How do we stay positive, active and willing to try new things as we get older? Mally Harvey and her husband have adopted the mantra “Say Yes!”
Mally explains how they came to the positive philosophy, where it has led them and how you
can find your own version.
After failed marriages and in our late thirties, Phil and I decided we had to work hard to make this relationship work. We had 6 daughters, aged between 7 and 16 and, trying not to be overwhelmed by the heartache of our mistakes, we recognised we had to put everything we had into making our life together work. We decided that to get the best out of our life we had to take some risks; the concept of saying Yes to every opportunity emerged. And over 37 years that is what we have done. Of course, it has landed us in some sticky situations, some scrapes, and at times potential danger. But we have never regretted being true to our ‘manifesto.’ Along the way, we have had some amazing adventures in places near and far, met many fascinating (and some not so fascinating) people, but we have had a great deal of laughter and joy too.
For the most part
when the question involves
an invitation to do
something we do say Yes.
We can sort out the possible
problems later on
We challenge the idea that being older means we are over the hill. We believe being older means we have the time to try something new. I defy the old adage that once you are retired you should settle down with daytime TV or knitting. I would rather walk naked and barefoot over red-hot coals! The concept that in retirement we should put our feet up is definitely a thing of the past. We remain reasonably able - although I accept that as we have got older the adventures have become a little more sedate, that we approach things more slowly and it takes longer. But we still seek out new experiences. How about going into Leeds Bus Station and randomly choosing a bus without any idea of where it’s going or when it will return - and getting on it? The Bus Pass is an amazing passport to all sorts of adventures. Just because I am 75 and Phil is 81, this should not stop us. This is the time to say Yes, because we have the time. And we have no idea of how long we’ve got. A few years ago, when we told our family and friends it was our intention to spend a couple of months camping round the Scottish Western Isles with our 20-year-old cat and our dog, they were horrified. “What if you die?” they said. “What if we do?” we replied. One Scottish friend just looked incredulously at us. “Scotland in May and June? You must be mad. And at your ages with an ancient cat and a dog too. You’re certifiable.”
Saying Yes can be anything. It means something different to everyone. It could be as simple as trying a new recipe, walking a little bit further every day or listening to a different genre of music. It’s about being open to trying something new. After all, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it again. Just move on to the next adventure. Don’t stick with it if you aren’t enjoying it. When the first lockdown was announced, we realized we had to enrich our lives in whatever way we could in our new, smaller world. We drew up a list of 70 things to do whilst locked down. Some were small tasks, like repotting plants; some were larger tasks, like painting the kitchen. I loathe painting! In over 50 years of decorating, it’s a skill that I have never got better at. I am incapable of decorating without making a huge mess, which then takes longer to clean up than the painting itself. Phil had a lot of wood, mostly given by friends who had excess quantities, so he set about building a wooden shed at right angles to the existing small extension. We had long wanted somewhere to disrobe after walking in the rain; he created it and called it the Dog House. It is not so named because he goes there when he is in trouble with me (well, maybe sometimes), but because it contains all the paraphernalia that comes with owning a dog. We have life in front of us. Surely it can be exciting to be challenged out of your comfort zone? You don’t have to be good at anything, that’s not the point. You will have had all these wonderful experiences. That makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do things.
How to start? Find something you are interested in and see how far it will take you. Admittedly, it’s hard to get going, so take a few small steps. After all, if you decide to take up jogging you don’t start by putting your name down for a marathon. The fear of failure is one of the reasons people don’t try anything new - but what have you got to lose? If you end up with a bit of egg on your face, so what? Failure is not having tried it in the first place. On our list was, ‘Cycle Daily’.
In those early days of lockdown, ‘The List’ had to be obeyed. So, after years of neglect in the shed, I resurrected my old bicycle. After all, the paths round the local RSPB reserve were flat and relatively even. It wasn’t until I fell off the third time and badly hurt my knees, that I had to accept that my reflexes in my 2 artificial knee joints were not sufficiently quick enough to save me from hurting myself. As we age, recovery is so much slower. Although it was difficult for me to admit, I couldn’t do it. I was obliged to put my bike back in the shed. “Maybe another day perhaps?” Phil suggests in the background as I write this. “Never again!” I reply. But at least I had a go.
Do we say Yes to everything? I was talking to a friend about the philosophy and he asked me this: if someone came along and offered me a timeshare apartment somewhere - would I say Yes? It made me stop and think. In reality, there are lots of times when we don’t say Yes. There are times when we need to give the matter considered thought and discussion. But for the most part when the question involves an invitation to do something, we do say Yes. We can sort out the possible problems later on - which then might end by inevitably having to say no!
The beauty of being older is you don’t have to impress anyone. If something doesn’t go quite as anticipated: stop. At least you’ll have another experience in your life, another dimension. And another story to regale your friends with. We are so lucky in Leeds because there is so much on offer: free concerts, volunteering opportunities, dozens of organisations with activities to suit everyone, all just waiting to take you somewhere you have never been.
Another Say Yes story. Three years ago, we found a flyer in a magazine offering holidays in Northern Cyprus. They started at £150 per person for a week! Flight, bed, breakfast and an evening meal, several trips to historic sites more - huge value for money. It looked too good to be true - probably was too good to be true. Phil thought we might be conscripted into the Turkish army. But we said Yes anyway. In less than a week after we got the leaflet, we were flying off to Cyprus. It was a wonderful trip with lovely hotels, good food and excellent weather. We even got a refund of £70 each because our flight was delayed. A small risk which turned into a joyful experience.
Of course there may be family pressure not to go on a zip wire or white-water rafting (both exciting and exhilarating), but we are adults and we are competent to make our own decisions. We never urge our adult children and grandchildren to give up their dangerous pursuits, so why should we? We have raised families, maintained homes, been (relatively) law-abiding, had jobs, careers, loved and been loved, made a zillion mistakes. So why stop now? Life is an adventure which ends when we die. We need to take every opportunity while we can. Friends who have suffered loss through death or divorce, or who may live alone anyway tell me their lives have been enriched by saying Yes to a new experience. It gives them a reason to get up in the morning, dress with a bit more care and a feeling of anticipation and excitement about the day ahead. I’ll leave you with some instructions. Get a piece of paper and write this down: “I will Say Yes to …” And fill in the blanks. Let us know how you get on! We’d love to print some of your own stories of saying YES!
How does it feel to say Yes to something new? We spoke to a group of older people in Leeds who did just that. Sunshine in Leeds is a Health for All project that has welcomed older people who are lonely or isolated. The group run social events, walks and other group Activities.
We started coming to Sunshine in Leeds when my wife Rosemary was still alive. She needed full time care – I was her carer. It was very useful to be involved because it gave us contact with other people, some of whom were in the same boat. We both tried to come to all the events. Rosemary could manage the walks because they were very gentle. It wasn’t a route march.
My wife died in March. But, I’ve got to be positive, what else can I do? There’s no point sitting wilting! I’ve found a new friend at church. Every time she saw Rosemary, she would ask how she was. She rang me up some time after Rosemary died. I wanted to thank her for concern so I asked her round for a cup of tea. She was a widow – her husband had died 3 years ago. She said, “I want someone to do things with.” That’s what I wanted too, so that’s where we’re at. We’ve been to Fountains Abbey and in May we’re going to Cologne soon, all being well!
I had to shield for three months and I was suffering with anxiety and panic attacks. A coffee morning was set up on a Tuesday and I was invited to be part of it. It was on Zoom. We’ve done it for the last 18 months. At first it was a bit strange, because you see people all in one screen. But I’m used to it now. I was asked if I wanted to come to a befriending group. Straight away, I said, “Yes please!”
What’s new for me is a smart phone. I’ve never had a mobile phone, always just used the
landline. But my son said I’d get stuck in the past so I got one. It was a bit complex because I never did any computer courses when I was at school. I’ve always done manual jobs and never done work on a computer. I was a bit scared of computers. I use the phone for meditation and mindfulness apps. It’s great for that.
I spent 32 years working as a care manager in a sheltered housing scheme. I retired in 2020. All of a sudden, Covid started and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had a very busy job and used to look after lots of people, but then I had nothing to do. I went to my doctor and she helped me find this group. I must admit, I’m not usually that positive a person. But there’s no point dwelling on the bad things. There are always problems in life! But you get through them. I was slow to open up with this group, but now I’m very open and I talk a lot.
My doctor asked her about how I was, whether I got out and about. I said, “I don’t get out at all!” She said, “Are you lonely?” I said I was. I told her I wouldn’t mind getting involved. I was married but then my husband died. And the kids have grown up and left home. I was on my own in a 3-bed semi. I’ve been out to new places, met new people. I like a chinwag! Sometimes I’m pessimistic but I try not to worry. I get up and say, “Lord, I thank you for waking me up this morning.” I’ve got a lovely bed! Some people don’t have anything. I’m blessed. I say that I’m drinking out of my saucer – because my cup is overflowing with blessings! My mother died at 58; I didn’t think I’d get to be 60. But I’m 80 now!
At my age, I’m losing friends regularly. I was becoming housebound. I found I had no social life. So said this to the GP and they put me in touch with Health For All. I’ve made friends with a nice
group of people. I try to stay positive and not live in the past. The past is gone; it’s nice to remember it but you’ve got to look forward. The only way is to meet new people: different ages, different nationalities – we’re all different. It’s interesting and you learn from other people. It’s been hard to keep positive over the last 2 years. It's not an easy step to meet a lot of strange people. But right from the word go, we all just clicked.
Find out more about the different opportunities available to older people at Health for All call Balwinder Kaur on 07590182627 or email email@example.com
More In Focus.
We focus on the subjects and issues facing older people
The Age Proud Festival is coming to Leeds this Autumn. We thought you should get a sneak preview so we’ve spoken to a few
of the key people involved.