Monday, December 5, 2011

A Reflection On My Mirror Image

Skyler says, "Things are looking up around here now that Mom can pick me up again and put me in the car
to go places.  I was getting bored."

One of the most horrendous side effects of my recent surgery and recovery was to realize that I am old.  Not “getting older.”  Not “aging gracefully.”  But old.  I now find myself drawn into those infomercials for Lifestyle Lifts, or the French cantaloupe miracle face creams that will make me look like super-model Cindy Crawford, or those electronic devices that will remove hair from places that only my grandmother had to worry about.  I am old.  Mirror, mirror in my hand, who’s the oldest in the land?

After the cervical fusion I could turn my neck only slightly to the left or right, and not up or down at all.  This lack of mobility made it difficult to handle such grooming routines as styling my hair, changing pierced earrings, or searching for errant dog hairs that took up residence in my eye.  I couldn’t comfortably lean in over the vanity in order to move closer to the bathroom mirror for any of these tasks.  I decided my best solution was a new hand mirror.

I bought one with 10x magnification on one of the sides.  That’s when I discovered a mustache growing above my upper lip that had to be a cousin to – or even a twin of – that thick patch of hair growing above Geraldo Rivera’s mouth.  How could I be so blind?  Had it been hidden by some anti-aging rose-colored glasses?  But now I see.  It’s a veritable forest of luxuriously long facial hairs waving in the breeze, so numerous that they could never be tamed simply with a pair of tweezers. With the help of my new 10x personal jumbotron I even found one of those wicked creatures trying to plant its flag and stake a claim in my chin.

Self-portrait post surgery with swollen face, cervical collar, and bone growth stimulator
But that’s not all.  Oh no, I’m even older than my mustache lets on.  In fact, I must be as old as the moon because surely those things called “pores” are as deep as those craters we see on a summer night with our telescope.  The blood vessels on my chin (I’m sure courtesy of my Grandma’s rosacea) flash like Las Vegas neon, spreading out across my fair skin like the Amazon River and all its tributaries.  My eyes somehow have become framed by the miles-deep canyons of the American Southwest.  And while I was willing to admit to the two or three small age spots on my cheek and brow, I now see that it is really a dozen small Saharas spreading quickly across the landscape of my face.

Where would I draw my own line now in resisting this newly discovered downward spiral?

I’m trying not to fixate on the magnified side of my mirror, to return to the regular side and my attitude that, although I don’t look twenty-five anymore, my face also doesn’t look like I spent my life puffing on cigarettes while frying in the sun.  I look good enough when I walk out the door each day.  I make the effort to do the best with what I’m given.

What’s a mirror image anyway?  It’s the reflected duplication of an image, but in reverse.  That piece of silvered glass shows me my age . . . decay . . . every fault.  I know that’s me inside the red frame I hold in my hand; I recognize myself.  However, it’s just an imitation.  The real me – the reverse of that reflection – isn’t aging as quickly on the inside, the part the mirror can’t see.  I finally returned to yoga class after almost two months of inactive recuperation and found that I could still stand strong in my tree pose, and I left more energized that when I had arrived.  I have a new pile of books to read to keep my mind agile.  I’m thinking about where I’ll travel next because curiosity about new places, in my opinion, is a better youth tonic than Retin-A.

I’m starting to make friends with what I found under the 10x magnification.  There might be a few things I can do to spruce up that version of Julie that aren’t the equivalent of knocking out a load-bearing wall in a home renovation project. But for the most part I think I’ll continue to put my focus on the self I can’t see, the one looking out on the world through what I now know are clearly aging eyes.  That one is easier to improve than the magnified mirrored image I saw. 
What makes you feel older?  Where do you focus your attention or energy when you want to feel younger?  My oldest friend and I used to joke that we never felt our real age (until recently).  What age do you usually feel?  Please share your thoughts on aging or your favorite “anti-aging” technique in the comments box.
The best way to get younger, Skyler and I think, is to head out for a good walk with good scenery
(our first excursion post-surgery)
I’ve been MIA on a large scale since my cervical fusion surgery.  I’ve been MIA on my blog, on e-mail, on Facebook, on Twitter, on websites of friends and organizations that continue to post compelling things I should be reading but have passed me by.  Time – and the internet – wait for no man or woman.  The surgery went fine.  I felt improvement the moment the anesthesia wore off.  What has kept me down for so long was a steady stream of physical ailments, one after another, that flat laid me out on the couch, no energy even to read.  Focusing my eyes on a computer screen seemed like too much effort.  But I’ve started physical therapy and feel back on track.  I hope to catch up with all of you soon.


Elizabeth Young said...

Thank you for this humorous look at MY face girl! I know exactly what you mean, but it was so funny hearing somebody else speak about it. I hope you are recovering from your surgery well and continue to improve. I love Skyler's name and he certainly looks good company. Best Wishes, Elizabeth.

Scrollwork said...

You have great analogies for all the physical changes you see in the mirror! I actually have felt that way about my pictures for much of my life, and the only recourse was indeed to focus on that part of the self that I can't see. That, and become real skilled at PhotoShop.

It's when I write that I feel most powerful and ageless. Like you, my recuperation period (much of November) had me too fatigued to focus on a computer monitor. It feels so good to be able to get back into blogging and connecting with an online community, doesn't it?

The time I feel my age most is when I awaken stiff and sore just from sleeping. It's not the most fun way to start every day, but it must be part of "growing older."

Love that pic of you and Skyler on that walk! So in the first pic, that's a bone growth stimulator on your chest? I've never heard of one. Does it hurt?

Julie Farrar said...

Alas, my PhotoShop skill is limited, @Scrollwork, so I just have to pretend I don't see what I don't like. Sorry to hear you were down, too. I guess I missed that bit of news because I was out of the loop myself. As for the bone grower, I hang it around my neck several hours a day. It sends out a magnetic radiation or field or somesuch thing. It makes no noise and weighs little, but the magnetic pulses interfere with phone signals so I have to use speakerphone in order to keep the handset at a distance and avoid the loud clicking sound. It must be going swimmingly because the doctor said my new neck is almost completely grown in.

Nadine Feldman said...

I can relate to these moments -- suddenly seeing something that has been there for a while. I especially relate to those pores and "rosiness" in the skin. If you go to Costa Rica, people are fascinated by it and will pinch your cheeks. Sigh.

I am truly sorry that you've had such an extended round of difficulties and hope that you continue to feel better.

Ruth Schiffmann said...


Glad to hear that the surgery went well and you are feeling better and getting back into the swing of things.
The first time I really felt old was when my daughter had her first boyfriend. Now she is buying a house and will be moving out in the new year. Yes, that makes me feel old. I will most definitely be staying away from any magnifying mirrors! (Inside, I still feel like I'm 20!)

Claudette Young said...

Ah Julie, you're still a young sprout looking for a place to put down permanent roots, don't ya think. If you'd passsed 60 or so I'dd think you were getting up there where you might want to worry about slowing down.

Fusion surgery would be an excuse if it weren't so petty. (That's what my grandma would have said.) She was a tough old bird, let me tell you. She only went to the doctor twice in her 74 years before she died; once for malaria and once for rattlesnake bite. She knew her age, respected the energy and courage it took to get there, and flaunted her ability to get away with so much because of it.

Personally, I don't like pain and ask for drugs and a good PT specialist. Then I try to deal with it as best I can.

Until I was in my twenties people took me to be in my mid to late twenties. Then I was suddenly thought to be ageless, both to myself and everyone else. People still don't think I'm my age. Yet I, and my family, know better.

I'm like my grandma in many ways. I know my body doesn't work or look like it did back then, but I also know that I know more now than then and try not to flaunt that. I can't say I'm at peace with the reality because I still want the outside to reflect the inside of an 18 year old. I can live with it, though, so long as I keep exploring and discovering all those things I've not experienced, learned, or witnessed. That, for me, is life at it's best.

Candice Coghill aka The Kindly Hermudgeon said...

Ah, Julie, it's great to see you back in the swing of things again! If you're bored enough to play Mirror Mirror with that 10X of yours, that must mean your energy is returning together with healing, and that's a good thing :)

I feel older some days when the aches and pains from chemo make me more aware of my joints than I want to be. When I no longer have the effects of chemo to blame, I suppose I'll have to admit that at least some of it is from being 64 ;)

A strange and wonderful thing about the chemo and subsequent hair loss: pre-chemo, my hair was an ugly brownish color with increasing strands of silver. I'd always admired those women "of a certain age" with beautiful platinum or white hair, but my hairdresser said that color would be impossible to achieve. Now that my bald head is sprouting new growth, it has a wonderful texture and the exact color I always wished for! It's only about 1 inch at its longest, but when it all grows in ... Look out world!!! :)

Lots of hugs to you for continued healing and to Skyler for being such a good buddy. He's so cute!

Candice (She Writes)

June O'Hara said...

Julie, I so enjoyed this. The hair looking to stake its flag in your chin -- I cracked up. And it's all beautifully written. A joy to read.

My vision is awful, so sometimes putting on makeup is an issue. But using my 5x magnifying mirror is enough to give me PTSD. I try really hard not to let the changes in my face get to me, but if I'm honest, it's not easy.

I'm so glad you're feeling better and able to do more. I look forward to reading more of your stuff.

Julie Farrar said...

Claudsy, you're right about our grandmothers being tough old things. Both of mine survived into their 90's. Some days I feel like I could, too, if I could just learn to give up fast food and soda. And Candice, if I knew I could have my mother's silver hair, I might be willing to give it a try, but since I look so much like Grandma, I'm afraid I'd have that mousy, no-color look, so it's off to the hairdresser for me.

Brenda said...

Beautifully written. My husband is still in recovery from a major surgery and while I didn't live through it as you and he did, I am thinking I need a holiday somewhere for being the nurse. So happy you are doing well and finding your game again. Keep the posts coming, they are a pleasure on my sore eyes.

Anonymous said...

Julie, Oh my gosh, cervical fusion! Sounds dreadful. And yet, you look great. Just throw away that 10x mirror and you'll be just fine! I don't dare look at mine these days. Please take care and get well quick, you've got lots more traveling to do!---Lynn

Anonymous said...

Julie, so happy to hear you're starting to feel better! I have to laugh along with you about all the changes we see in the mirror as time marches on. After all, humor is our best defense!

Muriel said...

I hope that you are feeling better...As for believing that you look old (which I believe is what you mean when you say that you are old -because you are NOT old), well, you need to talk to your French friends. We Frenchwomen have lots of tricks to look younger than we have (I would start by waxing/threading this little moustache),...In my head I am still 15. My body is obviously (a bit) older.

Julie Farrar said...

Alas, Muriel, I'm torn between not wanting to look too old and not wanting to spend too much time/money on all those little side issues of appearance -- manicures, pedicures, waxing, blah blah.

Yvonne (aka writerNtraining) said...

Glad to hear you're recuperating well. Your post made me think about Martina McBride's song(This one's for the girls)..."every laugh line on your face made you who are today." And it's definitely about the inner beauty, kudos to you!

Julie Farrar said...

I know that song, Yvonne. And I really wouldn't seriously consider plastic surgery on my face because then I wouldn't look like all the family who came before me.

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