It’s even got a tag line.
The Aging Process — You Should Live So Long.
Makes you feel all yummy inside, doesn’t it?
But it’s not. It’s a bitch. Those of us in our 50s have a choice to either fight or to give in. I choose to fight, my way. With exercise, and good habits. And following my doctor’s advice. And staying married. And writing. And staying in touch with people. Like you.
So let me offer something up in the form of a habit I have gained in recent years, and the questions it has asked me.
I know it’s necessary when I find myself physically unable to write,
or to think clearly enough so I will write. My eyes get heavy. They
start to hurt. Coffee only accelerates the process. Lunch can stave it
off for a while, but when you work alone, at your own pace, sometimes
your pace sends you to bed.
The nap can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a full hour, depending
on whether I actually fall asleep. Sometimes I don’t, honest. But I
still face the same symptoms in the same order, like watching a recurring nightmare.
First, my conscious mind starts to turn off. Not drift away, mind
you. Turn off, completely. The universe closes down to the sound of my own breathing,
the feeling of my own heart rhythm. Which is fast, but has often left me cold. Then
there’s a tingling sensation, in that part of me which is, for the
moment, higher. This tingling grows more and more pronounced until, at
some point, I feel a physical jolt, a bump.
If I’ve fallen asleep this happens 60 minutes after I went down, if
not 20-30. What I notice most then is a terrifying feeling of
heaviness, as though I’ve been asleep for days. I really feel like I’ve
slept more some afternoons than in a whole night. My heart rate is slower, the blood pressure certainly lower.
I stagger to my feet,
but now I feel that I have more energy — well, a bit more. I’m ready
to finish my day, perhaps at this typewriter, but more likely not. My
evenings are usually more about cooking, about people, or about TV than
about writing, which is at its heart always solitaire.
The condition is inherited. I often flash back these days to the
late 1960s and early 1970s, when my father was about the age I’m at
now. He had a couch brought into the office of his TV repair shop, an
office he’d walled off with plywood and studs from the rest of the
store, and a light fiberboard door. During the summer I worked all day
there — well "worked" is a relative term. Mostly I watched TV there.
So I’d see him go back there, around mid-afternoon, then he’d come out
an hour later and finish his 12-hour day. He worked 69 hours a week, 52
weeks a year, from before I was born until he wasn’t allowed to do it
anymore, at age 74. Then he began to die.
I understand now.
This nap thing first happened to me about 20 years ago, on a flight
to Japan, and I ascribed it then to the time change. I felt absolutely
helpless for 30 minutes, although I constantly heard the jet engines
and felt the jet’s body shake slightly as it flowed through the air. I
think the stewardesses expected it, they were ready with breakfast
almost as soon as I came out of it.
But now it’s a regular thing.
I do a lot to avoid the nap, and some days I even succeed. Avoiding
the nap makes it easier to sleep at night, although I’ll have a much
more tired evening to pay for it. The nap, like the heart, wants what
So the questions. Is this perfectly normal? Is it just that I’m past
50? Is it something hypertension is doing to try and keep me alive —
my wife never has to face the nap (except on the weekends when she will
nod off while reading). Is it a symptom of something else?
I’ll end here. Nap time.