One of the most debilitating fears you can have is the fear of aging — not simply the fear of looking older, but the fear of time itself passing. Maybe that’s because of regret or sadness, missed opportunities or things you’d like to do over and will never have the chance. Maybe it’s the fear of mortality. Maybe it’s the fear of illness or the grief over losing those you love.
Each of those emotions is difficult. There’s no doubt about it. And it can be hard to remain positive as the minutes, hours and days tick by. And depression can easily seep into your heart and mind.
A focus not on where you’ve been, but where you’re going…
I decided years ago that maybe I could help myself with one particular fear — but it would take reconceptualizing my life. This was the fear of losing my own sense of value as time went by. I confronted this fear by remembering that I could decide how to think about time — and how my sense of purpose changed and grew as I aged.
I began thinking about each few years — or even each decade — as bringing with it a new purpose, a fresh thing I wanted to experience. This sounds a bit high and mighty, but it was actually born out of necessity.
I was having a hard time turning 30. My twenties had been tumultuous and I was trying to head in a new direction by leaving the field of jingle and nightclub singing. But that move was something that I had to force myself to do. My pride was getting in the way. I had to find a way to convince myself that I shouldn’t listen to my ego, but to the small voice that was leading me to a better decision.
So I gave my thirties a theme: “Decade of the Mind.” That lofty title seemed a bit humorous at first. But somehow it made me feel better as I focused not on where I’d been, but where I was going. I asked myself questions like, “What do I want to try to create in this decade? What have I not tried? What part of me or life itself have I not explored?” By that time, I’d volunteered a few years at the battered women’s shelter and I’d experienced what it was like to be of service to others. And I liked it. So I took out my brain, dusted it off, and received my training as a music therapist and eventually, as a psychologist.
It turns out that his whole decade naming concept stuck with me. And I’ve shared it with many who are struggling with their own brand of fears about the future. The process has a name — it’s called reframing.
What is reframing?
Think about it. Giving a new decade an initial desired focus with a positive label helps you enter it with a sense of creativity and positive expectation. This isn’t the same as a resolution, because those are usually more specific. Instead, it’s a larger-scale reframing that allows you to approach the time in front of you with curiosity and anticipation. And frankly, it’s what you can do. You can’t slow down time. You can’t stop it. But you can reframe it.
Here’s a another example of a reframe you can make in your daily life. You’re thinking, “It’s raining today, and I’ve got to run errands. I’m going to get soaked.” A reframe for that, “I may get wet running errands today, but it won’t matter, because I’ll feel good about getting them done. And I needed to wash my hair anyway.”
It’s turning something that you fear, or that you dislike, maybe even that hurts you, into something that you can tolerate, or even learn from. It’s kinda like making lemonade from lemons.
Just so you know… my 40’s were the “Decade of the Heart.” I was lucky enough to become a mother, and was finally working in a successful marriage. I got to sing a little as well, which made it all the better.
As I recall, I had a little trouble conceptualizing the beginning of my 50’s. I was smack dab in the middle of menopause. I just wanted out of that, as I’m sure my family did as well.
I decided it was the “Decade of Acceptance.” There were more transitions and changes than I can remember in all my lifetime, some extremely joyful, others very painful. Parents’ deaths. Nephews’ weddings and exciting births of their children. My son leaving home and the resultant empty nest. A new writing career. Good friends dying.
Learning from time…
It’s easy the older you get to get bogged down by what you can’t control. What aches. What you’re losing. What’s irritating as all get out. What’s disappointing about the world and humanity itself.
But I’ve learned a lot from time. And living itself. All the meanings of the other decades still exist. I’m still using my mind. I I will forever be a mom. There are joys. There are many things that I grieve and have to accept. But my age is allowing me to trust more in myself.
Perhaps this is the decade of risk.
What will it be for you?
You can hear more about perfectly hidden depression and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to this website and receive her weekly blog posts and podcasts, as well as free downloadable ebook, “Seven Commandments of Good Therapy.”!
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My new book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression will be arriving November 1, 2019 and you can pre-order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.
Originally published January 14, 2017 and republished on August 4, 2019.