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Alan Hamilton - Author & Editor

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Emotions & memory

As I write this I'm recovering from a particularly malignant viral attack that first picked me out a couple of weeks ago. Its medical name is polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) and the symptoms are acute muscular inflammation, in my case around the hip region and jagging down into the buttocks and upper thighs. You're suddenly reduced to a cripple; your legs are wayward – in fact, someone observing you walking in the street might reasonably suspect you've had too much to drink and make obvious efforts to avoid you.


You also feel exhausted at even slight effort. To climb the twenty-five stairs I mentioned in an earlier piece, I have to drag myself up by the bannister. The treatment involves heavy doses of corticosteroids which brings its own additional problems if, like me, you're a diabetic.
The relevance for us 'oldies' is that it is a virus that rarely attacks anyone under 70 (it also seems to be confined to northern European Caucasians – and it prefers the ladies to the extent that 75% of sufferers are female.


I'm getting better but until today found it almost impossible to turn my mind to writing, thus the delay in creating this post.


In keeping with the theme of this particular piece, the symptoms of PMR have a strongly depressive effect on the emotions. They make you feel really old. Everything's an effort; you walk, or rather stagger in a way that makes you feel you no longer have much control over your movement, and your balance is unsteady too. There's no question of being able to go to the gym – one of the things that encourages me not to feel quite as old as I am.


At times, too often in fact, you start thinking, 'is it always going to be like this?' And even when you assure yourself you'll get over it and move normally again, there's the underlying feeling that this must be what it's like – only worse – when you're finally 'clapped-out', and how much of a burden you'll then be to everyone else close to you.


On the general subject of emotions, I find that as I grow older I become more moved by things that ten years or so ago didn't affect me anything like as much. Performances of favourite music, especially if connected with human tragedy as in the cases of Jacqueline Du Pré or Kathleen Ferrier can now leave me surreptitiously blowing my nose far more than is normal or the widely publicised suffering and death of an infant or small child for whom nothing can be done and whose parents are beside themselves with misery, and the loss (or even the contemplated loss) of a beloved pet.


Perhaps it is that with age I feel less need to conceal my emotions than I did when I worked and was expected to conform to emotional stability, if only to avoid embarrassing others. I certainly cuss and swear more at my own clumsiness, forgetfulness, and frustration, though I do it alone.


Occasionally, I'm ashamed to admit, I flare up openly at some particularly awful example of public stupidity, dishonesty, lying or wilful or otherwise ignorance of the clear facts when I don't remember feeling so strongly in earlier times, and I have to apologise for my language. Maybe, though, there are more examples of that kind of thing today.


Which brings me to the matter of memory. I'm enough of a student of history and a realist to appreciate my younger years were not 'The Golden Age' conventionally perceived by the elderly, though perhaps those of us who entered adulthood in the mid-1950s and grew to maturity in the 'sixties and early 'seventies knew a world that despite the Cold War was more stable and benign than what followed.


I don't cling to memories of the past – in fact most of my teenage to late fifties years were not ones I enjoyed a great deal, and while I can clearly remember much from them, there's little fondness there. There are, though, people long gone from my life, the memory of whose love for and closeness to me brings an inner glow, and perhaps this also waxes with age.


These are very much my own observations and I would genuinely like to hear what others who read this would have added or taken away when thinking of their own emotions and memories.


In the next post: a shorter piece on sleep patterns when you're older. How much sleep does one need? Is it a good idea to nap in the afternoon? What's different about the way you sleep from when you were younger.


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My third blog about growing old....