'Human Life Cycle' by Arend van Dam | Credit: politicalcartoons.com

It has come to my attention recently that I have entered a marginalized social structure as a woman in her eighties.

No longer do I qualify for pap smears, mammograms, or colonoscopies under the government, or Medicare, coverages.

I just paid $350 for a complete dental check-up, of course not covered by Medicare. My dentist thinks it is valuable to ensure my teeth are in good condition. My teeth are important to me; however, so are my female organs, my colon, and my breasts.

Author Jean Johns | Credit: Courtesy

I have outlived my husbands and my doctors, and I am now faced with a younger generation of people in the medical profession operating out of government mandates with little or no regard for individuation. Who I am as a person does not fit into old people’s questionnaires. I think these government forms are designed for convenience’s sake so we older people fit into one category. Much easier to deal with.

I held up my hand during my recent routine “Wellness Check” by my new doctor and insisted that she listen to me for one minute.

“I don’t fit into the category you are trying to fit me into. I am not retired; I work in the field of addiction and mental health as a counselor. I facilitate groups with sometimes as many as 12 people at a time in one group. The people I work with are aged from 18 to 35. Not only do I remember their names, I remember their stories.”

She, of course, listened then immediately returned to her clipboard and my Cognitive Test results.

“Well, I’m sorry, but you have failed the test, so let’s move on to the next question.”

FYI, I failed the test because I transposed the O and the R while spelling WORLD backward. Yes, spelling WORLD backward is another mandated requirement by the government for cognitive capabilities.

My job tells me more about my cognitive abilities than a government-mandated test. It seems to me this culture is clearly convinced that a woman in her eighties is pretty much finished.

In 2015, I entered college at the age of 80 to do the work I am doing now. I graduated at age 83, and as of 2018, I hold the record as the oldest person to ever graduate from Santa Barbara City College.

I guess the purpose of this writing is to encourage every woman entering later life not to give into a system designed to discount us.

And I am here to tell you, “I will not be discounted.”

Jean Johns is a counselor in Santa Barbara who specializes in addiction, depression, and anxiety through a writing-based therapeutic approach. She has more than 40 years of personal recovery.


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