The Sounds of the Middle-Aged Body
As I followed the physiotherapist’s instructions to bend my neck to the right, I heard the sound of bubble wrap popping inside my body.
‘Is that normal?’ I asked.
‘Our bodies make all kinds of protests as we get older,’ the man-child said, and asked me to bend the other way.
Protests. That’s what all those noises are. They’re our body’s way of saying, ‘You want me to do what? Do you know how old I am?’
The popping or grating sound is called ‘Crepitus’, yes, as in decrepit. This doesn’t make me feel any better about the air bubbles forming in my joint’s synovial fluid then letting themselves off like fireworks.
But there’s nothing I can do about it.
Some of the protest noises I make are external and could be stopped if I put my mind to it. Take the sounds which escape when I sit down, that expulsion of air which comes with an exaggerated sigh.
Or the grunt which comes with the opposite effort of raising myself from the couch, often accompanied by a gripping of the chair arm and a gentle rocking movement to propel the forward motion.
The trouble is, they’ve become so habitual I do them without thinking, and by the time the youngsters had pointed it out (laughing, as I did to my grandparents and parents in turn), it was too late; the noises were as much a part of the process of sitting as the seat itself.
Like in every good protest, our bodies make the most noise when they’re in a group; a Pilates Class, for example. On a Friday morning I like to meet with a group of similarly aged women and listen to the cacophony of clicks and groans only skeletons being stretched into unnatural poses can manage.
I am yet to be in a class where someone breaks wind, but I hear that’s a betrayal our bodies often make in those positions. The shame.
My treacherous body even protests in sleep. As my nasal passages relax, and mucus collects in the sinus cavities, I am woken by a clicking as I breathe in and out. How annoying is that?
Not as annoying as the menopausal weight gain settling around my neck causing me to snore. My husband used to be the snorer. I took great pleasure in poking him in the back, asking him to turn over, or covering his face with a pillow and gently pressing down (don’t pretend you’ve never done that).
Now I’m the one snuffling like a truffle pig and it’s not Ok. It’s hard enough trying to sleep when the aches in my shoulders and hips make me turn over hourly. I don’t need to be woken by the grunting vibrations at the back of my own throat.
The sound that’s shocked me the most is perhaps the quietest of all. I was watching TV when I noticed a regular high-pitched whistling noise. I examined the programme to see if it could be a sound effect. It wasn’t. I listened more closely and realised it was a noise I recognised.
I muted the TV and there it was, a soft, high whistle which came with every outbreath. I was whistling through my nose, just as my hundred-year-old Grandma used to do as she sat in her chair at home.
It had come to this.
I blew my nose and the whistling stopped. I put the sound back on the TV and tried to think bright and youthful thoughts.
I’ve painted a grim picture here, but there is a solution to these noisy protestations. Just as things get out of hand, enforcers come along and put the protesters in their place.
Do you know what puts an end to the protests? Deafness.
As we get older the hair cells and nerve fibres in our inner ear deteriorate. Blood flow slows down and our hearing diminishes. All that clicking, grunting, snoring and whistling are no longer a problem because we can’t hear them.
Like period pains and contraception, they are not our problem anymore.
Every cloud, eh?
Fesatured image by Kyle Smith on Unspalsh