suffered and died and those still suffering.
ps my first two years of high school weremade more memorable because, Mr gerald arthur phillips the Honourable GAP started the day with science fiction. Half the boys thought is stupid but he was a great reader and so highly respected they suffered in silence funny the ones who remained in contact are rabbottians.
no wonder you think I am stupid what a great site.
Yes Michael, I feel the same way about quiet seclusion. I loooove living alone with no close neighbors. Julie (my ex) and I have talked at times about retiring to the mountains of north-east Victoria. It certainly is lovely there. And if global warming goes really badly it might be a better place than here… though I’d hate to lose this.
Miriam, if global warming keeps up then it might be the Scottish Highlands after all.
It was a cruel Summer last year, and after what Europe experienced this year I’m dreading the next six months.
Wam, I never thought you’re stupid. I have said I find it hard to read stuff with names made obscure, but that has nothing to do with smarts… except my limitations, perhaps…
Thanks for the comment about my site. [blush]
Michael, I can understand that. Julie really likes Scotland too. She and I have also been considering Tasmania. I don’t know. I’d like to stay in one spot for my remaining time (hopefully a few more decades).
My family bought land 2 blocks in tassie about 600m above sea level 10 years ago when booby voted with the rabbott. .50 years ago we also had a spot picked out near the daly river to live should mao or the septics or sub-continent let fly. The latter was for fun but the former is insurance against global warming, for my grandchildren.
many of the strikers, shown on the late news, wouldn’t have been born when the loonies joined the rabbott to vote climate chamge action down
Michael … I give you high praise for the great though forlorn effort you just made to convince me that this part of the Sunshine Coast is not the best part of the Best State in the whole of the Federation. I can compromise, and adjust my opinions when I learn new facts, but on this matter I am unmovable, set in concrete, a total stick in the mud, blind to all the other obvious possibilities, and completely self-assured and totally convinced that I am unquestionably and verifiably right. Mind you … I haven’t seen Wodonga yet!
Miriam … I’ll read your stories, I do like SF. ‘Cosmic Follies and the Race to Space’ was my first effort in that genre … ha … in many years time when a second person reads it I’ll be chuffed and I’ll proudly proclaim that it was published on AIMN first!
[sigh] wam, I presume your unreadably obscure references in that comment are to the Greens. I get a bit sick of having to explain this over and over and over again. The Greens didn’t vote against action on climate change. They called for genuine action. What Labor and the Libs colluded on was a fake response that would have locked in laws that were worse than doing nothing.
I don’t know why Labor keeps pushing a lie that destroys their chances of re-election. If they would work with the Greens (like the Libs do with the Nats) then Labor would have easily won the last few elections. Instead they prefer to shoot themselves in the foot, giving favors to the big polluters and religious extremists and naturally lose; they can never be as right-wing as the LNP. They should give up trying and return to their base, ally with the Greens, and start fixing all the damage done by all those years of lunatics messing up Australia.
Keith, I found it:
I’ll read it now.
(As I mention on the page where the story is posted, I enjoyed it. Very cool story. Thought I’d better mention that here, otherwise it looks like embarrassed silence.) 🙂