Are You Meeting Society’s Expectations Of The Perfect Middle-Aged Woman?

At one point, I was going to name my manuscript, Grave Expectations – a wordplay on the title of the Dickens novel that I thought, initially, was really clever. You see, one of the main themes of my story is the impossibility of living up to expectation – the expectation on the mother to be the glue of the family, the expectation on the father to be the breadwinner, and the expectation on the children – on the son to toe the line of convention, and on the daughter to compensate for her brother’s challenging behaviour.

Photo from Matheus Ferraro on Unsplash.com

The difficulties of trying to live up to expectation feel particularly poignant right now. Middle age has given me a clearer insight of the way that society measures “success” and its distorted values. I can see now why so many of us end up in jobs or relationships that don’t suit us, or in a permanent fug caused by a sense of failure.

Looking back, I feel like I spent my twenties trying to carve out the life my parents wanted me to have, and my thirties and forties trying to be a perfect parent. It’s only since I reached my fifties that I’m actually making decisions for ME, doing what I want to do – and only because I’m privileged enough to have the financial security to change my course.

I find it strange how we associate men with the midlife crisis – caused by the realisation that this might be it. In my experience, women experience a similar mental shift, spurred on by the same awareness of time running out.

That’s why divorce is so common in middle age. Women reach a point when they get tired of the pressure to be everything for everyone. It’s not only career expectations we have to worry about. We live in a society that expects us to stay young and beautiful, to be perfect mothers, lovers and carers, and somewhere in that mix we are also expected to make a mark in our career.

The expectation to remain sex sirens – beyond our reproductive years – is the most ridiculous one. I don’t think I’m imagining the pressure on women to remain available to service their (more highly sexually driven) men at all times. Nor the trope of the stereotypical middle-aged woman as a moody, dried-up shrew, whose decision to batten down the hatches provides men with the perfect excuse to hunt elsewhere.

Conversely, middle-aged men are portrayed as George Clooney types – silver foxes who are still rampantly sexually active and attractive to women half their age, rather than the needy, pot-bellied, miserable gits that most of us know and love.

Very little is said about the men who lose their sex drive in middle age.

Caitlin Moran mentions the reality of middle-aged sex in her latest book “More Than A Woman”, and her dedication to what she calls the “maintenance shag” – the shag many couples (who have been married FOREVER) force themselves to endure to meet society’s expectation of a healthy relationship – is, frankly, hilarious. While her comments about anal sex made me a little uncomfortable, her dissection of the planning involved to get the weekly/monthly/annual/Christmas maintenance shag over and done with in order to prove to ourselves that we’ve still got it – is something I can definitely identify with.

I feel that pressure to maintain a level of intimacy with my husband, that goes beyond him flashing his penis at me in the kitchen at every opportunity or dry-humping me each time I bend down in front of the dishwasher. But the truth is, after more than thirty years together, I get more turned on by a Marion Grasby cooking video than the sight of my husband’s drooping balls.

And why should we feel bad about not having as much sex as the next couple?

Obviously, social media doesn’t help with the guilt. Images of women in their fifties who continue to look fabulous – and I don’t just mean young – pile on the pressure, as does advertising that blatantly targets our insecurities. Beauty companies are relentless in their quest to make middle-aged women question if they are living up to their responsibilities as perfect older women.

Personally, I refuse to believe that the majority of middle-aged women who have spent more than half their lives with the same partner are really rooting like rabbits.

And in case you need reminding, there is absolutely nothing wrong with contentment. Sometimes, a marathon session of the latest series on Netflix is far more fulfilling than a quick poke and associated muscle strains the next morning. And if the only intimacy you share with your partner is holding hands on the beach, that’s okay too. I suspect it’s way more intimacy than many couples experience.

No one leads a charmed life – you only have to look at what celebrities Chrissie and John Legend have gone through recently to realise that.

And while I’m on the subject of Caitlin’s sage advice, another piece that resonated with me was “don’t marry a cunt”. Suffice it to say, there is no perfect man either – which is, without doubt, the most important nugget of wisdom women should share with each other, after the truth about childbirth. Fortunately for me, I had a father who thought with his penis and so I learned early on that serial Romeos are rarely tamed. Hence, if I’ve done one thing right in my life, it has been to marry a good man.

Not a perfect man, but a good one.

I’ll say it again – life is about making choices. If I really wanted to have hot sex every night of the week, I could probably find someone to deliver the goods – admittedly, I might have to pay for it. But would he be a world authority, i.e professional mansplainer when it comes to pretty much everything I need to know in life?

More importantly, would he have been there for me all those times I’ve fallen?

Middle age fucks with our bodies and our minds. It throws up all sorts of questions we stuffed away in the too hard box during those crazy years of young adulthood and parenting. And yet, it also opens the door to self-reflection. We can’t change the past, but we can make meaningful choices about our future and self-evaluation is the path to that freedom. More time to think about what I want has given me freedom from toxic relationships, unnecessary anxiety, and the constraints of the ridiculous beauty standards demanded of women – so much so, moving forward, I’m even starting to question if I really need to shower every day.

Slowly, I am silencing my inner judge that used to tell me I wasn’t good enough. At fifty-five, I can choose who I want to be, and I’m enjoying the experiment. I don’t aspire to look forty, but neither am I ready for fluffy slippers and herbal teas. Right now, I want to be different things on different days, so long as I can be me.

Are you meeting society’s expectations of the perfect middle-aged woman?

The Power Of A Good Book To Change Your Life

One thing I won’t be giving up for my minimalist lifestyle is my love of books. Unsurprisingly, in the months I’ve been labouring through my wretched manuscript, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the writing process and the impact that certain books have had my life. So I thought I’d share some of them with you today.

Open book, lit up with fairy lights.
Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

Firstly, however, I feel I do need to clarify that my desire to have my own book published isn’t just some narcissistic dream to become an uber successful writer, living in LA, directing the movies to my stories. When I started writing, my motivation was to help other parents in our situation, to destroy the stigma around mental illness, and that remains, fundamentally, my reason for reading any book – to learn something new.

In hindsight, I could have written another non-fiction account of what to expect from our experience – and I imagine it would have been a darn sight easier to get it published – but I wanted to create a fictionalised account of our experience because for me, personally, a good story resonates so much more. To be privy to the visceral feelings of a person’s experience, and to share in the humour that so often comes out of the adversities in life, has the power to change a mindset.

I missed reading during those years when the kids were younger and it was normal for me to fall asleep before my head touched the pillow.

Sadly, too many house moves, a shortage of space, the old man’s obsession with clutter, and our new minimalist lifestyle mean that we don’t own many books any more. It’s something I intend to change in the future, for several reasons: firstly, because the living rooms that truly inspire me on Pinterest are the ones with metres of bookshelves, crammed full of wonderful writing experiences; secondly, Kindle is a poor imitation, and I miss book covers SO much – albeit that the screen version is much cheaper here in Australia; and thirdly, I’ve decided that books bring me so much pleasure (and so much pain for the author!), it is sacrilege to chuck them out.

The old man’s fate is less clear.

We have kept certain books that mean something to each of us, individually. The old man has a dog-eared copy of a guide to golf by Nick Faldo, as well as a copy of Sapiens – a recent read that he believes has changed his life, if not his ability to wipe down the bench tops. And I have a copy of Little Women – which gave me so much pleasure as a child for the simple reason that it was written by someone with the same name as me. Another is The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion’s story of a neurodivergent mind that resonated with me so much it inspired me to write my own interpretation of the difficulties faced by kids with ADHD and the parents that raise them.

In fact, I loved the book so much, I sent him a fan-girl tweet about the book that made it onto the inside cover of the UK version.

Then there is Schindler’s Ark, a book that the old man recommended to me when we were first dating. The story was undoubtedly my awakening to the imbalances in the world and my earliest influence in my passionate fight against them. It was also kind of a freaky choice, because several years later when I was three months pregnant with NC, we found ourselves in New York – a very ill-thought-out decision in your first trimester when you are permanently tired and can’t drink in a city full of wonderful Irish bars – in a theatre, watching the movie.

Clearly, I was particularly hormonal at the time, but the memory of that trip to the movies has always haunted me.

The story is obviously a highly emotive one, but when you watch the movie in the company of a mainly Jewish audience, their reaction stays with you. I don’t think I could watch the movie a second time, but I do believe that stories like Schindler’s Ark have their place on the high school curriculum – in either book or movie version.

A few years ago, I managed to persuade the old man to accompany me to a talk at the Sydney Writer’s festival where the author, Thomas Keneally was interviewing another author. I was desperate to put a face to the words of a book that wielded so much power over my thinking and beliefs in my younger years. Little did I know back in my twenties in the UK, that not only was the author an Australian, but that he lived only a couple of kilometres from where we live now.

And he is a true character, befitting his reputation as a national treasure. He is one of those writers who sits passionately and publicly left of centre and is as compassionate and funny as you would expect.

The old man was appalled that I had (inadvertently) booked front row seats, and yet during that hour in Thomas’ close company (as my husband wriggled awkwardly in his seat), I hung onto every word that came out of his mouth. It was one of those rare “moments” in life where everything came together – literally from London, to New York, and onto Sydney. If only I had known as a child with my aspirations to be a children’s author, that one day I would be at a writers festival, a published author, sitting metres away from my icon. It was almost as weird as the time we bumped into a couple we knew from the UK in France, who were also emigrating to Australia around the same time as us – and who have since become best buddies.

Le destin, as the French call it.

I do have one terrible admission when it comes to books, though. I am one of those terrible people who can never remember the names of authors or the titles of their books – which, as you can imagine, has only got worse during menopause. I couldn’t even tell you who wrote the book I’m reading now, or its title, even though I’m enjoying it. And often, I will start a book and only realise a third of the way through that I’ve read it before.

Although, there’s something quite wonderful about that, as well. It’s like bumping into an old friend, who gently dislodges those precious memories you have filed away in another era, or transports you back to a place you wouldn’t ordinarily choose or have the opportunity to visit otherwise. For me, a good story has the ability to calm the voices in my head. It closes down the tabs that don’t need to be open all the time and allows me to lose myself for a few precious hours – or minutes, at the moment.

The power of a good book to change our lives is why I will keep reading and living vicariously through the lives of the many fascinating characters out there. It’s why I will always buy books. Minimalism is about spending money on experiences, and books fit into that idea for me. Yes, they are expensive, but they are also recyclable and have the ability to change the way we think in a much healthier, organic way than social media, for example, and that’s why they will be at the top of my Christmas shopping list this year.

The 7 Changes You Must Make For A Minimalist Lifestyle

“A minimalist home is very intentional,” Joshua Becker explains in an article for Good Housekeeping magazine. “Each possession is there for a reason.” 

Glass jar with gum leaves. White background.
Photo by Alex Loup on Unsplash

During my free time, I’ve spent the past six months bogged down in the restructure of my manuscript, hence the reason I’ve not been as vocal on this site as I used to be. Anyone who has been through the pain of editing 90,000 words knows that you need to isolate yourself, without distractions. But you also need to accept the reality that years of hard work may ultimately come to nothing. That was one of the reasons behind my last post, in which I purported the idea that there’s nothing wrong with contentment – a state of mind that seems particularly relevant right now.

Learning to be content is also beneficial if you are the sort of person I am, who has a tendency to be pulled in lots of directions, hence regularly thrown into a state of overwhelm. Which is why I want to take the idea a step further in this post and describe how I’m creating my own sense of contentment and adapting to the whole living with less idea – the principles of which you can apply to every facet of your life.

It’s even got a name, it’s called being a minimalist.

You will know that minimalism is a style used in interior design and decoration, which embraces a modern, rather clinical style, with no clutter or distractions – other than those you choose to have in your life. But these days, the word is being used more broadly, to promote the kind of new, pared back lifestyle many of us aspire to live – especially since COVID.

Joshua Becker describes the meaning of minimalism in his article What Is Minimalism? in the following way:

“It is marked by clarity, purpose, and intentionality. At its core, being a minimalist means intentionally promoting the things we most value and removing everything that distracts us from it.

You may argue that this new idea appeals to me because I’m middle-class, middle-aged, and feeling my invisibility, or because money is tighter these days as a result of our personal decision to semi-retire early. And many of those reasons are valid. However, it is clear that our younger generations are also embracing this idea to change their priorities, and while I admit that during my thirties I used to laugh at couples on Grand Designs and sea-change shows who opted out of the rat race, I believe they are having the last laugh. After all, what’s not to love about a lifestyle that gives us more money, time, and happiness, and contributes to the protection of our environment?

So how do you become a minimalist?

The minimalist lifestyle is about living with only the things you need. Minimalists are free from the desire to buy and accumulate more. Instead, they find happiness in relationships and experiences.” Joshua Becker

Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? But it’s not simply about wasting a bank holiday to do a spring clean in your home – although, that’s exactly what I did last Monday, and it’s a great starting point.

There’s more to simplifying your life than the physical process of tidying up. There’s also a lot of mental work to be done and ingrained habits to change, and it can be hard to know where to start. So to help you out, these are seven changes that are working for me:

  1. Being more intentional. First of all, you have to really think about the purpose of your decision and what you really want to gain from it. My greatest fault is wasting money on tat when I’m in a funk. I can’t believe it’s taken my over fifty years to learn that quality beats quantity every time, but there it is. I’m that person who gets a thrill out of buying something new (that I don’t really need or want) and then letting it sit in the cupboard . The other important thing to do is to base your changes on what you want, not what your kids or friends expect from you, or even what your partner wants. This is your life – and if your partner doesn’t agree with your choices, chuck them out with the rest of the clutter.
  2. Forget about owning stuff and consumerism. As I’ve already said, this one hurts. I am a shopper and I love that sense of instant gratification, which is why I haven’t caught the online shopping bug yet. I am also creative, so I take a huge amount of pleasure from wandering around malls and looking at beautiful things. An afternoon at the mall is one of the few times my brain switches off, so changing my buying habits is a work in progress. Where I’ve started is by buying less crap and only buying quality things I really need or recycled goods.
  3. Change your mindset and your priorities. A bout of depression or serious anxiety is the best push to make changes in your life. But I don’t recommend them. Instead of waiting for that to happen – in order to meet unrealistic expectations or keep up with the Jones’ – prioritise things in your life that promote your wellness and health. Step into nature when you can, try some mindfulness if that works for you – it’s not for me, but listening to an entertaining podcast can have a similarly relaxing effect. Exercise, meet up with friends for some free therapy. Make the time to switch off and relax, and don’t feel guilty about it.
  4. Stop worrying about what others think. Remove toxic people from your life, like friends who don’t understand your choices, who don’t value your opinion, who can’t have a discussion without shouting back at you, or who don’t treat you with the same consideration you treat them.
  5. Stop competing with others. Forget about the Jones’. The ugliest part of a consumerist society is the way it pushes people to compete with each another and social media has exacerbated the problem. It’s natural, and throughout my thirties and forties I was guilty of comparing myself to others or attempting to live vicariously through them, but all it did was make me unhappy. The qualities I envy in people these days couldn’t be more different to the ones that impressed me when I was younger.
  6. Be grateful. I have why me? days all the time, where all I do is moan about what I haven’t got or why things never seem to go the way I plan them, but once I calm down – usually, on a walk – I am getting better at putting those thoughts into perspective. But, don’t feel bad about them. A therapist once told me that feeling sorry for yourself is completely valid, as long as you don’t let that negativity overtake everything else.
  7. Create processes – I have a scatty brain, particularly at the moment in menopause, and the days I don’t organise myself and write a to-do list, I achieve much less. Of course, it’s much easier to get distracted when you work from home. One minute, I’ll be writing, the next I’m flicking through social media, and the next I’m playing with the dog. But you need to be accountable to yourself for how you spend your time. That doesn’t mean you need to always be productive – far from it – you just need to be productive when you have to be. Having processes mean you’re not always chasing your tail, and you’re more likely to feel a sense of fulfilment at the end of each day. The old man and I share the chores at home. We have a system where we do the shared chores like walking the dog, emptying the dishwasher and cooking on alternate days, and the rest of the chores we have divvied up so they are equal, i.e. I do more cleaning, but he does the garden and the rubbish – so, we’re fairly conventional. Being organised like that stops resentment building, or feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day, and we can enjoy our Gin and Tonic each night without feeling guilty.

There’s Nothing Wrong With Contentment

In my experience, the best therapy comes from friends. During a recent walk with a couple of mine, at a time when one of us was experiencing a family crisis, another made the comment above and it got me thinking.

Two women hugging each other.
Photo from Hian Oliveira on Unsplash.com

Often, when the proverbial shit hits the fan and I am struggling to know which way to turn, I yearn for a simpler life – to jump back into the womb or retreat from modern society’s expectation to keep all my balls in the air.

And that’s especially true for women, who not only hold down jobs like men, but tend to pick up the slack when it comes to the emotional labour of most families.

Hence, we are more prone to find ourselves in those lonely, moments of vulnerability, when we question what it’s all about. And those experiences are even more common during this middle stage of our lives when our confidence may be shattered by hormone imbalances, the impact of ageism on our careers, and changes in our family dynamics.

However, in my experience, while the thought of an enforced recalibration can be scary, taking the time to sit back and reflect on what’s important is a good thing.

Which is what has surprised me most about the legacy of COVID – an unprecedented event that, sadly, appears to have had little effect on our our view of the world – in spite of the job losses, the devastating effects on our economies, and the appalling number of deaths. For in spite of the benefits of social distancing – and there have been many – I see very little evidence of any longterm change in habits of people in relation to the frantic pace of their lives.

Perhaps it’s an age-thing, but I like to think that this virus has taught me a new appreciation for the simple pleasures in life – a kind of enforced mindfulness. Whereas in the past, my dream holidays were about soaking up the fast-paced culture of foreign cities, these days I find Eat, Pray, Love types of experiences more appealing. And where once my diary was booked up months ahead, recently I have taken a much more organic approach to my social life.

Of course, some of us are still in survival mode. Here in Australia, Melbourne remains in lockdown, whilst in other parts of the world, the second wave of Covid gathers pace. And yet, for those of us for whom normal life has pretty much resumed, many have returned to it with little consideration for the lessons provided by COVID.

I mean, surely, some good has to come from this terrible reminder of the fragility of life.

Perhaps, it’s too soon to judge. Like misplaced insects, many of us have gone straight back to the safety of who we were before. And yet, it seems likely that Trump will maintain his presidency; the rights of women have taken a step backwards; there continues to be very little evidence of diversity in the media, in spite of the Black Lives Matter protests (WTF! ABC); and politicians still behave like kids in a high school playground, putting their personal agendas ahead of ours. The Australian government is pushing for a gas-lead recovery, FFS! (SMH)

I understand that change takes time, but I can’t stop thinking that COVID should have been the wake-up call we needed to prioritise compassion over power?

I want to believe that the world is fundamentally full of more good people than bad, so why do we keep electing the same narcissistic leaders who prioritise nationalism over equal rights, and rich over poor? Surely, if we can find the money to fund abortive space missions, Olympic Games, and – I don’t know – study the effects of the sun UV rays on the eating habits of the maggot, surely we can keep our social benefits at a humane level? If we can build casinos, and replace perfectly-good sports stadiums, surely we can build more social housing?

COVID highlighted the important things in life – friends, family, and our health. It showed that it is possible to be happy with less and that there’s nothing wrong with simply being content.

The Truth About The Mask Of Mental Illness

So it turns out I haven’t quite finished writing about masks. Today, however, instead of talking about clinical masks, I want to talk about a different type of mask – that is, the mask that society forces people with mental illness to wear.

Sad woman with paper mask over her mouth with a smile drawn on it.
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash






It’s the mask of being well – that many of us expect them to wear, even now, in spite of the progress made in terms of awareness.

You see, mental illness is still viewed by some as a made-up illness, or a weakness, or something we should feel ashamed about. And while there are all those wonderful memes that float around the Internet to remind us to be kind and empathetic to sufferers, the reality can be very different.

It might surprise you to know that it is still rare to find a work environment in which you can admit openly that you suffer from depression or a neurological disorder

I’ll be honest, each time someone admits to me they don’t believe in mental illness, I want to scream at them for their arrogance and ignorance. And here’s why. Because, today, with my son’s permission – I’m going to give you an insight into what it is like for him to live with it, and the effect it has on his loved ones.

A few weeks ago, we planned a long overdue family weekend away. It was overdue for many reasons, such as Covid, the cost of taking away a family of four adults (and our very practical concerns about our bar bill), and our annual leave restrictions. However, the main reason the trip was short was because of Kurt, our twenty-three year old son.

He hasn’t really left Sydney over the past two years for all the usual reasons: his bartending job as a casual – which makes it hard for him to make his rent (let alone splash out on weekends away); the organisation involved in planning and booking time away with his ADHD; as well as, erm, certain dependencies he uses to alleviate some of his ADHD symptoms, that are not (shall we say) very transportable.

The main ones, though, are his crippling anxiety and OCD

The outside world may not see what it takes for people like him to leave the house, but trust me, it is no mean feat. There are rituals that his brain insists he must carry out before any transition, there is his fear of change, his laundry (so much laundry), sensory considerations, and an elevated sense of imposter syndrome. In other words, as soon as he steps through the door, our son has to put on a mask.

In other words, he looks like a normal, functioning Millennial, who smiles a lot and converses seemingly naturally. The truth is, however, he would prefer to never have to leave his bedroom.

Few would be aware of the rituals that chain him to his home, his fear of change, or the mental effort it takes to keep himself on track

The reality is, our son doesn’t travel much because his mind won’t let him and last weekend was as much about celebrating mine and our daughter’s birthdays as it was a test for Kurt. It was an attempt to get him to push back from a negative way of thinking that is getting stronger by the day, and as a fellow sufferer (but less severe), I am aware of the dangers of letting anxiety win.

“Avoiding what makes you anxious provides some relief in the short term, but can make you more anxious in the long term. Try approaching something that makes you anxious – even in a small way. The way through anxiety is by learning that what you fear isn’t likely to happen – and if it does, you’ll be able to cope with it. ” Beyond Blue

A few days prior to our departure, he decided not to come and I persuaded him to rethink. Genuinely, I believed the change of atmosphere would do him good. As a result of changes due to Covid, he has spent a lot of time on his own of late – which is not good for over-thinkers – and I was excited at the prospect of exploring antique shops together, experiencing the hotel’s leisure facilities, and enjoying the sense of togetherness that other families appear to enjoy.

I’m his mum and selfishly, I suppose, I wanted him there with us, not only to push back his anxiety, but to help me complete the faux image of the perfect family unit I aspire to

Mental illness is often inaccurately portrayed in film. Many films focus on the quirky charisma of the neuro-diverse or mentally-ill characters, rather than the often terrifying complexities of mood disorders. While we are shown aspects of the darkness, there’s very little of the day-to-day reality of living with the illness – the self-harm, the anger, the police involvement, the desperation and the tears.

When our son is on form, he lights up a room; but when he is overwhelmed, it’s like waiting for the White Walkers to break through the wall

I don’t have any photos of the first twenty-four hours of our trip when Kurt couldn’t look at us or speak to us because he was so angry with me for persuading him to come. He was even madder with himself for “being such a cunt.” (His words).

Ahead of our trip, I thought I had prepared for every eventuality and nothing could go wrong. And yet on our first night, I booked a table at a restaurant in town (because the hotel restaurant was extortionate), and that triggered Kurt’s anxiety. He joined us, but he sat in the restaurant, stony-faced, his earphones in, and as soon as he finished his food, he left by himself. Returning to the hotel bar, he set himself up at his own table and refused to join us when we returned.

I know better than to think I can prepare for every eventuality. The unpredictability is, perhaps, the hardest part about mental illness. The three steps forward, and the inevitable four steps back

That night he texted us to say he would take the train home the following morning.

Even now, he cannot explain what triggered his overwhelm and need to isolate, but it lasted until after lunch the following day, when somehow he managed to pull himself back and block out the voices. He apologised to us profusely, told us how much he loved us and hated himself for his behaviour, and our second night together was memorable – one of the best nights we’ve shared as a family.

When family and friends ask us how Kurt is doing, we put on masks too

We wear protective masks as well – from the judgement of being bad parents, weak, enablers, and pushovers – even though we can’t fully defend our actions, out of respect for Kurt’s privacy.

What I will say, though, is that unless you walked in our shoes, you cannot understand – in much the same way that I would have a limited understanding of how to cope with a child with a physical disability or terminal illness.

A person with mental illness may look exactly like you and I most of the time, until the mask slips

That judgment forces people with invisible illnesses to wear masks, and when they slip, society is unprepared for what lies behind it, in terms of both support and resources. But in the same way that there is no shame in having gastro, there is nothing wrong in admitting that your head isn’t well. Everyone feels sad or anxious at times, but it is the magnitude of those emotions that is so different for people with depression and anxiety, or with neurological conditions that make normal life more challenging.

They can’t “snap out of it” to make the rest of us feel better

Most of the time they don’t ask for our help, nevertheless, they deserve our compassion. My desire to paint a perfect family picture of our weekend away made my son very unhappy and his mask slipped – like he warned us it would. Fortunately, this journey together has made us stronger. We have learned not to blame ourselves (or him) for poor decisions, and I’m certain that sometime in the near future we will give the experience another shot.

The outcome may be similar, but the hope is that each experience is one step further away from surrender, and one step closer to recovery.

Wear A Mask, Because No One Deserves To Die Alone

A week or so ago I went into my local hospital for a day surgery that required a general anaesthetic. I’m certain that a colonoscopy is a rite of passage for every hypochondriac, although I don’t recommend it unless you are truly dedicated to the cause.

Woman embracing mask wearing
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash.com

The preparations for the procedure are brutal. I don’t want to scare off anyone from having it done – it’s a necessary invasion of your body if you experience any sort of bowel change over the age of fifty – but they made a mammogram feel like a walk in the park.

Put it this way, I acquired the skill to jet-wash the garden patio from my anus.

The fact is, bowel and colon cancer are on the increase, so I decided it was worth a prod up my ass to make sure everything was okay

Needless to say, my family was as supportive as ever. NC nicknamed me “poopie” as a result of the hours I spent expelling every last piece of sweetcorn from my colon, although her suggestion afterwards – that her father and I refrain from anal sex for a while – was less funny.

But this post isn’t about the state of my rectum. It’s about an experience I had in the hospital, just prior to my procedure, as I awaited my fate on the gurney.

Hospital procedure is fairly standard, I imagine: you get admitted, you get dressed into one of those silly gowns that reveal your saggy ass each time you go the bathroom – which is a lot before a colonoscopy – and then you wait for a theatre nurse to come and collect you.

For a hypochondriac and over-thinker, that waiting period can be a moment of reckoning

It is the will I, won’t I die moment we’ve been preparing for our whole lives. And to be honest, I thought I was good with it. I had accepted I was either going to die on the operating table or be diagnosed with some horrible, terminal illness.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the life-flashing-before-me moment just before I went in

I know it’s a cliche, but as I lay there under my heated blanket, desperately trying to ignore my niggling bladder, I couldn’t help thinking about what I’d do differently if I had my time again. You know the kind of stuff: I wouldn’t smoke; I wouldn’t go to uni; I’d be a better advocate for my son; I’d maybe learn a musical instrument and how to whistle. Then, fortunately, some positivity kicked in and I switched my focus to what I’d done right which carried me on an interesting detour to the realization that I wasn’t actually ready to die after all. That I’d miss my little provincial life, no matter how fucked up it seems at times.

More importantly, I didn’t want to die like this, alone, in a stark white room, with my bum hanging out

My care was first rate that day. I was treated with as much dignity as you can expect when a handsome young consultant is about to inspect your ass. But, albeit a minor procedure, it was still a scary moment. There are few good reasons to find yourself in theatre at my age, and as such, the experience felt rather like a transition, like COVID-19 does. It was a disruption that I neither expected nor wanted, that provided me with an unsavoury reminder of my mortality.

That hour in, particular, gave me a better understanding of why many elderly people choose to die at home.

Lying on a hospital bed surrounded by strangers and beeping monitors is scary, and certainly not the way I would choose to leave this earth

Many of us, young and old, are facing that terrifying situation right now. Not my privileged peace of mind day surgery, but a very real fight for their lives. Each day around the globe, people are catching this virus through chance, bad luck, inequity … call it what you will …and succumbing to it alone, without family and friends around them.

In terms of infection, we’ve been relatively lucky here in Australia. However, the second wave in Melbourne has shown us that it is not only the elderly who are affected. Many frontline workers have caught it this time as well, and many of them are young, with families, taking risks every day to do their job. To protect us.

All they’re asking for in return is that we show some social responsibility

No one truly seems to know how much masks ward off this horrible virus, nevertheless, it is a preventative measure that could save lives. I take statins as a preventative measure because of a condition in my family that increases my risk of a heart attack, and not once have I questioned if I should have to.

And I shouldn’t have to say it, but social responsibility also means not going on a pub crawl or to a large house party.

We’re not being asked to sacrifice our lives in battle for our country. We’re being asked to help prevent the loss of more lives.

Innocent lives. Old lives. Young lives. White lives. Black lives. And for the record, middle-aged lives.

Which is something we can do.

Because no one deserves to die alone.

‘What Do Men Have To Do To Stop Women Accusing Them Of Rape?’

Woman shielding herself.

The headline of this post was prompted by a question my son asked me during one of our many conversations about feminism. And as we’re currently watching The Morning Show (known as Morning Wars here in Australia) – the main storyline of which is the Me Too movement – it prompted me to write about the topic.

The obvious answer to his question is stop raping women.

However, the majority of us are aware that the problem is not as clearcut as that and many men are still confused by what they see as new, complicated rules around dating and their interactions with women.

For those of you who haven’t watched the television series, it is about a successful American breakfast show hosted by two anchors, a man and woman. When the popular male anchor is called out for sexual harassment and abuse and promptly sacked, the station is left in shock and potentially a commercial mess.

The other anchor, a woman in her fifties, (who has sensed the precariousness of her position for some time), reacts impulsively in her attempt to take control of her future (for the first time) by filling the position with an inexperienced female presenter who values the truth above ratings, and who inevitably goes on to shake up the show’s comfortability.

However, it is the general fallout in the aftermath of the firing, triggered by the ongoing seedy behaviour and lack of repentance of the abuser, as well as the remorse of other members of the team – some of whom turned a blind eye to the abuse – that creates the real tension in the show.

Sadly, one thing this pandemic has highlighted is that the sexual abuse and murder of women hasn’t gone away

You might find it entertaining to know that my son is potentially a young Donald Trump in the making – although, I like to think that his rumination about the ways of the world – an in particular, the differences between the sexes – is a healthy part of growing up, that I try not to hold against him.

Much.

And, understandably, these types of conversation are never comfortable. There was an inevitability, I suppose, that with such an opinionated mother and his cohabitation with two staunch feminists during his formative teenage years and the Me Too movement, he would have questions as he starts dating in a society where the rules for men are changing.

Which is why I commend him for asking them, because when I was twenty-three, the only thing I was interested in was the bottom of a beer glass.

Nevertheless…

As anyone who celebrates Christmas with family, a close emotional connection can blur the lines around the rules of battle, and discussions have a tendency to get more personal.

Kanye West and Ben Shapiro have a lot to answer for when it comes to my son’s confusion about feminism, and in particular, the Me Too movement – which he sees as a witch hunt, For no matter how many times I point out that that only certain radical feminists hate men, his response is to cite weak examples of the behaviour of a small percentage of women murderers and abusers as his defence.

He will not accept my argument that every movement needs its share of radicals – albeit, that I’m not one – because, often, it takes their self-sacrifice and idealism to get the job done. I will accept that some take their idealism too far – and belong to a different category we call nutters – although I defy anyone who equates a group of women (and some men) pushing forward equality to groups such as ISIS or white supremacists.

Let me reiterate: I am a feminist, but I do not hate men, nor do I believe that all men are rapists or, indeed, would ever hurt a woman

However…

What I do believe is that more men violate the rights of women than many realise or choose to believe, and many men choose not to be educated about what that violation means exactly. Wherein the real problem lies. That, and the self-indulgent, victimised response that certain men demonstrate in the line of fire.

Suffice it to say, I am also fully aware of how difficult some situations are to resolve when there are no witnesses and cases end up as a “his word against hers” scenario in court – see Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. That said, I will not capitulate on my beliefs simply to keep the peace at home.

Parenting never stops, and I have a responsibility for the way my son thinks about and treats women

Like I said, I wish we didn’t have to have these conversations. Of course, I wish my son could try and see things from my perspective and, in particular, from the perspective of the women who have opened the discussion. One day, I hope that these women (like the Suffragettes before them) are honoured for their bravery in coming forward. The Suffragettes were a group of radical women who got us the vote, so let’s hope that these modern women who are waging war against more than just the office creep, i.e. against racial discrimination, child molestation, domestic violence, marital rape, gang rape, and murder, effect the same changes.

Thirty women have already been murdered in Australia this year (Destroy The Joint)

That’s why I’m glad my son is asking questions. It is one step for him, but potentially a giant step for womankind, and if every man of his generation did the same, maybe those statistics will change. One day, I hope he believes me when I tell him that I don’t believe that all men are rapists. However, as long as society allows our system of patriarchy to prevail, his male sense of entitlement will be difficult to extinguish.

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Wedding Anniversaries: Does Your Partner Still Buy You Flowers?

Mine doesn’t.

Bitter, much? Well, yes, if I’m completely honest.

There are only so many bouquets on Instagram that you can pretend like. And I’ve been forced to accept this sad development (or downturn, which is my preferred term) in our marriage because otherwise I would be a hypocrite.

For as my husband reminds me each time I brush the cobwebs off my one and only vase around the time of my birthday and our wedding anniversary, I am a feminist, and as such I shouldn’t expect any special treatment.

I am a feminist, hence I shouldn’t expect special treatment in the romance departmentapparently

But isn’t there an argument for the hormones, greater sentimentality and heightened emotions of the female gender? Because meeting every demand of feminism is hard. And when it comes to flowers, I’m definitely what they call a “guilty feminist” – someone who stands by the majority of the political principles and beliefs of the cause, but who also has a teeny tiny weakness for certain aspects of the chivalry of the past – eg. men buying women flowers.

And…hear me out…I’ve even got a solution to this problem that suits both genders. Perhaps, the gift of flowers could be one way to balance up the inequality meted out in our biological makeup. Flowers for periods, say?

Or periods and menopause? Is that fairer?

We’re celebrating our anniversary this Friday, and I’ve booked us lunch at a swanky restaurant – not because I’m taking the romantic lead but because I don’t want my husband’s input which may fuck up my chances of going where I want to eat – and dutifully bought him an anniversary card.

We’ve reached the professional stage of taking each other for granted in our marriage

Which is what we agreed to do going forward, some years ago, now we’ve reached the professional stage of taking each other for granted in our marriage. We don’t splash out on gifts anymore because he pointed out we agreed that was a waste of money – I think he said something about us not needing material things to prove our love, and I fell for it – although, while the romance isn’t exactly dead, our relationship may need some oxygen.

I think he said something about us not needing material things to prove our love, and I fell for it

Twenty-seven years ago, he used to take me out to dinner and bought me a large bouquet of semi-alive flowers from the servo (nearest petrol station), for which I was grateful. Sometimes, I got chocolates as well, if he wanted a shag. And was it only fifteen years ago, when the kids were still young, that his female workmates he used to plan and cook a three-course meal for me – which, surely has to be definitive proof that I’m worth a bunch of flowers? After that we hit a large road-bump…hmmm… when we sunk to a take-out and found ourselves on the verge of divorce.

Hence, the dinner out was reinstated.

But not the flowers.

Why is it the longer most couples stay together, the less effort they make?

I understand from a financial perspective the poor planning when it came to the date of our anniversary – which lands smack in the middle of all four family birthdays.

But…he didn’t worry about unimportant things like money when we first met.

He married an old-fashioned girl who likes flowers… and that’s why I will be buying them for myself him this year.

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5 Wardrobe Essentials Every Middle-Aged Women Should Have

Woman sitting in jumper and skinny jeans eating popcorn.
Photo from Unsplash

Recently, I wore a cropped sweater to work and one of the kids accused me of not dressing my age.

I was so outraged by the comment that I demanded to know why she expected me to kowtow to society’s construct of the way women should dress in middle-age?

And needless to say, she looked back at me blankly

The comment reminded me how much I despise the assumption that the minute they turn fifty, women should be expected to dress in a certain way. Which is why this week I decided to forgo another doom and gloom commentary on the state of the world (or mention of the word Victoria, for those of you here in Australia), and instead provide you with some light relief on another topic I’m also not very qualified to write about.

I’m talking fashion, ladies!

Before I go any further, let me say that I do understand the unbridled bliss experienced around the globe by middle-aged women as a result of the Covid-related excuse our governments provided us with to wear our activewear all of the time. BUT…if you’re anything like me (who quite likes getting dolled up once in a while), you’ve got to be pretty excited about the reopening of stores and the prospect of not having to spend a large proportion of your week in the “returns” aisle at your local post office.

Don’t get me wrong, I love comfort, but sometimes I also like to dress up, and the past four months of sanctions have been hard on those of us who are not naturally online shoppers. Added to which, I’m feeling a bit more body-confident, having lost 5kgs in a torturous diet imposed on me by my shaming, fitness-crazy husband between January and March, the results of which I am eager to flaunt.

And let’s be honest, it’s only a matter of time before I get back on the carb bandwagon

Fortunately, we’re in winter at the moment here in Australia, and the best part about this three months of the year is that we can camouflage the truth. We can tuck the muffin top away in stretch jeans, hide the bat wings under oversized jumpers, and conceal the greys under caps and woolly hats. But my list of wardrobe essentials work for most of the year, wherever you are in the world. So if you’re a middle-aged woman who enjoys clothes and getting dressed up (on the rare occasion there’s nothing on Netflix), CHECK THEM OUT, and let me know what you think:

1. Skinny jeans – I know, I know, but hear me out, because it might surprise you to know that whatever your size, you can probably carry these off – especially now they’re available in a wide range of stretchy fabrics. In terms of Australian stockists, I like the Zara ones and the Decjuba “Riley” style, but I recently bought some at Country Road that are surprisingly flattering – because normally, nothing fits me in there. Make sure you get the high-waisted version for tucking in the muffin top and full-length – which gives you the option to roll them up. You may as well write “middle-aged” on your forehead if you go for the cropped version.

2. White Sneakers – I’m not sure why I avoided this trend for such a long time, but when I found a pair in Sportsgirl (for only $40), I couldn’t resist. Needless to say, I’ve worn them to death. The great thing about these shoes is that they’re neutral in colour (so they go with literally anything) and you can dress them up or down, depending on the occasion and your mood. Here’s Elle’s guide to the best white sneakers.

If you follow my socials, some of you will know that I splashed out on a black pair of sneakers from Guess this week. My son assures me they’re not too glitzy, but put it this way, I could compete with Tutankharmun’s tomb for the amount of bling on them.

3. The denim jacket – Another classic, which is a wardrobe staple for most of my friends in the UK that I decided I was too old for until I saw the one below in Katie’s (at 50% off). This is another wardrobe must-have because it’s just so versatile. And guess what, denim on denim is back, so you can pull off a Justin/Britney moment if your partner’s up for it. But if you’re not brave enough for that, this jacket is the perfect compliment to your patterned skirts and culottes as we move into spring.

4. Culottes – Love em or hate em (and I BLOODY LOVE them) – these are here to stay. Culottes are as contentious a topic as Vegemite and Marmite between women, but I think they flatter most body shapes and are more versatile than cargo pants. I’ve got culottes in a range of colours and fabrics, but I get most use out of my neutral ones. From a comfort perspective, I couldn’t live without them. I haven’t made a decision about the wider, longer 30s-style ones to recently hit the stores, but I’m sure we’ll be wearing this style of pant for a while longer. (Culottes below from MinkPink).

5. High-neck jumpers and tops – Whatever season you’re in right now, the roll-neck is back for some seventies comfort and style. There are long-sleeved, chunky versions for winter, and short-sleeved options if you’re in summer. Polo-necks, (as I was brought up to call them), are classy (in the same way as the twin set) and send out the message that you are a thinking, sexy women. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about high-neck jumpers on men – unless they’re Idris Elba, a Russian spy, or a sexy, young professor in search of their Mrs Robinson. Personally, I’ve always loved high-necked jumpers because they hide my eight chins, and I love this top from Seed.

Anything you’d like to add to the list?

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Middle-Aged Women: We Need To Talk About The Necessary Evil Of Exercise

Full Disclosure: As I write this post, I am sitting at my desk full of remorse at my complete lack of control around a wine bottle this weekend. Hence, I am probably the last person you should listen to about making the necessary improvements to your life to improve your longevity…

I read somewhere recently that scientists have discovered that genes and family history are a much smaller risk to our mortality than previously thought – that’s the good news. The bad news is that middle-age is apparently the optimal time (or last chance saloon) to make the necessary improvements to our lifestyle that improve our chances of living longer.

Hence, my hours of self-flagellation today.

Kath and Kim image. Kath running with man.
Photo found on Pinterest

What are “lifestyle improvements”? I hear you ask – not really

They’re all those boring things we have to do when we get old, like cutting back on drinking, stopping smoking, eating yucky green stuff – basically, you have to stop doing anything fun.

And exercising!

Now, some of you may know that a couple of years back (in what I now recognise was an out-of-control episode of health anxiety), I decided to take up jogging – or walking more quickly, as the old man likes to refer to it.

Why? I hear you ask. Well… as a result of a pretty scary family history of heart problems and certain other not-so-great life choices, I woke up one morning and knew that I should be exercising.

However, I am a realistic and quite naturally lazy person, so I also recognised that for me to stick with it, my chosen exercise had to:

  1. Be over as quickly as possible (relatively speaking), primarily because (as I mention a few times in this post) I hate it with a passion,
  2. Couldn’t take too much time out of my day, due to other hobbies such as drinking and eating lots, and
  3. Had to involve getting my heart-rate up to counter-balance aforementioned cray-cray family history.

To start with, I set myself the completely unrealistic goal of the 4kms Mothers Day Classic – which is basically a public pelvic floor challenge disguised as a fun run – which, God knows how, this one-time exercise-intolerant, slightly chubby, middle-aged woman managed to knock out of the park.

I’m lying, of course. I didn’t finish it quickly or with any great finesse – because even after months of training, I still HATED exercise with a passion – but I did finish

However, you can dismiss that inspiring little image of me crossing the finish line jubilantly that has mistakenly formed in your head, because any exhilaration I expected to feel at the end of the run never materialised. The reality was that I was knackered, swore I’d never run again, and then undid any good by vacuuming down a full English breakfast.

However, that false image of me does segue quite nicely into the “choices” we make with what time we have left that I talked about in my last post. Because no matter how much I continue to despise exercise, having lost my mother as a teenager, perhaps my biggest personal goal is to defy my genes and remain on this planet (to nag my children about how they’re not living up to expectation) for as long as possible.

As long as I continue to be in reasonable health.

Tbh, exercise that involves pain is not what I’d thought I’d be doing in my fifties and obviously not something I would normally choose to do in the little spare time I have, because…

It hurts… like everywhere. And that’s not the only downside when you’re middle-aged. So far, I’ve been lucky with my knees, but I’ve had a few wake-up calls when it comes to bladder control, I’ve found that I can’t knock back a couple of vinos the night before a jog, and some mornings my body aches so much I’m pretty certain it has finally succumbed to one of those terminal illnesses I’ve been waiting for my whole life – you can read about health anxiety here.

But while I would much prefer to go on a brisk walk with my girlfriends – with the added incentive of a wine milky coffee at the end of it – I know that’s not enough

Look, I’m not here to tell you how to live your life or lie about how jogging gets easier. I’m not even trying to sell the jogging idea per se to you – there’s a huge selection of exercise options that may be more realistic or suit you better – what I’m trying to do is remind you about the importance of maintaining a level of fitness at our age.

Did you know that you can tell the state of someone’s health by the speed they walk? Sounds obvious, I know, but the next time you’re out with your friends, take a furtive look at how they cope with hills or distance. Because, once you hit fifty, it becomes glaringly obvious who is fit and who isn’t.

And trust me, it’s a slippery slope once you lose your fitness – one day you can’t get out of a chair, the next you struggle to walk up hills, and before you know it you can’t wipe your own arse

But there is a silver lining – and I’m not trying to sweeten the pain because Fitness First or any other torture chamber is paying me to. There are some actual benefits to exercise beyond the physical ones, such as:

  1. The impact on your mental health: Everyone has those days when they get so engrossed with work that they put off going outside and end the day in a slump at their desk. That used to happen to me all of the time until I realised how much that change of scene centred me. Whether it’s the beauty of nature, the increase in my heart-rate, or the free therapy from friends, I can guarantee that I feel more inspired and creative when I return. It’s like when you reset your computer. I am far more productive after exercise.
  2. The boost to your mood and confidence: I’m not going to promise that you’ll lose weight from exercise as I believe that what you put in your mouth is the biggest determiner of that, but I do think that a healthy diet with consistent exercise can help. Added to which, for middle-aged women, improving muscle tone and being a healthy weight will most likely increase your confidence. A dramatic boost of dopamine works wonders for mood – that’s why the crazy exercise junkies get addicted.
  3. The broadening of your community: Whether it’s a yoga class or a walk with friends, group exercise encourages connection – another vital component of longevity. It is believed that one of the reasons men die younger is because they lose their social connections as soon as they retire.
  4. The increase in your sense of empowerment: That whole idea about how you enjoy things so much more when you’ve worked hard for them (that our parents used to try and drill into us to make us do chores) is actually true. I feel so much more empowered about everything once I start to achieve personal goals. And I’m not afraid to reward myself generously for them.

I can guarantee you’ll enjoy that evening wine so much more when you feel like you’ve earned it

Anyone who was at school with me will tell you that I couldn’t run the length of the netball court without falling over, so if I can commit to exercise, anyone can. I know I preach about doing what you love – which if you are anything like me does not involve wheezing your way around the block, scaring old people and children – but life is about choices, and this is a necessary evil of middle-age.

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Middle-Aged Women: We Need To Put Ourselves First Now

Have you felt really exhausted lately?

I know that excessive tiredness comes with the territory of menopause and living through a pandemic, but what I’m feeling at the moment is more like a heavy weight pushing down on me, squeezing every drop of energy from my body.

And I know exactly what it is – it’s frustration. The frustration of not being able to do everything I want to do in the free time at my disposal. You see, in the hours outside of the (vaguely) routine areas of my life I feel like I’m on a treadmill – running, without actually getting anywhere

I’m running, without actually getting anywhere

Coronavirus shone a brighter light on this problem, which if I’m honest has been niggling under the surface for years. It triggered a renewed urgency within me to get on with the stuff that brings me joy (in the words of Marie Kondo), which for me involves doing more, cramming as much new learning into whatever time I’ve got left.

I respect other women my age who choose to sit back and relax for this last chapter of their lives, but new learning empowers me, which has a positive knock-on effect on both my mental health and my relationships.

I’m simply not ready to slip quietly into the middle-aged woman box

When I moaned about my frustration with friends of mine, they suggested it might be linked to the pressure many of us feel about the need to achieve – that social media has intensified – to justify our right to equality in some way. But I don’t think it’s that. I’m old and ugly enough not to feel the pressure to have to impress anyone else and I’m also in the fortunate position where I don’t need to keep on “achieving” for financial reasons.

So what’s really stopping me from getting out there and kicking ass? Am I just a serial whinger or is it truly harder for women our age to kick our goals?

Where do I start?

1. My Body. Whilst I’VE accepted (sort of) that I look older (funny, that!), that’s not always the case when it comes to my work colleagues. And if the ageism that denies some middle-aged women their invitation to get jiggy at work social events isn’t bad enough, there’s the fact that some of us are treated like idiots. I’m certain that your average twenty-something isn’t actually aware of the memory lapses caused by menopause, and yet they can’t help talking to us like we’re two-year olds, or making assumptions about what we can and cannot do (particularly when it comes to technology). Snubs like these are hurtful and do nothing to alleviate our problems with concentration.

2. Mood Swings. Anti-depressants for anxiety (which help combat hot flushes), and an endometrial ablation for very heavy periods convinced me that I’d sail through menopause. So I wasn’t fully prepared for some of the other symptoms – in particular the mood swings, anger, and paranoia. Any idea how hard it is to get the creative juices flowing when you can’t stop obsessing about why your husband still can’t clean a bench top properly?

Men have no idea how exhausting it is to have to pretend you’re human when you feel like an axe-murderer on the inside

3. Lack of confidence. I know there’s no one else to blame but myself if I don’t achieve what I want, but I do believe that society and the way it views women of a certain age should share some of the responsibility. So often, the “What if I fly?” excitement in my head about a new project turns into a “What’s the point?” negativity when I’m confronted by discrimination. Added to which, some days, putting my goals first seems bloody impossible with the responsibilities of a day job, my home life and the emotional labour that goes with it. It feels like Imposter Syndrome to think that little me can do anything amazing.

4. Gratitude – I can’t ignore the voice in my head that says I should be grateful for what I’ve got. I’ve read a lot and listened to a ton of podcasts on the subject of privilege and I know I should feel more grateful than I do. I’m white, I’ve had a good education, and I’m relatively financially secure. But I still want more. Whilst I am incredibly grateful for what I’ve been given, I can’t be that sincere happy-clappy kind of grateful that some expect of people in my position. I still have dreams. And because being grateful is evidently not enough to make my happy, I’m starting to question if I’m just an inherently angry, selfish person.

5. That lack of me-time I keep mentioning, whichis (I admit it) turning me into that middle-aged stereotype I hate so much – the crabby Olive Kitteridge version. Lack of time to do what I WANT makes me resent people who make unnecessary demands of my time or who take advantage of that small part of my nature that can be generous. I begrudge the expectation that I should be responsible for all of the emotional labour in the family. This constant push and pull I experience about WHAT I SHOULD BE versus WHAT I WANT TO BE is exhausting and I’m tired of saying “yes” to everything and then hating myself and others for putting me in that position.

So, there it is…

If you’ve ever wondered why our age-group is portrayed as cantankerous old bitches, you might want to look beneath the surface. Frustration at feeling like we’re up against the clock all of the time is one cause of our sensitivity. The fear of not having enough time to complete everything we want to achieve is another.

Of course, I hope I’ll be remembered as “a good, caring person”, but is it so wrong to want more? Is it wrong to want something for me? To be ambitious? It”s not like my goals are unrealistic in any way – they are very highly achievable given the opportunity to prioritise them rather than have to fit them around everything else in my life.

When the virus first struck I put aside MY goals because I was worried about its impact on my mental health and the knock-on effect that might have on my ability to do my job, care for my family etc. I made a conscious decision not to take anything new on that might prove challenging… apart from crocheting – who was I kidding? – and removed myself from anything with the potential to trigger stress. In other words, I put everyone else first again and sacrificed my right to happiness. Being busy doing stuff I enjoy energises me; being busy making everyone else’s life easier doesn’t.

But perhaps my biggest problem is self-perception

Which brings me back, again, to that hurtful stereotype of the middle-aged woman, which contributes to the way we are discriminated by a society that, frankly, doesn’t needs any help in that department.

Middle-aged celebrities like Cindy Crawford who have “aged well” (Yuck!) may think that they are empowering women our age by looking fantastic and fit – but are they really? To me, it’s a bit like how porn educates young boys about sex, isn’t it? The women who inspire me are the ones who are authentic – middle-aged women such as Frances McDormand and Helen Mirren, who haven’t traded their looks for success. I have no problem with women who use their looks for their careers, but I do have a problem with women promoting the beauty of middle-age with surgical and financial help.

Brene Brown knows from personal experience how impossible it is to attain success and experience true happiness when we feel vulnerable. She believes that the people who are successful have to be totally confident in who they are, what they’re doing, and what they want. These people remove toxic people from their lives and they say no.

The truth is that successful people have to be a little bit selfish

And by “success”, I mean personal success, and achieving personal goals. And that’s, sadly, the realization I’ve come to as well. I’ve resolved to be more selfish from now on and place boundaries around my time.

But first of all, I need to manage my time better, which means going back to the drawing board and making a list of all the things I can’t give up (my day job and my family responsibilities), and the personal goals I want to add (new learning, publishing my manuscript, launching my writing business properly, exercise, travel and good food). And finally, I’ll decide what to cut from my life – because those things no longer bring me pleasure (Thanks again! Marie Kondo), because they aren’t value for money, or simply because they are a symptom of my weakness for taking on everyone else’s problems as well as dealing with my own.

I know it may sound crazy to do a complete re-evaluation of your life in your fifties, but how lucky are those of us who still have choices that are denied to so many?

Anyone else feel selfish about putting themselves first at this stage of their lives?

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The Sad Price George Floyd Has Paid To Expose Police Corruption

Demonstration board listing the names of black lives recently lost to police brutality in the US.
Photo by frankie cordoba on Unsplash

The question of whether black lives matter shouldn’t even be on the table right now. The questions we should be asking are how the system broke and how corrupt, exactly, are our police departments.

Anyone with half a brain cell understands that the colour of our skin doesn’t determine who we are, in the same way that anyone with a basic knowledge of history knows that the majority of white people have enjoyed a privilege denied to the majority of people of colour – something for which many of us are trying to make amends.

We can’t change history, but we can try and compensate for it.

George Floyd’s death has shone another light on the cancer in the US Police Department and the plight of the brave souls that are targeted by it. People of colour in the US have been scared for a long time, but this latest death has pushed them to their tipping point and triggered a united stand against racism and police brutality and corruption.

I will admit that as I write this post I fee scared too, in a different way. As a white woman of privilege, I’m scared about adding my personal thoughts about racism and injustice. I’m worried about using the wrong terminology; I’m worried that I don’t have the authority to write about the emotions of people of colour from my ivory tower. Most of all, I worry that my good intentions will be misinterpreted. And so all I can hope is that support, in whatever shape or form it comes, is welcome.

Fear and entitlement feed corruption in the police force.

It’s not like racism and corruption are endemic to the US, after all. The unmitigated fear linked to “difference” and the power struggles that emanate from it are worldwide struggles. As author Jordan P. Peterson states in his book “12 Rules For Life,” power play is part of the human condition that we see in many facets of life. There is a “dominance hierarchy in our society”, he confirms, although (unlike in the animal kingdom where dominance is a question of survival) there is also a level of chaos that our society hierarchies should never reach. And we are seeing that now, being leveraged by idiots like Trump.

Police brutality affects many groups of people – from people of colour to the LGBTQIA  community, and the mentally ill.

In spite of the rise of fascism over the past few years, I’m not surprised we’ve reached this point. I still cling to the hope that the tide of discrimination is turning, and that ultimately we will learn to live more harmoniously together. I see signs that our sense of compassion is increasing and while social media has its dark side, this reaction has demonstrated a positive side to its visual evidence of injustices like George Floyd’s horrifying death. The harrowing footage of his last minutes must help educate us about the unfair treatment of those less fortunate than us. They also incite anger, which is needed to effect change.

It is clear that the powers of the police are too great and there is not enough accountability for what they do with them.

Watch any TV show like The Shield, In The Line of Duty or The Wire and you’ll see how easy it is for bad seeds to abuse their badge and take matters into their own hands, whether that’s out on the streets or on the inside – the justice system’s inability to jail “bad cops” is proof of that – so how can we make the system safer?

Could any of the ideas below help reduce the number of black deaths?

  1. Could removing some of the pressure off police officers – and in particular financial targets that increase the danger of prioritising economics over life – make a difference?
  2. What if we vetted applicants more closely? Without wishing to stereotype, there does seem to be a “type” that enters the police force. Or perhaps it is the nature of the job that causes “compassion fatigue” – a numbing detachment that is common to many first responders (which I wrote about here).
  3. Or if there was more training vis a vis the risks of poor impulse control and the “pack mentality” in high emotion situations?
  4. How about we reduce the number of armed police officers? We know that having a gun increases the risk of its use, and we also know that the British have one of the most successful police departments in the world – and the majority of their officers don’t carry guns.
  5. And finally, if we worked out a way to encourage more female police officers to join, could we make it mandatory for a woman to attend every crime scene in order to reduce the threat of physical violence?

It’s easy to criticise the police, I know…

And would I do the job of a police officer? Not on your life. Every one of us has been in a flight or flight situation that we’ve handled badly and the police encounter those situations every day. No one wants to find themselves with that split-second choice between their own life and someone else’s. That is also why other vulnerable young men like Elijah Holcombe died. Read Kate Wild’s coverage of his “accidental” death in her book Saving Elijah.

Sadly, many of these cases point to a sense of entitlement in the police force that increases the risk of violence.

Australia’s own indigenous population is targeted in the same way as the people of colour in the US, which has led to an increasing number of them being unfairly incarcerated. There have also been countless deaths in custody that remain unaccounted for – even after lengthy investigations. And to my mind, the way certain police behave on the streets – bullying young people for minor breaches of the law such as drinking in public or possession of recreational drugs for personal use demonstrates an abuse of their powers. My own son was once strip-searched in the back of a police van for looking “shady” and because he had a warning for personal possession of a small amount of marijuana on his record.

It has taken many deaths to expose the corruption in the police department, and George Floyd is one of many martyrs to lose their lives for the lives of others. But what a price he has paid to expose the corruption of the people employed to protect us!

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The 25 Best Feel-Good Movies For Lazy Weekends

Are you genuinely still social-distancing?

Same Kind Of Different As Me movie poster with four of the cast.
Same Kind Of Different As Me Movie Poster

Or are you just socially anxious like me, and pretending you still have to?

If so, let me plan out next weekend for you because Angela at Heritage Films has asked me to give a shout-out for this wonderful, feel-good movie starring Renee Zellweger that they are premiering online between the 29th and 31st May. It’s called “Same Kind Of Different As Me,” and for each ticket sold (drum roll) a donation will be made to the Salvation Army and its Red Shield Appeal, who have been hit really hard this year.

Check out the movie trailer here:

A bit about the movie…

Ron Hall, played by Greg Kinnear in the movie, wrote the original story of “Same Kind Of Different As Me” – about a couple, whose lives change forever when they develop an unlikely friendship with Denver Moore, a homeless man – and sales from it have raised over $100,000 towards homelessness. As soon as Angela described it as “a true, inspirational story about a woman who transforms a city with kindness,” I knew it would be right up the street of a feel-good movie aficionado like me…especially now, during these dark, COVID times.

Who hasn’t loved Renee Zellweger since she dished up blue soup in Bridget Jones?

Evidently, Angela knew that flattery would get her everywhere (when she described me as a blogger with compassion in her pitch to me), but there are other (less shallow) reasons I want to endorse this movie premiere. Firstly, there are those massively important donations to The Salvation Army who “leave no-one in need” – and I know from personal experience how easy it is for any of us to suddenly find ourselves in a position of dependency on awesome charities such as these – and secondly, this is not just any old movie, it is a story with heart and soul, with an amazing cast, and I think most of us could do with a little of that right now.

Did You Know That Ugly-Crying Actually Enhances Your Mood?

This movie is guaranteed to release all those pent-up emotions of the last two months – which is a good thing because (interesting fact) a big, ugly cry actually ENHANCES your mood. And, frankly, it sounds like a) the perfect antidote to the Corona blues and b) the ultimate way to waste a lazy weekend afternoon for the professional couch potatoes among us.

But if those aren’t big enough incentives, remember that feel-good stories like these force us to think about how lucky we are – a really important reminder for those of us fortunate enough to come out of COVID-19 relatively unscathed.

Anything that gives us pause for thought and time to reflect on our priorities is a good thing, right?

AND FINALLY, THE BEST BIT. With your invitation to watch this movie, you are ALSO invited to the pre-movie program which includes interviews with the stars and the author, i.e. the perfect excuse to put on your glad rags for the first time (in what feels like a decade) and crack open a bottle of bubbly.

You can buy your movie pass HERE, and once you receive it you’ll get 48hrs to complete the movie and two weeks to start it.

And remember, the MAIN reason I’m giving you permission to take an afternoon off is because single and family movie passes make a direct donation to this year’s RED SHIELD APPEAL.

Cast of Four Weddings And A Funeral
Four Weddings And A funeral movie poster

And while I’m on the subject of THE BEST FEEL-GOOD MOVIES, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a few of my own. I’m not an idiot, so I realise that anyone worth their salted popcorn (when it comes to tearjerkers) will have seen most of these already, but if you haven’t, hit up a box of Maltesers, get out the blankets and give them a shot.

Enjoy!

  1. The Green Mile – Starring Sandra Bullock, the queen of feel-good movies.

2. When Harry Met Sally – Who hasn’t been in the situation this couple finds themselves in “the morning after”? Harry’s expression says it all. It always reminds me of the look on the old man’s face the morning after we (drunkenly) decided to try for a baby.

3. Chocolat – Anything French is “HOT AF!” I would definitely turn for Juliette Binoche.

4. Love Actually – So yeah, in terms of political correctness, this movie hasn’t aged the best, but who can forget the magic of that wedding, THAT funeral, or the brutal bedroom scene caused by Snape’s infidelity.

5. Notting Hill – The fairytale. “I’m just a boy, standing in front of a girl, asking him to love her.”

6. Steel Magnolias – The best story about friendship. Hankies a must.

7. Ten Things I Hate About You – Heath Ledger. *Sob*

8. Pride and Prejudice – Where Mr Darcy’s awkwardness is almost as sexy as a man carrying a baby.

9. Four Weddings And A Funeral – This movie always reminds me of the year of our wedding, minus the funeral. So many memories, so embarrassingly nineties.

10. My Big Fat Greek Wedding – John Corbett at his sexiest. We learnt what a bunt was and we’ll never say I.A.N the same way again.

11. Forrest Gump – An epic journey of kindness.

12. The Shawshank Redemption – The best bromance.

14. The Holiday – Cutest cottage, kid, and dad.

13. Bridget Jones Diary – The most accurate depiction of those angst-ridden years of our late-twenties and early-thirties. The best song to sing with a hairbrush.

15. Grease – The first movie I saw at the cinema with friends.

16. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – The subtle introduction of Leonardo to the world.

17. Silver Linings Playbook – The most romantic take on love with mental illness.

18. Dead Poets Society – Robin Williams “Oh captain, my captain…’

19. Bend It Like Beckham – An inspirational tale for young girls everywhere.

20. My Left Foot – The courage and determination of Christy Brown.

21. The Full Monty – Finally, some titillation for the ladies.

22. Bridesmaids – Too many hysterical moments in this movie to mention, but…every bride’s worst nightmare has to be a bad case of diarrhoea in your wedding dress.

23. The Untouchables – A mesmerising story of friendship and hope.

24. The Body Guard/Field Of Dreams/Dances With Wolves – Something for everyone. Who knew that Kevin Costner was such a feel-good film maker?

25. Benny And Joon – A beautiful film about love and “difference”.

Any movies I need to add to my list?

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The 5 Surprising Things I Haven’t Missed In Isolation

Cute hamster in tunnel.
Image from Unsplash by Zimbahcat

What’s surprised me most about this virus and its impact on my life is WHAT I HAVEN’T MISSED in isolation. While the 5 O’clock shadow above my lip is evidence of how much my body has missed the minimal amount of upkeep it demands – there’s loads of stuff I thought my happiness depended upon that I haven’t missed of all.

Obviously, I’ve missed certain elements of my life – going to restaurants, weekends away, and trips to the movies, to name a few – but what this virus has gifted me is a window to put into perspective what’s truly important in my life and what isn’t.

Below are 5 surprising things I haven’t missed in isolation:

1. People

FRIENDS, before you rush to Facebook to unfriend me, hear me out. Because I’m not talking about people per se, I’m talking about people I don’t really know that I’m forced to mix with at large social events or in the work environment. You see, one of the chronic sides to my anxiety is my social anxiety, which I’m sure is not that obvious to most people – because I’m a professional at disguising it, AKA an alcoholic – but it’s a problem that explains why a big part of me is loving this excuse not to leave the house right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t become a recluse in isolation whose only source of happiness comes from her dog and bullying her husband – I’ve been working my butt off within the four walls of our home – but I think the extra enthusiasm for work has derived from my contentment at being alone, rather than under the gaze of others.

The work required to socialise is what kills me, i.e. the diplomacy required to fit everyone in and not offend anyone. So while I’ve kept myself busy during this time, I’ve not missed being socially busy and I’ve embraced the extra time and energy to pour into projects I WANT TO DO that I’ve had to put on the back burner in the past.

2. Shopping

There’s not much point in clothes shopping when there’s nowhere to go – not that that stopped me before – but on the rare occasion I’ve visited the mall for “essentials”, I’ve discovered that my desire to shop has all but disappeared – cue fist pump from hubby. Materialism really does feel unessential right now.

And it’s nothing to do with not having the cash to splash, it’s about that change in my priorities again. I used to waste hours at the mall, trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that now seen ridiculous. Like many women, treating myself and spending compulsively used to make me feel better about myself – now I wonder why.

3. My Anxiety

This is a strange one when governments around the world are preparing for a mental health emergency, but it makes complete sense to me. Aside from the ramifications of certain domestic triggers (hmmm…), my anxiety hasn’t been exacerbated by COVID-19 – if anything it has reduced, and recent research in Japan confirms that I’m not alone. This may be because triggers such as work have been removed, or it may be (my theory) that the threat of the virus trumps most of the fears anxious people like me ruminate about on a daily basis. COVID-19 is the disaster of epic proportions we over-thinkers have been waiting for our whole lives, and now it’s here it feels somehow more tangible. It’s like looking the enemy in the eye.

Added to which, health anxiety simply isn’t an option right now – I mean, NO-ONE in their right mind wants to end up in the ER at the moment, right? On the personal front, while having Kurt back at home has added some tensions, it has also removed the fear those calls in the middle of the night caused. Enabling or not, it is much easier to support him during this pandemic under our own roof.

4. “The Treadmill”

The treadmill issue ties in with people and my anxiety. While I like my routine, I don’t necessarily enjoy all of the functions on my personal treadmill. At fifty-four, I’m still trying to shape my life into the one I want i.e. working for myself (preferably from home); and doing something I feel passionately about that scales well with my work-life balance. This break from certain outside pressures has paused the tension that usually mounts. It has provided me the opportunity to step back and do exactly what I want for a short space of time, when I want to. I’ve been able to step off the treadmill and roll around in the bedding.

5. The Weight Of Expectation

I am aware that it is my personal responsibility to control the weight of expectation I feel – or so my therapist says. Everyone wants to succeed, but for those of us who measure success in terms of work- life balance rather than financial reward, that weight of expectation can feel heavier and be difficult to keep in proportion. This difficulty is interlinked with my anxiety and I can only describe it as needing to nail everything, to be there for everyone, not to let anyone down even if when I’m drowning. With less expectation, my head has bobbed back to the surface of the water again.

Of course, these thoughts may just be symptomatic of middle age

I can’t deny that I’ve had an innate desire to find more inner peace for some time, and for those of us lucky enough to come through this virus unscathed, a positive of this COVID-19 experience has been how it has highlighted areas of our lives we took for granted. Nature, family relationships, and my health have been pushed back up to the top of my priority list. I may be missing the opportunity to explore countries I’ve never travelled to before, but I won’t miss the anxiety that used to accompany those trips, in much the same way I haven’t missed my invisibility at our local pub.

Is there anything surprising you haven’t missed in isolation?

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