Monday, July 18, 2005

sharon with mina032

sharon with mina032
Originally uploaded by sm1raphael.

On Being 64: An Older Lesbian Speaks

A friend asked me if I was going to talk on my Blog about my own experience of growing older. I could write about my retirement; although I don’t feel fully retired yet . I am what is called a FERPer or soon to be one, a term created by the State University system where I work. FERP means faculty early retirement program and allows its beneficiaries to continue to teach or in some cases administrate at half time hours or less.

Although I could have retired last June, I waited until Jan. 1 when extended domestic partnership benefits were put into effect by the California legislature. This basically means that if I were to die, my life partner would be able to receive my benefits from my work as a college professor. Since it is a state policy, federal benefits such as social security still are out of reach for even “married” same sex partners. Of course, at this point only Massachussets grants marriage to same sex partners. I spent spring semester and this summer not teaching and it felt very good but now have to gear up to teach two courses in the Fall and who knows what else. It seems the school officials expect more of FERPers than I ever realized. This presents a problem with expectations, my own and others.

I thought I was almost retired and acted retired over all these months. People think I am fully retired as the word FERPing is hard to explain and I haven't started to actually do the FERPing yet. It gets very confusing. There is a good economic reason to ferp. You get your retirement and you also get paid for the time you work. It is a good deal but the psychological aspects of it are demanding. It will be interesting to see how I handle the real thing. I did start this Blog during the time I was not working so I do have something to show for my time at home. I also did an important book review on Lesbian and Gay Aging Research published in The Haworth Press Journal of Gerontological Social Work.

My health at 64 seems good, although I am significantly overweight. I have no disabilities but am constantly aware that I need to keep making changes in my eating habits and that I need to do better at creating some kind of routine around exercise. I am diabetic (what would once have been described as pre-diabetic) but am able to maintain normal figures when tested by having made changes in my intake of sugar. For instance, I use Splenda when I need a sweetener for cereal and similar foods and only drink diet drinks and when I need my dark chocolate fix only use the kind that have no sugar, although I must admit it does not taste the same, it does come close enough to letting me think it is the same. It is obvious I could have made better decisions when I was younger, more exercise routines and less food. My Doc says that the weight gain is mostly a result of not eating too much when I was younger as I never ate that much but a result of a lowered metabolic rate that required less and less eating and more exercise as one becomes older which I failed to do on a routine basis. I do not take insulin or oral pills only use food control and exercise occasionally to keep the blood sugar levels in check.

I have a treadmill and do walk in my neighborhood but did a lot more walking (daily) when my dog was still alive. I have not gotten another dog companion or cat friend because my life partner is terribly allergic to both. I have gotten into bird watching in a bigger way than before. That helps me satisfy my constant need to observe nature and the animal world.

I am also very sensitive to caffeine. I become very hyper with even the smallest amounts of caffeine, even too much decaffeinated coffee makes me go off so I relegate myself to one cup of de-caffeinated coffee in the morning and that is it. I avoid anything else with caffeine that I know about. The very occasional times when I am out and want a coke or pepsi I ask for the kind without sugar or caffeine. It is hard to find but will soon be available in more places I am sure. I not only become hyper with caffeine, I also urinate constantly as a result and generally feel crazy as a loon. Oftentimes I thought something was terribly wrong wlth me after drinking one can of a caffeinated soda even at lunchtime and by late evening I become very uncomfortable forgetting that I ever had the terrible drink earlier in the day. It happened enough times to make me realize not to ever drink anything with large doses of caffeine in it and I think that even includes the dark chocolate without sugar except in very small quantities. It is possible the dark chocolate also contains some kind of diarrhetic that also makes me feel sick too. So I am out of luck there and am just realizing that can be a problem too.

And so it goes. I can’t say all this happened at the age of 64 but whatever is happening sure got accelerated at this age. My Lesbian partner who is only 13 months older than me has many more health problems than I do. Recently she lost her ability to drive a car because of neuropathy in her feet (diabetes related) which has affected me greatly as I have had freeway phobia for many years and she was my ticket to going long distances. She is learning to drive with hand controls and we are both anxiously hoping she will be able to master the intricacies of doing that. I have been trying to be supportive as I can as driving was something she loved to do and the loss of that freedom, even if only temporary, is a big blow to her self esteem. We are having to change roles with me being in charge of driving and her trying to be the passive passenger and often failing at that as she has been telling me what short cuts to take and things to look out for on the road. It seems like this situation has created an instant old age for both of us by limiting where we can go and who we can see. I suppose I should berate myself for not fighting my fears of driving on freeways but I will leave that to others to think as they will. I have come to accept my limitations and my strengths too. Meanwhile, I plan to stay optimistic and will continue to figure out creative ways to mount the obstacles that come our way. Perhaps, I am kidding myself.

I know as Lesbians we have been good at surmounting obstacles that came earlier in life such as the withdrawal of support from straight family members. When this occured, we sucessfully turned to the Lesbian and the Gay community or to feminist friends and always found a way through the maze.

More later.