If he were still around, my Dad would have been in his mid-Seventies now.
The eldest surviving child born at the outbreak of the Second World War into a dirt poor Liverpudlian family. Four babies died of eight siblings. My father had the unenviable challenge of being a sensitive lad growing up in harsh times..
He grew up in an extremely volatile environment where deprivation was rife, prospects scant and food scarcer. He learned early that the curse of asthma brought its own blessing with a decent meal on those occasions when he had to be hospitalised and that in good health a life of petty crime could mean the difference between eating or not.
Some would say he was a bad lad. Others, perhaps more kindly, that necessity drove him to live off his wits and take the opportunities that presented themselves, no matter how unpalatable.
But despite those inauspicious beginnings he, like others who found themselves in similar circumstances, managed to make something of himself. In some of the security of marriage and fatherhood, he found the confidence to return to education and eventually won a place at a prestigious art college.
He came from stock that didn’t complain. So when eventually his lungs deteriorated through a mixture of asthma, the dust from the buildings he decorated for a living and the cigarettes he often tried, but never quite managed, to give up, he summoned up his fierce Scouse self-deprecating humour and made light of things.
His unprepossessing upbringing gave him many well-observed (and often highly colourful) home-spun pearls of wisdom. But one became his mantra as he entered the twilight of his life:
Don’t get old.
In his time in this world and in the time since he left it, much has changed. Medicine has taken quantum leaps forward, the environment is cleaner and society as whole is ageing steadily as the baby boomers enter later life.
In short, we’re all living longer and the world has been forced to adapt to and reflect the fact that it needs to provide for and protect people in later life.
Yet short of curing death itself – which seems highly unlikely – no medical advancement will stop the fact that our physical health is genetically predisposed to deteriorate the longer we’re here. And the irony is that while medicine – either curatively or preventatively – keeps us alive for longer, so we will all have to manage age-related conditions for longer, too.
The one thing we can take some control over, though, is our emotional health, so that we can be positive about what later life has to offer us and to meet its challenges head on with a smile and the confidence of knowing that there’s much still to achieve, regardless of the number of years we’ve chalked up on life’s great scoreboard.
It’s folly to make sweeping generalisations about the sorts of issues that afflict us in later life – we’re all unique and our challenges are therefore unique. But among those I see most often are depression, anxiety and sleeplessness.
Depression in later life can be triggered by any number of things: loneliness, if you suddenly find yourself on your own for extended periods of time; the frustration at being physically unable to do some of the everyday things you used to enjoy; a loss of independence; ill-health; financial challenges that come with having to stretch a limited state pension;
Sleeplessness, in turn, can be triggered by both physiological and emotional factors. My Mother, now well into her 60s, talks of waking much earlier than she did when she was younger. There appears to be no particular reason for that. Sometimes sleeplessness is a result of underlying depression or stress caused by any of the triggers listed above and others besides.
But while the physical causes of these and other so-called age-related conditions need to be addressed and managed in some way – for example, by working with specialist organisations like charities, agencies and local authorities to find practical solutions to underlying problems around isolation, debt, health and independence etc. – counselling and therapy can also play an important role in restoring balance and order to your emotional wellbeing.
Hypnotherapy, in particular, has been proven to have a significant positive effect in dealing with the emotional symptoms – like depression, sleeplessness – that are caused by ongoing practical problems.
Life, however old we are, is often a jumble of ambition, thoughts, fears and emotions – all battling to be a priority. Hypnotherapy is a non-invasive and extraordinarily supportive way of allowing you to sort through the tangle of emotions that stand between you and contentment and giving your subconscious a chance to reset and rebalance itself.
Some problems require long-term help, but many more require something lighter in touch. If you’re struggling with emotional problems that you’ve been inclined to write off with the words, ‘it’s just part of getting old’, then you need to know you don’t have to put up with them just because you’ve got a certain number of candles on your birthday cake.
Just like my Dad did, we work hard in the living of our lives and we have a right to enjoy all the rewards that later life can bring us – whether that’s time with friends and family, holidays or just the simple pleasure of watching the world float by.
Age is just a number – it doesn’t need to define who you are emotionally.
Zoe Clews is the founder of Zoe Clews & Associates and is one of London’s most trusted and recommended hypnotherapists