Tag Archives: middle age

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 😉

 

 

The Change

I’m acutely aware that I’m in a period of transition.  We talk a lot these days about teenagers, their hormones, moods and worries and the allowances we should make for their behaviour.  We talk endlessly about pregnancy and childbirth and the fact that our lives will never be the same again.  We also talk a lot about the elderly, their often increasing isolation and frail health and whether they’re receiving appropriate care.   What we don’t talk about, it seems, is the Menopause, at least not in public – it’s kind of the last taboo, yet it’s something every woman will go through and is as life changing as puberty.

Being chronically ill doesn’t stop us from going through all the same life events as healthy people.  What it does do, however, is make it harder.  Sometimes much harder.

Menopause can be rough – physically, psychologically and emotionally – even for healthy people.  We sweat, flush, can’t sleep, are nauseous, weepy, angry, exhausted, have palpitations, never know when Aunt Flo will arrive and our brain and memory go awol.  At the same time it happens at an age where we’re often looking after elderly parents or hormonal teenagers, grieving the death of our parents or facing ’empty nest syndrome’.  Whichever way you look at it The Change is just that……a life changer.

I never thought in a million years I’d be sitting at the age of 48 Googling “my elderly Mum is an alcoholic”.  There’s never been any kind of substance abuse in my family and it’s all new and scary.  The result of my search was confirmation of something I already knew………that I can’t change her, or cure her, or particularly help her.  But what I can do is help myself.  And I think that’s pertinent for all of us women of ‘a certain age’.  If society refuses to even acknowledge the toughest 5 years of any woman’s life, then we have to look out for ourselves instead.

We have to make sure we have hobbies and interests, particularly if we have children who are leaving home.  We need the distraction, the opportunity to meet new people and to have new goals and passions.  We have to make sure we have ‘down’ time, even if it’s just a soak in the bath for an hour with a good book or lunch out with a friend each week.  We have to learn to say “no”.  No Mum, I won’t paint your windows but I’ll gladly arrange for a decoarator to come and do it for you (which is the conversation I had with my Mum this afternoon!).  And all this is doubly, triply, important when we’re sick ourselves.  There are no medals for working ourselves into the ground taking care of others.  We too have lives to which we’re entitled.  To leisure time to which we’re entitled.  To time off to which we’re entitled.  And we’re also entitled to not feel guilty about any of it.

When we’re ill ourselves we simply don’t have the physical resources to be able to take care of others in the way we, or they, would like.  What we are often good at, however, is employing others to help – we’ve had to do it in our own lives which places us in a good position to help others.  My Mum’s cleaner quit recently and it took me all of 5 days to find a replacement.  She needs some plumbing work done so the plumber is going next week.  She wanted some new doors which were ordered and hung within a fortnight.  And all because these are people who have done work for me in the past because I can’t do it myself.  Being largely housebound I do everything online – groceries, shopping, banking.  And now my parents are unable to do these things it’s been fairly easy to do their groceries, shopping and banking online.  We sick people have skills we don’t even think about and which come in really handy when caring for others.

I’m finding middle age is a time to set new boundaries, both for myself and the people around me.  To recognize that my life is altering, I’m facing new challenges and responsibilities, and that I need to look at how well I’m adapting.  I’m finding a new maturity and re-evaluating my life and whether or not it’s meeting my needs as well as the needs of those I care for.  It’s a work in progress but so far I think I’m doing OK.

Today I finally feel like a grown up.  Even though I’ve lived independently since the age of 21 I’ve still always felt like someone’s daughter.  I’ve always had my parents for back-up, support and advice.  And it’s no longer there.  Now they turn to me for back-up, support and advice and it’s taken a lot of adjusting to.  But I know I’m up to the Change.

 

 

A new chapter

I had an “a-ha” moment this morning.  The past year or so seems to have been tumultuous.  I wake up in a morning with my stomach in knots, have moments of pure rage, burst into tears for no reason, feel lost, adrift, confused and overwhelmed.  You’ll have to trust me when I say it’s just not like me.

I’ve been putting a lot of it down to hormones and, while they’re definitely playing their part, I realized this morning it’s much bigger than that.

I am at one of life’s turning points.  Many people approaching fifty will be dealing with parents who are ill or who have passed away and it throws up profound feelings which we have no experience dealing with.  I know my Mum’s loss will affect me in ways I can’t even imagine, and even though she’s still here I’m already trying to build a life without her as its focal point so that when I do lose her I won’t completely fall apart.

The approaching menopause also reminds me that a new chapter is about to begin.  Most women approaching this time in their lives have similar feelings.  For those with children it’s often about empty nest syndrome and about re-evaluating relationships with husbands and partners.  For me it’s more about recognising my body can only continue to deteriorate and the scary thought of increasing disability and diminishing finances with which to pay for help.

I’ve let go of some long-standing friendships in the past few years and, while this has been upsetting and traumatic, I recognise that the relationships were making me unhappy and my mounting resentment wasn’t good for anyone.  It’s left me more isolated than ever, but the whole point was that I was already feeling isolated which I wouldn’t have been if the friendships were as they should be.

Any transition is scary and for a while causes huge turmoil.  But I hope by realizing what’s going on, and taking some control over the situation and accepting it’s going to be difficult and just breathing my way through it, I can come out the other side in the next few years ready for a new phase.

I don’t want to be a lonely crippled pensioner who sits watching telly all day waiting to die.  As long as my body will allow I want to be outdoors, trying new hobbies, meeting new people and making the most of my short time left on the planet. There are millions of people around the world so much worse off than me, so I’ll continue to do my volunteer work and making my garments for AIDS orphans in Africa.  I’ll try to improve my photographic skills, which makes me appreciate the wonderful area in which I live.  I’ll treasure my little rescue dog who spends his whole day simply loving me.

I’ll try to focus on the positives – look forwards not backwards.  I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have my Mum until I’m well into my forties – my Dad lost his father when he was just 15 and my Mum lost her Dad before I was born.  I’m also lucky to have had the closeness we’ve shared, which many people sadly don’t have with their parents.  But I recognise I need to build a life on my own now, whatever shape that life takes.

It won’t be easy, but then none of the other transitions in my life (puberty, leaving home, divorce, coming to terms with chronic illness) have been easy either……..but eventually I’ve found my way through just like I’ll find my way through this.  I just need to be kind to myself, accept it’s OK to feel the way I do, recognise it will be a long and bumpy road and give it time.