Fifty. It’s a bit of a milestone really and it’s weird to get my head around the fact that I probably have less life ahead of me than I have behind me.
So much has happened to me in my life that I feel like a totally different person at 50 to the me I was at 20. At 20 I was still suffering from depression caused by my chaotic childhood and years of bullying. My self-esteem was at an all-time low. I had no trust in my own thoughts and feelings. My emotions were raw and volatile and I used anger to express them as that’s what I’d been taught. My relationships weren’t healthy. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted from life. Looking back now I’m just really grateful I didn’t make any long-term, life altering decisions when I was 20 like having a baby or getting a tattoo, turning to drugs to relieve the pain or ending up on the dole. And I think the reason for that is that buried deep inside, despite everything, was always a glimmer of self-belief. A belief that I deserved to be happy. That I deserved kindness. That if my life ended up a car crash it damned well wasn’t going to be because I hit Self Destruct. So I got some therapy, I kicked my abusive husband to the kerb, rented out my house, packed in my job and took off to see the world, working on a cruise liner for a year.
It turned out to be bitter-sweet, because that Ship is where I got the virus which lead to me developing M.E., but I’m still glad I went because it made me more appreciative of what I had at home. My friends from childhood. My parents. My lovely house. And a new-found joy in the beautiful area where I live which I think is one of the loveliest on earth. I also met a new person who was to be my best friend for the next 20 years though we’re sadly no longer in touch.
My M.E. really took hold after I contracted Meningitis while on holiday in Africa when I was 26 and it’s changed my life in every way possible. I’m a bubbly person, full of energy and had always been on the go, and now I was forced to lie in bed 23 hours a day for years on end feeling so ill death would have been welcomed. It gave me a LOT of time to think. And grow. And changed my perspective forever.
I’m not grateful I got M.E. – it’s the worst thing to ever happen to me, but I’ll take from it what I can. My self-belief got even stronger – it had to, because just about everyone else believed I wasn’t physically sick at all and that M.E. was some kind of depression. My resourcefulness was tested as I lived alone, was almost totally bedridden yet was offered no help or care. My determination was strengthened as I was denied welfare benefits, my health insurance tried not to pay out and I had to take in lodgers for years to make ends meet. I had to find a way of dealing with my anger at being left without health-care and at my friends and family just leaving me to get on with it (parents aside). I had to find peace in my solitude and loneliness or I would have gone off-the-wall-nuts. I had to find joy in little things. I had to set new, vastly reduced, goals and challenges. I grieved for my old life. I discovered a new life, which wasn’t the life I wanted but in which I had to find happiness or I might as well be dead.
But most of all I had to learn to love myself. And I know that’s a term which is bandied about by happy clappy hippy arseholes these days, but I truly mean it. I had to learn to look after myself. To care about what I ate. To find motivation to do my pacing schedule. To seek out new friends, even if at the time that was only online. To find new hobbies I could manage. I had to find ways of dealing with my grief, anger, loneliness and isolation because if I hadn’t the illness would have won. And the fucker wasn’t going to beat me. Hell to-the-no! It became obvious early on that other people weren’t going to take care of me, so I had to like myself enough for me to take care of me.
“Treat yourself as your own beloved child” Pema Chodron
It’s funny isn’t it? Here I am at 50, single, childless, career-less and fairly skint. My hair has fallen out, I’ve already lost a tooth, I have a spare tire, cellulite, ‘laughter lines’, failing eyesight and an ever expanding waist-line. Yet I am happier, more thankful, more peaceful and more joyful than I was at 20 when I was a skinny model, was head-hunted at work, had a professional footballer boyfriend and all the outward trappings of a ‘successful’ life.
If I could tell my 20 year old self what I have learned it would be:
- Live life with intention. Stop going through the motions and hoping life will be better tomorrow – you will never get today back.
- Only you can make you happy and only you can make you unhappy. Other people can help, but ultimately happiness comes from within.
- No-one is perfect. Mistakes are how we grow and our bad points just make us rounded human beings. However, knowing this is not an excuse to inflict our bad points on other people.
- The world does not revolve around you.
- Be aware of the effects your deeds, and more importantly words, have on others.
- Live each day to its fullest and with appreciation, even if that means lying in bed ill but appreciating that you’re not homeless on the kerbside in India.
- Don’t stay in unfulfilling relationships. Trust me, I have never been more lonely than when I was in an unhappy marriage. Yes leaving was tough, frightening, stressful and ultimately I ended up broke but none of that was worse than spending another day with my ex.
- How you look is irrelevant. Confidence and happiness, not physical appearance, makes someone attractive. God, I wish I’d realized this when I was younger! Angelina Jolie is supposedly one of the most beautiful women on the planet, yet she is such a miserable cow I wouldn’t want to have a coffee with her let alone marry her. Tubby, little Dawn French on the other hand is someone I’d love to go on holiday with…..for a month 😉
- Say “no” more. People won’t like you more for saying yes all the time, they’ll just take advantage and you’ll just end up exhausted and resentful.
- Don’t hold on to anger. It’s like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die. I’m not huge on forgiveness and once someone has hurt me we’re basically done forever, but I don’t hold a grudge. Grudges hurt you, not the other person. Being angry about your illness or your situation only makes you miserable and being sick is crap enough without that.
- Behaviour is a choice and you can change your behavior any time you choose. Your past is not an excuse to be a dick or a doormat.
- Find something which brings you joy. There will be days when you’re so poorly this is impossible, but the rest of the time I try to do something every day that I enjoy even if it’s just having a bath by candlelight.
- Be kind, both to yourself and others. I appreciate kindness more than any other quality in a human being and when someone is kind to me it makes me feel good.
- Don’t put up with other people’s bullshit. I’m not prepared to make myself feel small or stupid so that other people can feel superior.
- There will always be people who know more, are prettier, more altruistic, cleverer, richer etc. than you. This does not make them better, just different. We are all equal and unique.
- Try not to be so judgemental. You hate it when others judge you.
- If you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing.
- You are too serious. Fuck the washing up and the laundry and have more fun for crying out loud! 😀
Of course, my 20 year old self wouldn’t have listened. For most of us it takes years to grow into ourselves, to find out what makes us happy, to gain self-confidence and self-belief and to ultimately feel happy in our own skin. And when we get there to recognize that we’ve got there and be grateful. I wonder what my 100 year old self will say to my 50 year old self? Probably that you have a lot to learn 😉