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Being cautious at our age: Wisdom or paranoia?

October 26, 2015

As the weather here in Maine turns colder, I can’t help but think about the S-word: Snow. Last winter was a bitch, to put it bluntly. And it figures—it was the first winter in five years that Hubs and I didn’t head south to escape the worst of it.

The whole winter’s-on-its-way awareness also has me thinking about how my perception of things like bad weather has changed as I’ve gotten older. When I was in my twenties, thirties and even forties, a snowstorm was, at worst, a nuisance that might require adjusting my social plans.

Now, in my early sixties, an impending storm demands stocking up on essentials like food, wine, cat food, litter and toilet paper, ensuring we have enough heating oil and propane to run the generator if we lose power, and topping off the car’s gas tank. When did I get so responsible?

Winter weather also has me nervous about walking on snow and ice—something I never used to think twice about (as evidenced by the high-heeled boots I used to wear because looking good trumped practicality).

But since a couple of friends have taken nasty spills and broken bones, another friend’s mother died as a result of a head injury from a fall, and I have osteopenia (my bones are thinning), I wear sensible boots or shoes with decent soles even for a trip to the mailbox at the end of our snow-slicked driveway. I’ve even contemplated getting crampons (those metal plates with spikes that you attach to your boots for walking on ice)—the antithesis of fashionable.

And high winds during a blizzard—when I was younger, that just added to the drama of a storm. Now I worry about a tree falling on the house, and lie awake at night plotting how we’d round up the cats and get ourselves out—assuming we’re unscathed—and where the hell we’d go at the height of a freakin’ blizzard.

Other things that speak to my growing sense of cautiousness at this age:

  • I’m nervous about driving after dark in unfamiliar areas because my night vision isn’t what it used to be
  • Walking down stairs, I always hold onto the railing and watch where I’m stepping
  • At the grocery store, I use the store-supplied antiseptic cloths to wipe down the shopping cart during cold and flu season (and yes, I get my flu shot every year)
  • In this same vein, I’ve gotten more diligent about washing my hands after I’ve been out anywhere

Hubs admits to his own must-dos when it comes to being cautious, including:

  • Double-checking that all the doors are locked before retiring for the night (remember the Jack Nicholson character Melvin in “As Good as It Gets” who’d flip the deadbolt back and forth five times in good OCD fashion? Just sayin’.)
  • Asking me to do a tick-check every time he comes in from mowing the lawn (and no, that’s not a euphemism for foreplay—the incidence of Lyme disease in Maine has increased five-fold in the last decade)

I’m not saying it’s wrong to do any of these things; in fact, I believe that being cautious—as in thinking through what might happen if—is a sign of maturity and reason (and not being a paranoid old fart). Call it contingency planning or risk management, to borrow from the business world’s vernacular.

Conversely, there’s a certain obliviousness that accompanies youth, fueled by a sense of invincibility that emboldened us to take (often stupid) risks that most of us would never consider at this age. I cringe when I remember times I drove under the influence, for example, or slept with someone I barely knew. Or smoked cigarettes, for gawd’s sake. What the hell was I thinking?

Part of the wisdom we acquire as we get older is the realization that we’re definitely not invincible, and it makes sense to do what we can to improve our odds of living as calamity-free as possible for as long as possible.

Importantly, this doesn’t mean not ever taking risks (that approach, I’d wager, probably means you’re either cloistered or dead). I just try to avoid the unnecessary ones. Speaking of which, I’d better see about getting my flu shot soon…

I’m not risk averse;
I just like to mitigate
the downside. Smart, huh?

What about you? Are there things you find yourself doing—or avoiding—today that you never imagined when you were younger? Does it make you feel old—or wise?


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  • 26 thoughts on “Being cautious at our age: Wisdom or paranoia?

    1. I think the realism that comes with age is a good thing. I am careful with my footing today far more than ever before and like you, do think more about the consequences of things….

      1. Roxanne says:

        Thanks for the affirmation, Carol!

    2. Carla says:

      I am laughing out loud as you are my twin. And I’m not certain either. Most days I secretly call it paranoia 🙂

      1. Roxanne says:

        Well, until we start hearing voices (besides our own) telling us to wear sensible shoes or some other old-farty thing, let’s call ourselves wise, okay, Carla?

    3. Nancy Mulvihill says:

      Oh Roxanne, so true…I find myself worrying about finding a parking place anywhere I go (never did that when I was young)…I used to be somewhat of a world traveler…now getting packed to drive the 100 miles to the White Mountains seems somewhat of a challenge…so many “what ifs.”
      Thanks, Roxanne!

      1. Roxanne says:

        Thanks for chiming in and letting me know I’m not alone, Nancy!

    4. What a great post! Where do I start? My knees are suddenly both giving out (tried to be an Ironman on the treadmill for years, now paying dearly), I have carpal tunnel syndrome from professional writing (typing) for over 28 years, I have to watch what I eat, drink, how I sleep (don’t sleep on your wrists, arrgh). And I could go on. But there is wisdom in this! You get older, you make changes. The changes help. It’s that simple. Annoying. Ever-changing. But reality. 🙂

      1. Roxanne says:

        Abby, thank you for commenting! Yep, we do have to make certain changes, don’t we? And we’re all in this together…

    5. Natasha says:

      OMG – it’s like you entered my mind! I think as we get older we are more aware of what things can result in. Fear is a terrible driver, motivator but there is a line between fear and knowledge. 🙂

      1. Roxanne says:

        And I thought I was the only one feeling skittish about things! There is that fine line between fear and knowledge…here’s to staying on the knowledgeable side of it! Thank you for commenting, Natasha.

    6. Belva Cangelosi says:

      Another GREAT POST Roxanne! Always enjoy your wisdom & humor. I’m turning 59 on October 30th… Oh no don’t tell me it gets worse. I should be the poster child for the worry wart of the year, especially in the spring. Tornado weather in the south always used to take things in stride & was happy go lucky. Everything changes with age I guess

      1. Roxanne says:

        Belva, it’s nice to see you here again! Ugh, tornado weather–I got squirrelly about earthquakes when we lived in California, so I feel your “pain.” Thank you for your comment!

    7. Judith Henry says:

      Roxanne,
      I’m in complete agreement with everything on your list. And had to laugh at your husband’s #1 – double checking that all the doors are locked. My ex-partner, Stephen, used to say that my version of safe sex included locking all the doors first. I even mention that in the chapter of my book on outfitting a house for aging parents. 🙂

      1. Roxanne says:

        Judith, that’s a great line about safe sex! I’ll have to tell Hubs that one…

    8. Belva Cangelosi says:

      Roxanne, make sure you and Hubs don’t eat chicken salad from Whole Foods…. One less thing you have to worry about!

      1. Roxanne says:

        Uh-oh…sounds like you learned the hard way! Thanks for the heads-up.

    9. Belva Cangelosi says:

      No this alert is for 7 states which includes Maine. I always err on the side of caution and don’t buy pre-made salads like that from any deli

      1. Roxanne says:

        I don’t either, so I’m safe! But thanks for the alert.

    10. T.O. Weller says:

      Tomorrow, I’m off to pick up our brand new generator. It’s near a yoga class that I’m taking but it’s after dark, so my husband is going with me. (He’ll wait in the store until my class is finished.)
      On Wednesday, we’re scheduled to get both of our vehicles checked and snow tires put on. There were snow squalls up here last week and I haven’t stopped thinking about it.
      I’m pretty sure this is wise thinking, though I just reminded myself of my father. Wise? Paranoid? I guess it depends on your perspective. 😉

      1. Roxanne says:

        It’s amazing how the perspective shifts as we get older, huh? And I prefer to think of it as wisdom (acquired from having made some not-so-good decisions in my younger, more foolish years)! Thank you for commenting!

    11. Margaret says:

      As I read your website I immediately thought of the insurance policy I just took out for a hiking trip I’m taking next year. Maybe the ole sciatica will kick up? This is the first time I have taken out insurance. I have been a crazy optimist/risk taker up until now……

      1. Roxanne says:

        Ever since my gallbladder acted up 48 hours before our departure for Italy 10 years ago, travel insurance is a REAL consideration! Thanks for commenting, Margie!

    12. I gave up riding my bicycle when I realized that at least once each summer I took a spill on it, and drivers are prone to hit people out cycling. The ironic thing is the only time I’ve ever had a broken bone was when I tripped over the dog bed in our bedroom and came down on a twisted foot. Even so, I’m not taking any chances!

      1. Roxanne says:

        Oh, Molly–to break your foot tripping over the dog! But at our age, few of us are going to have a more exotic reason (“Yes, I did it when I landed from my sky-diving adventure–NOT!”). It’s frustrating to feel as if you have to give up certain activities, but the peace of mind does have its allure! Thank you for commenting.

    13. Sheena says:

      Hi, Roxanne!
      I can totally relate to this week’s post! Especially the one about being more careful going down the stairs or getting around on the wet floor in the bathroom! I was thinking we all must go through the same things as we age. Definitely gave up the beautiful high-heeled shoes! I love the pretty ballerina shoes. But this year I began using the Dr. Scholls inserts! Ha ha ha! Seems like all my friends were talking about more support for your feet
      Keep up the good work! Sheena

      1. Roxanne says:

        It’s always nice to “see” you here, Sheena! I’ve been thinking about those inserts, especially because I work at a stand-up desk. And yes–the wet bathroom floor–I’m much more careful about using the bath mat and wiping up any puddles…stuff we NEVER used to think twice about!

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