Tag Archives: life lessons

Life at Fifty

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 😉



Changing perspectives

Being chronically ill has fundamentally changed me as a person in so many ways it’s impossible to write about.  At the age of 26 I was already on a journey of growth and discovery but spending 10 years stuck in bed feeling every day like I was dying didn’t half speed the process up.

I had a chaotic childhood where conflict was settled by blazing rows and chucking stuff.  So that’s what I learned.  This only happened inside my home, though, not outside – God forbid anyone on the outside should know my family were dysfunctional.   To the outside world we showed politeness, courtesy and respectability, but the second the front door was shut all hell broke loose. It made me quite mixed up as a teenager as I’m sure you can imagine.

I remember the day I stopped rowing with my boyfriends.  I was 23 and in the middle of yet another argument over something ridiculous.  And I remember thinking to myself “what the fuck are you doing?  This is exhausting.  You love this person and you need to stop.”  So that’s exactly what I did.  I said in the middle of the row “I love you, can we just stop this please?” and with relief he agreed.  We then calmly sat down and discussed the issue properly.  I can probably count on one hand the amount of arguments I’ve had since.

The boyfriend I was with when I got sick with M.E. in 1994 was ambitious.  He was money driven, wanted a big house, expensive car, holidays abroad, designer clothes……..and I tagged along, even though I didn’t really care about any of it.  I didn’t have the confidence to say I wanted a quiet, unassuming life and that I thought all the trappings which came with wealth were pointless.  Spending 10 years unable to get dressed or leave the house let alone go abroad on holiday only served to re-enforce to me that stuff is just stuff and has no meaning.  A cuddle, or someone cooking me a meal, means more to me than any designer handbag.  Needless to say we parted ways and he ended up in London as Editor at Sky news with the life he wanted, and I ended up in a little cottage in the country with the life I wanted.  His job and lifestyle became so stressful it gave him a stroke at the age of 39, but that’s a story for another day.

In my early twenties I was very image conscious.  I worried if I gained 3lbs, spent hours at the gym getting my stomach flat and my butt curvy and never left the house without my slap on.  The stress I put on myself was ridiculous and none of it was for me.  I was happiest slopping about in my pjs or joggers and being sick enabled me to do just that.  And I haven’t stopped 😉  I only buy clothes when it’s critical and by critical I mean that my jeans have a hole in the arse.  I bloody hate clothes shopping and spend my life in leggins (in which I both sleep and go out, often the same pair for days on end), wellies (rain boots) or walking boots (even in summer) and either a t-shirt or a jumper quite often with my lunch spilled down the front.  I think I’ve worn makeup twice so far this year and had my nails painted once (and even that was too much effort).  It’s so incredibly freeing to not care what the world thinks of me and, while I know that kind of body confidence only really comes with age, I wish it were something we taught our young girls.

I have a friend who is 24 and overweight.  I photographed her a couple of years ago and she was mortified I put the images on facebook.  She agreed to be photographed but I think she thought I’d somehow airbrush them to make her look 2 stones lighter.  I have no intention because she is beautiful as she is and that’s all I see – her beauty.  I want to shout at her for not recognizing that and for wasting her life hating herself.  Here are her choices:  lose weight or embrace her weight.  The only other option is spending a lifetime hating her body – the body that is keeping her alive, enabling her to walk, to laugh, to love her fiance, to do up her first home and to have fun with her friends.  Why would someone choose that?  I’m nearly a stone (14lbs) overweight which when you’re 5ft nothing is quite a bit, but it just is what it is.  I can’t diet with my hormones the way they are, and I certainly can’t exercise it off, so I just accept it and buy bigger leggins 😉

I don’t watch a huge amount of telly these days.  I find it all bizarre.  The adverts selling me shit I don’t want or need.  The news which makes me want to hang myself.  The reality TV with people shagging and swearing and getting pissed every night of the week.   It’s all so LOUD it hurts my brain and is absolutely irrelevant to my existence.  I don’t do Twitter or Instagram or What’s App – what a fucking waste of my precious time and energy.  I am on Facebook but I have less than 100 ‘friends’ and only follow half a dozen of those, mainly my family who now live in Australia,  friends in other countries or very poorly friends who aren’t up to visitors in real life.  That’s because I actually see and speak to everyone else and don’t need to be talking to them on the sodding computer!

The biggest thing I wish someone had taught me as a young girl would have been to listen to my gut.  My gut tells me a lot of things which I, to my cost, ignore.  It told me I was in the wrong job and the wrong relationship.  It told me I was living in the wrong place surrounded by the wrong people.  I was baffled as to why buying stuff didn’t fulfil me and why I woke up every day fundamentally miserable.  My gut got physically sick when people treated me badly, were rude, dismissive, mean or discouraging yet I allowed them to remain in my life.  It took getting really ill to give me the courage to explore who I am, to stand up for my happiness and to live authentically, which was a bit extreme but I wasn’t taking note of the small clues so God chucked a brick at my head instead and that did the trick 😉