When You Don’t Feel Peopley Due To Anxiety

Mood-wise, I’ve experienced a bit of a crash over the past few weeks. That’s not unusual as you navigate menopause and anxiety, but it’s frustrating when I was about to launch myself into full holiday mode.

Woman lying down, looking hopeful.
Photo by Talles Alves on Unsplash

I know stuff is serious when I’m not feeling peopley, because as a Leo, I am generally energised by company and being at the centre of things (sort of). But last weekend, I had to cancel pretty much everything we had planned – much to the old man’s delight.

There is little doubt in my mind that anxiety (GAD) is the root cause of these sudden changes in my mood. It can’t be a coincidence that each time I allow myself to feel a measure of contentment with my life, that little voice pipes in to remind me not to get too comfortable, and then slaps me around the face with the unexpected.

Admittedly, there has been some stuff going on that has pulled me closer to the darkness, as well as the usual woman’s guilt about pretty much every aspect of my life – usually triggered by those “sobriety benefits” articles that pop up in my inbox daily – but I suspect that the real culprit is a virus that started with an irritating case of Laryngitis and then developed into mild flu-like symptoms.

There are two big problems with not feeling 100% now, in my fifties: the first is the fear that THIS IS IT, MY TIME HAS COME, and the second is that it stops me from my daily exercise routine. Exercise (and being outside) is my fix, so when I can’t get out, all of those bad thoughts such as worthlessness, feeling like everybody in my life hates me, or that the walls of the apartment are caving in on me, chase me like a swarm of wasps, draining the positivity and creative energy from my body.

My attempts to rise above my illness and use the time (when I should be exercising) effectively, to catch up on some research for my writing and reading, exacerbated the problem this time. Reading about anxiety when I’m already in a heightened state because of all the things I’m not achieving is highly detrimental to any improvement. As is reading about Pauline Hanson’s latest bid for the spotlight, the entitlement of those Liberal Party wankers who still believe they have a right over womens bodies, and watching depressing (albeit thought-provoking) series such as When They See US (WATCH IT!) on Netflix.

However, sometimes all it takes is a change of scene, a friend saying exactly the right thing, or even a self-help article to turn me around that corner and force me back outside again. Even a measured dose of exercise and sunshine can get the old endorphins back into the spirit of living.

This time, two things enforced the change: the first was an overdue trip to the city for some culture (and some good, old-fashioned man-hating) with Annabel Crabb at the Opera House – even though, I imagine that would be most anxious people’s idea of hell, to weave their way through the furious tide of tourists in Circular Quay when they’re not feeling peopley; and the second was an article I read in the SMH, written by Judith Hoare here, about Claire Weekes, who she lauds as the “the Australian doctor who cracked anxiety.”

Claire Weekes was a scientist who experienced such severe panic attacks as a young adult that for many years she believed that she had a serious heart condition and was going to die. So, when eventually she discovered that her problem was panic attacks – related to her mental health (and more pertinently to anxiety) – she used her science background to research the condition. Having examined the treatments available for the condition, she came to the conclusion that “acceptance” was the best approach for coping with them.

“To recover, they must know how to face, accept and go through panic until it no longer matters …” Weekes said.

“Acceptance” is a pearl of wisdom that I’ve picked up in recent years – and not only in relation to anxiety. “Acceptance” has been the key to my improving relationship with Kurt, the key to finding work that suits my strengths and limitations, and (most likely) the key to the survival of my marriage, (in this case, his not mine). In relation to anxiety, it is simple and effective and backs up the latest thoughts about positivity, which are that we don’t need to be positive all of the time. Sometimes it’s okay to smell the dog poo rather than the roses – in fact, it’s important to.

However, “mind over matter” is cruel advice to give an anxious person, especially when for some, the condition can be completely debilitating. And yet, there is no escaping the fact that simple changes to our lifestyle may be a highly effective starting point to ease the symptoms. Exercise, a change of scene, and some form of mindfulness of meditation are the most immediate cure for me.

After I read the article about Claire at the weekend, I sat there in bed and breathed deeply for several minutes – a strategy I’d dismissed as a waste of time at a recent mindfulness session. And as I did it, I reminded myself that things rarely turned out like my catastrophizing brain promised me they would, which was why worrying was such a waste of time. And this time it worked.

5 Life Lessons To Take Away From “The Sopranos”

We’re grieving in our household because we’ve just completed the final series of The Sopranos.

Cover of "The Sopranos" boxset available at www.amazon.com.au
The Sopranos boxset available at Amazon.

But before any hardcore Sopranos fans jump in with an “I told you so” assumption that our grief is linked to THAT final episode – trust me, it’s not. The old man loved the ending, and while I’ll admit that it finished a little too abruptly for my liking – because I’m one of those sad fucks that likes a happy or at least a conclusive ending and I was desperate to see T say sorry to Carm, JUST ONCE – even I was good with it.

No, we’re grieving because the series was just SO BLOODY GOOD!

Admittedly, when the old man first suggested it, I poo pooed it as not my kind of television – because, frankly, there are enough murders of women in real life and the Mafia is hardly known for its work on human rights or equality. But you know what marriage is like, with its galling expectation to fucking compromise all of the time. So I agreed.

And when it comes to violence, let me confirm that The Sopranos doesn’t disappoint. The drama is horrifically violent in parts – in my opinion, often gratuitously so – which is why it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. For example, I can honestly say that the realism of Dr Melfi’s rape is one of the most harrowingly brutal scenes I’ve ever watched.

BUT…and it’s a mega BUT… there is just so much to learn from the series about the human condition. It was just so ahead of its time. But before I go into detail about what I took from it, here’s a quick synopsis for those of you yet to watch it:

In a nutshell, the story is about the life (work and family) of Tony Soprano, a sociopath, and the boss of a Mafia family in New Jersey. When he starts to have panic attacks – due in part to PTSD (caused by the toxicity of his own family), and in part (we suspect), to some level of social conscience about his work – we watch how he continues to justify the shocking decisions he has to make in the name of male pride, his family, (and HIS FAMILY) through social change and the ageing process.

So, what do the shocking truths of Tony’s life teach us about our own:

  1. To start with, the time period in which the series is set makes you realise just how far we’ve come in terms of political correctness. Homosexuality is demonised by the Mafia, as is the idea of not being a “real” man and even putting family ahead of “THE FAMILY”. Then there is the vigorous disapproval of seeking help for mental health issues, and the way that women are abused and subjugated. If ever there was a story that highlights toxic masculinity, this is it.
  2. We are also given an insight into PTSD caused by toxic parenting and how the cycle of abuse may continue. This comes to light during the therapy sessions between Tony and Dr Melfi and then evidenced in the relationship between Tony and his son, AJ.
  3. As we watch Tony’s struggles to evolve and raise his kids in this new, modern world – one in which their views are respected – we find ourselves identifying with his plight as the parent of teenagers. Many times, I found myself identifying with his frustration with AJ (his entitled son), and Meadow, his daughter, who dare to argue with their father about what they want to do with their lives, in spite of their parents’ expectations and power.
  4. Watching Tony’s evolution from husband and serial adulterer into a middle-aged man with guilt issues, is at times tragic, funny, deeply moving, and always mesmerising. The old-fashioned power and behaviours of the patriarchy are evident throughout, but the wind is starting to blow in the other direction and there are signs of their demolition as the female characters become more empowered.
  5. It is a lesson about relationships. In spite of the fact that Tony can’t keep it in his trousers, you know that he still loves Carmela deeply. However, trust is one of the main themes of the series. We know that successful relationships are built on trust, whereas groups such as the Mafia build them on loyalty. Relationships become vulnerable as people grow, and those that rely on nothing greater than lip-service don’t tend to last. Tony works hard on relationships that are meaningful to him – i.e. his blood family’s – but he remains deeply untrusting with outsiders, leaving him isolated, in spite of his seeming position of power.

These lessons, and so many more, is why The Sopranos is such addictive viewing. James Gandolfini’s portrait of Tony Soprano is enthralling to watch. He was highly acclaimed for the interpretation of this chilling, yet charismatic character, which makes the tragedy that his own life was cut so short, somehow all the more poignant. I miss that smile, already.

In Australia, you can watch The Sopranos on Foxtel or buy the boxset from www.amazon.com.au

21 Pieces Of Advice I’d Give My Teenage Self…

An article in “The Times” last weekend and my coming birthday inspired me to think seriously once again about what I’ve learned during my half-century. I’ve written posts in the past on the topic of the wisdom gained in middle age – mainly in relation to the advice I’d give NC, my daughter, but amazingly I have “grown up” some more since then, (as has the place of women in the world) – so I think it’s time for a re-evaluation.

Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

I envy NC and the support her generation receives from the multitude of inspiring female mentors in the media, at work, and within her social group, as well as the government and independent services they have for their mental health etc. And I hope that with more awareness about women’s rights, the majority of our young women are now finally aware of what exactly is within their grasp. But the success of their future – and I use the word “success” with an implicit meaning of personal goals – still comes down to getting the fundamentals right.

Middle age is a funny old time. We joke about still feeling seventeen or eighteen, and yet it would be ignorant to believe that experience and the power of time have not played some part in influencing our perspective from then to now. If I’m honest, I’m not certain I thought about anything very much in my teens, beyond meeting the education goals set by my parents, getting a boyfriend, and securing a job, but then we didn’t have as much insight into what was happening on the world stage back then.

So here’s what I would advise my younger self if I had my time again:

  1. Don’t assume that education is the only means to an end. Further education is a massive decision for a young brain and, these days, a huge financial commitment. One size doesn’t fit all, and many of our most successful entrepreneurs never finished school. Follow your heart when it comes to your career. You can always return to education at a later date.
  2. Trust your instincts more. Sure, there is a stereotype/Instagram version of success that we are pressured to aspire to, but if you have any niggling doubt inside you, you don’t have to be a sheep. It is unlikely that your doubt will disappear, and ignoring it may cause you and the people that love you a lot of pain in the long term. Listen to your body is something else I’d like to add here – and not just the physical signs that something isn’t quite right, but the mental ones as well.
  3. Value yourself. People will tell you that you are too young to make big decisions, too fat to wear those jeans, not good enough at such and such to follow your dream, but you are your own person and this is your life. Worst case scenario – you will learn from your mistakes. Remove anyone who doesn’t value you or respect your decisions from your life.
  4. Never trust or stay with a partner who doesn’t treat you as an equal. Nothing to add.
  5. Always take responsibility for your own finances. Even if you take time out of work, make sure that you don’t compromise your financial independence by that decision.
  6. Be assertive. Women are known as the “gentler sex” – and it’s true that we make great carers – but in the business world that can be seen as a weakness. One reason that women earn less is because they don’t ask for a pay rise. So be assertive about what you are entitled to.
  7. Don’t be scared to voice your opinion. Time and time again I hear women say that they can’t communicate with their partner. If that’s the case, you are not in an equal relationship and it’s not working.
  8. Accept your body for what it is. There are some things diet and exercise can’t change, so stop wasting your time trying to achieve the impossible. Live a healthy lifestyle, but don’t get sucked in by the unrealistic expectations of models in magazines or social media. You have so much more to give.
  9. Read more.
  10. If you have to chase a friendship, let it go. They don’t value you.
  11. You will have to fake it to make it and that’s okay because everyone’s doing the same thing. Don’t allow yourself to feel like an imposter just because you’ve pushed yourself to take on a new challenge. Take a leap of faith. Imagine if you succeed!
  12. Compliment other women. In fact, compliment everyone – those few words have the power to change someone’s day.
  13. Tell those closest to you how much you love them, more often.
  14. Move forwards not backwards. Regrets can be useful as a learning tool but demotivating if you focus on them.
  15. Don’t be afraid to say sorry. In particular to your partner and kids.
  16. Exercise self-compassion. Don’t be so hard on yourself. There will always be someone with more and life will feel tough at times, but no one is perfect.
  17. Don’t be judgy. Instead, be empathetic – you have no idea what someone else’s life really looks like from the inside out.
  18. Take a greater interest in politics. I know that they’re boring when you are still ignorant about your own mortality, but you can change the world if you want to. And if not for yourself, for your kids. That’s what living in a democracy is all about, and it’s a privilege denied to many. It infuriates me when I hear of young people who haven’t voted and then moan about how the system never changes.
  19. Dreams can come true, but they take hard work, resilience and commitment. (Taken from GreenGlobalTravel). And to get there, you will most likely need to take some risks.
  20. Don’t grow up too soon. There’s plenty of time for that.
  21. Travel – as often as you can.” “After a life-changing trip, Jennifer Hill realized the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. As she’d tell her younger self, there are always reasons you can find not to experience new things—but the benefits of doing it anyway can be amazing.” (The Muse)

Empty-Nesting: How awesomely liberating is it doing exactly what YOU want now?

It’s my birthday next week, and as has been our agreement for a number of years, the old man and I have a process in place for the event when it comes to presents. It goes something like this: I negotiate a budget (that usually works in my favour because he pretends to feel some semblance of guilt for shirking his responsibilities) and then I buy my own present, whereupon he wraps itafter asking me if I’ll do it first.

Beautiful woman holding up a bunch of balloons on a yacht.
Happy Birthday to me! I’m sure that this is exactly what I’ll be doing next week. Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

I know that many of you will think that our arrangement is kind of sad, but I can assure you it’s not. If you’d seen any of the presents – the towels, the chunky ID bracelets and the over-sized lingerie – that he has picked out for me in the past, you’d understand that for my husband this is a vital safety precaution, and for me it’s about self-care.

I admit that I am fussy. I’m not proud of it but I have very firm ideas about what I like. And even if I sent the old man to the store with an image and code for what I want, he would somehow get it wrong. So in much the same way that people frown at us over about our choice of separate bedrooms, I’m gonna ignore your predictions that our arrangement is a recipe for disaster. It works for us.

But I digress. The reason I mention this birthday is that I have already been out on the town for some retail therapy and purchased a rather cute little Boho top from Sportsgirl that in my head I had earmarked to wear to the girls lunch I’ve organised for the occasion.

However, as I pulled it out of the bag in excitement to check that I still liked it – because I am a serial returner, who is no doubt blacklisted by many of my local stores – the thought crossed my mind that I had been an idiot. Of course, I couldn’t wear it to my lunch on Saturday, I thought, because it’s two days before my birthday.

Seriously, for a few seconds there, menopause-related dementia made me feel seriously fucked off about not having anything nice to wear to my own birthday party.

Until I realised how absurd I was being. Of course I could wear the top, I reminded myself. I’m a free-as-a-bird, ass-kicking empty nester now, with no little people to point the finger or be influenced by my poor example. I am no longer that parental role model who has to pretend to be something I’m not just so that my kids don’t grow up to be assholes. No one is here to judge me if I open my present a few days early, drink wine during the day, or even smoke Cannabis againnot that my abstemiousness prevented Kurt from doing any of those things… and others.

I can make my own decisions again.

This is the wonderfully empowering bit about middle age. It is liberating. I am back in charge of whatever is left of my destiny and I can do things the way I bloody well want to. And if I want to wear my new top before my official birthday, I bloody well can.

Let’s Stop Judging Ourselves By Our Bodies

I went on a girls night to the city last Friday night.

I’m ashamed to admit that it took me longer to get ready than usual because the outfit I had put together in my head that week looked crap when I put it on and I had a confidence crisis, which meant I had to go through every other outfit in my wardrobe until I came back to the original one.

Seriously, I thought that by this age I wouldn’t care how I look, but apparently, I’m not alone – all four of us “girls” that night had our own personal what-to-wear crisis before we met up.

Comments about fat thighs and dog jowls were bandied about, and sadly they’re not unusual. Honestly, anyone listening in on our conversation would have thought we were teenagers on the pull, not a group of middle-aged women praying we’d be home in bed by 10pm at the latest.

Who has done this to us? Who or what has driven a giant bulldozer through the confidence of women when it comes to their bodies? Because you’d think that by your fifties we’d have accepted ourselves for who and what we are, wouldn’t you? And that when we tell our daughters that it’s what’s inside that counts, we’d really mean it?

Sadly, our problem is pretty universal. Check out The Bikini Rant below:

I need to take her advice. I mean it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever wear a bikini again in public, but why do I still care so much about how my body looks at this stage of my life? Who do I want to impress? I should be proud of it. It’s been a reliable vessel to two children, a ton of junk food and a veritable Tardis when it comes to Chardonnay.

And it’s not like the old man ever worries about what his bum looks like.

This week I listened to one of Yumi Stynes fantastic podcasts from her Ladies, We Need To Talk series – during which she discussed this very issue.

Yumi mentions the importance of us having some self-compassion when we think about our bodies. She asks if we would say to our friends what we say to ourselves when we look in the mirror?

Like ‘Shit, Lou! You’d be quite pretty if you didn’t have those three chins!’

But of course, we wouldn’t, because a) It would be rude and hurtful, b) It doesn’t matter, and c) there’s probably nothing that I can do about them even if I really cared.

So, whose standards of beauty are we trying to live up to and judging ourselves by – because they’re not universal standards. Countries such as Mauritania, Tonga and even Fiji embrace a little extra weight in women.

No, they are magazine and social media standards – hello, Instagram – that push men and women to to attain impossible standards of perfection. In the same way that porn influences men to believe that women should be hairless down below, some of them now see a women’s size 6 as the norm.

Kim Kardashian has launched a new range of shapewear called “Solutionware” – a name which has the ‘built-in implication that there is a problem’, according to India Knight of The Times. And Kim’s range isn’t targeting mid-lifers like my friends and I, who are showing the normal wear and tear signs of ageing, they are aimed at our daughters.

Which is why we have to demand better role models for women and our girls. We don’t want our kids fawning over Love Island and Bachelor wannabees; we want them inspired by “real” women – true heroines, whose success isn’t derived from their looks, but from their magnanimity, their intellect and talents. Women such as Ashleigh Barty, Nakkia Lui, Malala Yousafzai, Lady Gaga, Jacinda Ardern or Tiera Guinn, to name but a few.

Historically, women have been prized for their looks and ‘valued for their sexuality’ (Darcy Steinke), because we used to live in a man’s world. But not any more. However, if we are to be taken seriously as equals, we need to value ourselves so much more.

This Is How A Middle-Aged Couple With Anxiety Books A Holiday

There are certain undeniable factors when two people with anxiety get married. 1. There will be a lot of overthinking, and 2) We can talk ourselves out of pretty much anything.

Raising a cocktail toast in front of a beautiful beach.
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Such has been the marital soap opera created by my decision that we go on a proper holiday this year – a decision that has at times felt like having teeth pulled without anaesthetic underneath the maskless face of a caffeine-addicted dentist.

Every possible destination was considered during our intense negotiations – including some of the great ones suggested by some of you – until eventually we managed to narrow the choice down to three – once terrorism, risk of gastro, length of flight and language had been taken into consideration.

New Zealand, Vietnam and Hawaii.

Uncharacteristically generously, I gave the old man the final choice, and after much shaking of his head and chewing on his lip, he opted for New Zealand. Too easy, I thought (misguidedly), as I launched myself into another week of unpaid work in the form of research – even procuring the services of a lovely local tour company who created the most perfect itinerary for us (that didn’t include Christchurch, due to its earthquake issues), and just about squeezed into the budget.

And somewhat foolishly, I truly believed that the holiday was done and dusted when I handed the itinerary over to my husband, chomping on the bit to get started on broadcasting the news to my fellow anxious travellers and friends on Facebook that I hate on a little bit more each time I see them downing Tequilas on another beach.

Then the old man decided that New Zealand is too cold in October.

‘Okay…’ I replied, through gritted teeth.

‘Let’s brave Vietnam,’ he said, three Whiskies into a Friday night.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked.

‘Absolutely. It’s time to push ourselves out of our comfort zone,’ he lied, in what I now recognise was a very clever delaying tactic.

And so another intense week of research followed during which I pulled together a fantastic holiday that encompassed several days in Hanoi, a brief sejour in Sapa, and a week in Halong Bay. Indeed, so confident was I that Vietnam was our final destination, I had already checked out cooking courses, markets and hotels. But then I dropped into the conversation that the trip included an overnight train journey to Sapa…

‘What overnight train?’ the old man asked, a worried look on his face.

‘Relax,’ I said. ‘You get your own cabin and it only takes seven hours,’ I started to bluster as I tried to convince myself at the same time. ‘AND it will save us the cost of a night in a hotel.’

‘And there’s an overnight stay on a boat in Halong Bay, as well?’ he asked.

‘Maybe…’

‘On a boat?’

Needless to say, Vietnam was also quietly put on hold until we have earned our travel stripes, which left us Hawaii. However, too exhausted by this stage to think about it or to cope with the inevitable disappointment when my husband changed his mind AGAIN, I threw the ball in his court.

‘You bloody organise it,’ I said, passing him the gauntlet.

I picked the gauntlet back up a few days later and gave him a deadline of last weekend to book – otherwise all sorts of shit was going to go down in our place, I promised him, that amongst other things involved a 60/40 split of our accumulated wealth once we reached the divorce courts.

And, dear friends, we have booked a holiday, with only three months in between now and then to worry about what can possibly go wrong – ie. being approved for our visas, being forced to sleep in the same bed, driving on the wrong side of the road, whether we’re allergic to the pollen in Leis and if the timing of happy hour will work with nap time. So very soon I will be pissing you all off with my very own Photoshopped holiday snaps on my social media accounts of us topping up our Valium sipping Pina Coladas around our pool.

Is It Normal To Hate People Who Go On Exotic Holidays All The Time? Asking For A Friend

This is a follow on from my last post in which I discussed my chances of dragging my husband away on an exotic holiday this year. Thank you for the abundance of awesome recommendations (for anxious, middle-aged couples, with zero interests in common) that you kindly left on that post, and which have since been dissected, over-thought and (no doubt) put on the back burner until I force him to make a decision.

Image found on Pinterest from awakenmindset.com

I should point out that I have warned him that his refusal to commit is exactly the sort of thing that middle-aged couples divorce over, and in response he asked me when I am leaving.

I am not, by nature, a green-eyed monster, so I find this whole travel-envy thing to be quite peculiar. Indeed, I have always denied the impact of social media on my happiness – made easier in this case, I imagine, by our move to the other side of the world to a wonderful country that offers a wealth of different landscapes and natural beauty.

I was, (and still am), committed to the financial choices the old man we have made to semi-retire.

However, it does leave us with a very limited budget for holidays and lately I’ve started to get itchy feet, thanks to all of those inspirational memes about travel, adventures and growth that fill my FB home page, as well as the bunch of our friends that are starting to take advantage of their new empty-nester status and are therefore ALWAYS on fucking holiday.

So what’s changed? I suppose that when I entered this stage of my life I still had the arrogance of the European who feels like they’ve seen the world – when the reality is, I’ve visited a couple of European countries a lot of times. I may have lived in Europe for forty years, but I didn’t have the wisdom back then to make the most of what it had to offer.

Added to which, I came back from our last exotic trip to Bali in two minds about foreign holidays. I was pretty shaken up by the level of poverty – in what I had been led to believe was a paradise – hence, I spent much of our time there stressing about the families on scooters, food poisoning and feral dogswhich always made a beeline for me.

Unsurprisingly, our next holiday was to Forster.

I’m not certain what is behind this current attack of itchy feet. Is it an innate fear of time running out? Am I missing a diversity of culture that simply doesn’t exist on the Northern Beaches of Sydney? Or is it simply that I’m scared that I am cruising through life and getting boring?

While there are many benefits to working from home – the main one being that my desk is close to the fridge – one of the few downsides is that life can become very insular. And when you struggle from anxiety, the fact that you rarely have to leave the house can cultivate the problem.

Interestingly, when I think about my dream holiday, it isn’t about swanky hotels, exotic beaches or even two-for-one cocktails like it used to be – we have some pretty nice beaches here. No, the appeal is more linked to new experiences, new cultures, the challenge of pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and growth. It is about sharing those experiences with my soulmate – rather than the typical mundanities we share each week, like when the dog last went out for a poo.

Don’t get me wrong. I am very content to get comfortable in certain areas of middleage-dom. I wouldn’t trade flat shoes, nightly Netflix and separate bedrooms for anything! But I can’t ignore that little voice that keeps nagging me to keep on exploring.

Running Doesn’t Get Any Easier, But Let Me Tell You What It Does Do…

This week, I’ve decided to guilt you off the sofa with another smug-assed update about my new running career.

Woman standing on beach with arms in the air in celebration.
Photo from Unsplash. Catherine McMahon

Cue drumroll: Last week, I reached my target of 4kms for the Mothers Day Run For Breast Cancer. In other words, my weekly jog/hobbles around the lagoon in our new suburb has paid off. Go me! And while I would love to describe to you in triumphant detail the exhilaration of reaching such a pinnacle of fitness at the age of 53, I’m too knackered. Worse, I’m worried. You see, I suspect that I’ve potentially put myself in a dangerous psychological place now. With five weeks still to go before the official run (You can sponsor me here, because as you can see, we need all the help we can get), I’m worried that I may have peaked too early, which means that the next few weeks are going to prove a battle to get motivated.

But if it makes you sloths out there feel any better, I am also here to confirm that running doesn’t get easier – that is indeed a myth – and that in no way has this new sport become my raison d’etre.

For while it is tempting for me to paint a dazzling image of me crossing the 4kms mark, legs reaching across the finish line with the litheness of a gazelle – that’s simply not how the moment was, as I’m sure that most of you can imagine. The fact is, the mechanical process of moving my legs fast never gets any easier. And frankly, if it wasn’t for sheer will-power and the image in my mind of the big brekkie and coffee I promised myself at the end of each practise session, it is unlikely I would have stuck to such a ridiculous goal.

For the record, I would also like to point out that I will never want to set myself another goal and increase my distance. I will leave that to those of a competitive nature. For me, this run was only ever about a personal goal and raising money for a worthy charity, and once I tick that box, I will resume my Friday nights with a bottle of wine and a packet of pork scratchings.

But let me tell you what this silliness has done. It has made me feel better overall – mentally and physically (sort of). I haven’t lost weight – indeed, my calves have packed on something that the old man has identified as muscle – but the push to get outside and into the fresh air twice a week has helped me develop an old person’s greater appreciation of the outside world and nature. I have more energy, I feel more positive, and I’m drinking less alcohol – because it is definitely more challenging to get my legs going after bevvies the night before.

Goals and finding ways to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, (or simply into a different zone), are so important at this stage of our lives. And it’s important to remind ourselves of how lucky we are to reach middle age, at all – a gift denied to so many victims of breast cancer.

New challenges and experiences keep me mentally alert and curious – and ultimately youthful, I hope – in what can be a disconcerting last chapter of our lives. For me, this year is about running, but next year’s challenge might entail another new hobby, travel, or meeting with a different social group – whatever it is, the curiosity that gets me there is what will keep my mind sharp.

Anyone that knows me – but in particular I must mention the crowd who did the Jane Fonda Workout with me for high school sport, (when everyone else was playing proper sports) – would laugh if you told them that I had taken up running – at any age. But perhaps, more importantly, in a period of my life when I feared that there were no surprises left – apart from those generously supplied by Kurt – I have surprised myself.

Go on, sponsor me…

Bad Dreams? I Blame Anxiety

Photo by Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho on Unsplash
Of course, sleeping in the garden might be my problem and I could simply invest in a bed.

I used to have this theory about dreaming, which was that only creative, imaginative people had them. I admit that this conclusion was drawn from the fact that the old man doesn’t dream.

As a middle-aged, menopausal woman on anti-depressants (who struggles with sleep), the only bright side to the kind of dreams I have – imagine GOT crossed with Psycho – are that as a writer, even crazy dreams offer up some wonderful ideas for content. But I can’t deny that it would be refreshing, occasionally, to have some nice, vanilla dreams. You know, the sort of dreams where I’m sipping expensive cocktails in exotic destinations or sexual dreams, with the men of my fantasies. Rather than dreams where I’m falling off cliffs or being chased by knife-wielding rapists.

Let me share the one I had last week. Interpret it as you will.

The dream began with me introducing one of my best friends to a new friend of mine, who swiftly replaced me in my BF’s affections. Unsatisfied with that, this interloper continued to torment me throughout the dream, popping up in other parts of it to enlighten me about secrets my BF had shared with her – the sort of secrets that she had never shared with me during our entire twenty-year friendship.

During this REM version of Mean Girls, I found myself back at uni in the classic dream of being late for, and not having prepared for, an exam. This time, however, I was studying for a degree in science, and not only was I late, but the only preparation I had done for it was to skim through a Year 6 book on nature.

While I was mulling over how I could make the life cycle of the amoeba relevant to a tertiary physics paper, I was also struggling to locate my seat in the massive exam hall, where thousands of candidates were waiting to take the same exam – each of whom was already in their seat and eyeballing me.

Finally, an adjudicator took pity on me. Relieved, I followed him as he directed me to my place, whereupon – and get this! – he pulled a machete from his apron and cracked open my chest to reveal my heart – which was bizarrely the first time I noticed that everyone else’s heart in the room was exposed. Even weirder, was the immediate sense of calm I felt, that finally, I was like everyone else. Hence, it was only as I shuffled about in my seat, preparing to start the exam, that I noticed that my heart was different to everyone else’s – because mine had bulging lumps in its arteries. Clots!

The finale to this horror story, was my embarrassing (somewhat deja vu) attempt to get my computer going and onto the exam program – because apparently, I was a technophobe in my dream as well as in real life. Until, fortunately, my neighbour took pity on me, setting me up in the nick of time for the start of the exam. I remember throwing him a look of gratitude as I placed my headphones on confidently as the examiner called out Start – which is when I discovered that I had no sound.

It is no secret that bad dreams and night terrors happen to anxious people, and unsurprisingly, I can relate almost every detail of that dream to current concerns about my health, work, and the fear of not living up to expectation.

But if my mind is really that bloody imaginative, why can’t I have nice dreams for a change? Why can’t I have the dream where I’m a famous author, who sells the film rights to my novel to Steven Spielberg, who then picks Meryl Streep to play my character in the book? Why can’t I dream about lunch with Meryl – where she perfects my accent, we sing Abba songs together, and she reveals all of her inner secrets to me, like the one about her best on-screen kiss?

BTW – My money’s on Robert Redford.

Those Awkward Gumtree Moments…

We’re on the move again. As bonafide empty-nesters, we’re going for a proper “downsize” this time into a grown-up, executive apartment with posh fittings, a dishwasher that works, and voluminous sheer curtains that we hope will keep the outside world at bay.

Collection of pieces of furniture.

The latest move means, of course, that I’ve had to rekindle my love-hate relationship with Gumtree to get rid of more of our shit – an experience I return to with mixed feelings.

While I like the premise of the online marketplace, (and so far, I’ve had a pretty good track record with it), I am always surprised by what people sell and buy on the site, ie. Kurt’s “chef set”, as well as the sheer audacity of buyers who persist in negotiating on items that are obviously already bargains.

But I like that the process is simple – even for me, a technophobe. And for most people, the prospect of a bargain or getting something for nothing is invigorating, hence it’s impossible not to get a little bit excited as you upload the prized images of your loot and its enticing copy. And there is a real sense of power as you watch your virtual pack of buyers fight over your item – YES! THIS IS MY STAINED MATTRESS! – somewhat akin to what those unsavory sellers on “Antiques Roadshow” must feel in those few precious minutes before the valuer tells them that the old, fugly plate they inherited from Grandma is worth zilch.

But there are, inevitably, trust issues that you need to be careful about: the buyers that turn up and still try to negotiate, in spite of the price you agreed – safe in the knowledge that you’ve already visualized your gorgeous new sofa in your lounge and will accept just about anything to get the old one out of the way; or the Photoshopped photos that conceal chips on furniture or that large scratch across the top.

I imagine that selling on Gumtree provides a thrill similar to the sense of gratification you get from gambling or the chase in a new relationship. Unless your item doesn’t sell, there’s little to lose from the sport other than your pride, (from the public confirmation of your obviously terrible taste) and the cost and inconvenience of getting your rejected piece taken to the dump.

But even in the event of a sale, there are compromises to be made, such as the loss of your privacy and comfort zone when the buyer turns up to collect their goods – particularly when you are of a socially anxious disposition.

This time – somewhat surprisingly – our most popular item was an IKEA chest of drawers. But in my haste to get rid of it quickly, I under-sold it to the first buyer that contacted me, and so – after the old man and I chipped it, lugging it (like two old people) down the stairs – any hope of a decent profit went out the window. Egg on my face, I called our buyer to inform him, and after re-negotiations that mirrored a car purchase, eventually, we agreed on a price. Suffice it to say, however, I was pretty deflated by the time we got around to discussing the pick-up instructions.

‘Make sure you bring a big enough car,’ I warned him, unable to mask the bitterness in my tone from being robbed in broad daylight and the impending invasion of my privacy for so little financial reward.

‘I’ll take it apart,’ he said.

‘It’s from IKEA,’ I reminded him, ‘and instructions weren’t included in the price,’ I added, under my breath.

‘It will be fine,’ he said, while I reached for the Valium.

He turned up at 6.30pm on a Saturday night (!) with the enviably large toolbox of a “man who can”, leaving the old man drooling behind the curtains of our front window as we watched him take the chest apart on the front lawn. I can’t describe the level of discomfort as the two of us – socially anxious adults – watched this stranger, (who also expected to converse intermittently), hack away at our sold IKEA chest. I assume that he expected to put it back together again.

You may also be able to imagine our relief as his tiny Sedan swung out of our drive.

Our earnings almost paid for two drinks at our local. However, I’m certain that this, our latest experience of the potential perils of Gumtree, will not deter us in the future. We finished the day with extra dollars in our wallet, and the high from that close-to-profitable sale was all the recompense we needed for a slipped disc and the PTSD from tough negotiations and a stranger with a hammer in our home.

Are Old Dudes Getting Hotter Or Am I Simply Getting Older?

I suspect that the main reasons behind my increasing attraction to old dudes are my age and my deteriorating eyesight. You see, these days, any woeful stirring in my loins is caused far more often by images of distinguished old dudes on Instagram, than the hairless, chiseled chests of men half their age.

I like to think that this change of direction in sexual attraction is a rare kindness bestowed on me by a creator who was obviously male – a necessary evolutionary shift, perhaps, to stop old women such as myself from running off with younger men, thereby driving procreation to a devastating halt?

Doubtful, though…

Attractive older man with grey hair and beard.
Photo by Donald Teel on Unsplash

Nevertheless, it is a strange phenomenon. You see, not that long ago, I would have gagged at the idea of pashing a silver fox – rather like my twenty-four-year-old daughter. My head has always been turned by the younger cubs, for whom (in my prime) I would gladly sacrifice quality for quantity for the promise of a firm chest and as little post-coital conversation as possible.

I was also one of the doubting Thomas’ that shuddered at the idea of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ and Michael Douglas, and Di and Prince Charles. Albeit that the Welsh actress has had the last laugh. Evidently, she had the foresight to appreciate that a twenty-eight-year gap between her and her husband guaranteed that he was never really likely to look better than her.

Although, admittedly, it’s a close call. Michael isn’t looking that bad for his age if his appearance on “The Kominsky Method” is anything to go by. And neither did Robert Redford in “The Old Man And The Gun” and Clint Eastwood in the trailer for “The Mule”. In fact, I struggled to follow the plot in Redford’s movie, so mesmerized was I by the wrinkled tesselations on his face.

Or maybe I’m simply getting old…?

No. There’s definitely something very attractive about a man with a grey beard, who obviously went to Specsavers. Indeed, the only shame of my newfound appreciation is that mature women aren’t branded in the same positive light as our “distinguished” older men such as George Clooney and Richard Gere.

“Vixen” has yet to match the connotations of “fox”.

And while I despise the trope of middle-aged women as sour-faced and sexless, I’m glad that the ageism tide in Hollywood has turned for men at least. No one is immune to the passage of time, and there is much for our younger generations to learn from the wisdom of the old – especially now that family communities are so divided. And the lines of time and experience add a realistic dimension to characters – a fact that, sadly, Hollywood has chosen to ignore up until now.

Nevertheless, the treatment of women in cinema still has a way to go. While I hold fast to the notion that some men MUST find women their age attractive – a tricky presumption, admittedly, based on our visibility in the media – it is impossible not to notice how many of the female partners (of the actors above) were still in nappies when their leading men were in high school. The gap might be narrowing, but Sissy Spacek is 69 and Robert Redford is 82; Michael Douglas is 74 and Nancy Travis is 57.

I suppose I should be grateful that at least the aging process is somewhat of a leveler – one that provides us with a better understanding of “visibility” once the covers of our books begin to deteriorate. No more pretense; no more rushed, awkward conversations as the eyes of the man you’re talking to wander to your gorgeous best friend.

There will always be evergreen, “visible” beauties such as Kylie Minogue and Helen Mirren – some with young hotties firmly attached to their arm. And good luck to them! I’m comfortable now with the springy grey hairs in my parting and a beauty that is defined by my brain, my spirit, and my convictions.

Dig a little deeper, men, for you may strike gold. And above all, don’t believe the hype. Once our biological clocks stop ticking, we women can afford to be choosy, and what we want at this next stage of our lives is “substance”. We won’t settle for anything less. And “substance” is about the man who values us – not as a trophy, but as an equal partner, in intellect, passion, and curiosity.

What Advice Would You Give Your Daughter As She Transitions Into Womanhood?

Women supporting women.

When I was growing up, I wish someone had told me to bury the past, to keep my eyes focused firmly on the road ahead, and to embrace the company of women.

An out-of-the-blue email from an old girlfriend prompted me to write this post. The first true girlfriend of my adulthood – ie. after kids – we were the only two mums in our parenting class with babies that refused to commit to the stepping stones of perfection outlined in the parenting manuals. Shamed by a smarmy group of other first-time mums whose kids were nailing them, we got through the shit show on wine, whinging and WTFs.

It took me a long time to connect with women. Raised through my teens by a single and unconventional father, it wasn’t until my late twenties and the births of my own children, that I was thrust among the fairer sex. Before that, the majority of my friends had been men. Sharing their black and white space, that felt devoid of emotional complications – other than those unfortunate misunderstandings about the status of our relationship – I felt calmer.

Since then, of course, I’ve come to terms with the bollocks to be found in the majority of self-help books about the search for happiness and personal fulfillment. Experience has shown me that the streets aren’t paved with gold, that life can be grossly unfair, and that the only way to make any sense of life is to make the best of what you have. And this newfound wisdom has helped me understand more about the differences between men and women, and the reason why friendships with men used to appear more attractive/straightforward. It’s because they have fewer layers.

Sounds derogatory, I know. Although, not as insulting as the word “depth,” which is the one I really wanted to use. But hear me out, because my employment of the word is not meant to be a judgment about men’s personality flaws or their shoddy housework skills (this time), I use it to champion women and the female experience of life.

I believe, that because the role of women requires so much more emotional labor and intelligence than theirs, (which I spoke about here), and we experience greater physical and emotional trauma – eg. during menstruation, childbirth, and menopause – we experience a more visceral understanding of ourselves as humans and our place in this world. You only have to look at the women who have experienced near-death experiences in childbirth, or from rape, or those whose husbands left them on the poverty line, with nothing but the kids, for examples.

Whereas, men – and I’m generalizing here because this is not a discussion about the mental health of men or the stress some experience as sole earners of their family etc – seem more transparent, more easy-going, (dare I say) less judgemental than women. (Obviously, what I’d really like to say is “simple” – in the nicest possible way.) And while there are no doubt evolutionary and physiological explanations to why one gender carries the burden of more emotional baggage than the other, it is nevertheless impossible to ignore the societal influence of male privilege. Perhaps, that’s why, (on a social level), men seem less confrontational than women – who are judged throughout their lives, making them complicated creatures.

While I’ll admit that many of my closest female friends have always secretly terrified me, fortunately for women, kids are a glue that draws us together. The uncanny ability of our offspring to extract emotion from the most determinedly cold hearts, to frazzle nerves, to provoke self-doubt and tears, and to force us to question just about everything as they chip away relentlessly at our resilience and turn our brains to pulp, are the main reason the coffee morning was invented.

In spite of the suspicions of certain men, the purpose of the coffee morning is (generally) not to discuss the latest fashions, the most energy-efficient washing machine, or the last time we had an orgasm. Coffee mornings are about support, about building resilience and sharing experiences. Men should try it, sometime.

Women are there for women on those days the dam bursts. When all those tantrums in the supermarket have finally worn you down; when the barrage of abuse at dinner time (each time you force their kids to eat peas) becomes too much; when you lose your job; or when you burst into tears in the vegetable section of Coles because someone took the last ripe avocado.

Who better to rely upon in those situations than someone who has got the tee-shirt, on those days you’re sobbing into your phone, wine in one hand, and the scalp of your third child in the other? The truth is, your girlfriends are the only ones who can help you make sense of the new, terrifying vulnerability that comes from having your emotions and hormones put through a spiralizer.

Because THEY’VE BEEN THERE.

Personally, I’m a pretty rubbish girlfriend. Over the years, my attempts to feign the habits of a worthy friend have improved, but alas, for the main part they remain superficial. I try to be better than the sub-standard set of female instincts that nature provided me with – to remember birthdays, special events, cards etc – however, an unhealthy obsession to overthink, a possible case of early onset dementia, and a natural scattiness have determined that I will never be that thoughtful, perfect friend that some of us are lucky to have in our lives. I can only hope that those friends who always make the first call or send the first text understand that my silence is unrelated to their worth.

Sadly – and yes, here comes the excuse – some people travel through life with the baggage of their past stuck as firmly to their shoulders as a backpack. And it has been easy to blame my detachment issues on any number of things – and I do. I am what they call an Olympian “victim”. The divorce of my parents, the loss of my mother (and some things that even I’m not ready to share) have been assimilated (rather than dealt with), to protect myself – a self-defensive mechanism that has had some unfair repercussions for our kids, in particular, our daughter.

NC has recently entered a phase of self-reflection. Like her mother, she has struggled to open the box fully on her emotions, but as she matures she is becoming more aware of the dangers of that choice. A bystander to the emotional carnage caused by the death of my mother, and our struggles with Kurt, she has inherited my need for control when it comes to her emotions. The concept of a free fall terrifies her, but she can’t ignore the logic of her scientist’s brain: that putting up barriers will prevent her development and thwart any positive relationships in her life – what she needs to reach her full potential.

Hence, there are two pieces of advice I wish to share with my daughter: the first is to surround herself and nurture relationships with a group of strong, intelligent, and diverse women who will challenge her and blow the wind in her sails when she needs it. The second is to put her heart on the line and to dare to love and trust.

What would be yours?

What’s Your Biggest Fear? Mine Is The Dental Hygienist

If you read this blog regularly, you will know by now that because I suffer from anxiety, I am scared of pretty much everything. (Spiders, anyone?) That’s why, quite frankly, picking my biggest fear for this post left me pretty spoilt for choice.

More obvious choices included ScoMo getting back into power at the next election, or Trump getting approval to build his damn wall. But I can honestly say that it neither of those horrible things is my biggest fear.

I will reserve that award for the dental hygienist. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that I would happily endure a nightly rendition from primary-aged school children learning how to play the recorder than an annual visit to my hygienist.

Since I started taking proper care of my teeth – a wobbly tooth will do that – I have suffered fewer cavities. However, poor gums (and what a friend of mine delicately calls “old bird teeth”) – another gene defect to blame my parents for rather than my copious consumption of cigarettes and sugar – means that every six months or so, I require the special care of a “deep clean” with the dental hygienist.

Sounds like something nice, doesn’t it? The term evokes the kind of pleasure you associate with a “deep” massage, or someone with “deep” pockets… or other “deep” things.

But trust me, it’s not nice at all. The “deep clean” is a form of torture stolen from Guantanamo Bay by the dental industry – who rejected it for being inhumane. It is an optional part of the service that I recommend you don’t mess with unless a) you are a sadist, b) your teeth are falling out, c) the tartar build-up around your teeth is affecting your speech or d) the foulness of your breath (rather than your personality) is losing you friends.

No matter how affable your dental hygienist appears – and they do have an uncanny ability to pretend they are your new best friend – be prepared for a psychopath. Indeed, if an urge to inflict pain without suffering the emotional consequences of that behavior, is not the reason behind their choice of profession, I have to commend them. For there are few jobs that cause quite as much human suffering – legally – other than in government.

I imagine that hygienists get a similar sense of satisfaction as coal-miners or those sickos, (Cough *my husband), who like pimple-popping videos on youtube – whilst anxious patients like myself lie at their mercy in the chair, terrified of flying tartar, or publicly peeing myself.

My irrational fear is mainly linked to THAT drilling sound made by the hygienist’s excavating tools. It is the reason I pay an absurd amount of money to get drugged up, dropped off and picked up at my visits; why I listen to “Weightless” during the procedure, and why I select the quieter pick-ax as my hygienist’s choice of weapon.

However, none of these strategies truly disguises the fact that a stranger – who may be having a period, or an overreaction to an innovative and empowering advertisement by a razor company – is hacking away at my aging teeth.

No pain, no gain, I suppose, and in all honesty, I’d love to be able to say that the experience is worth it. However, the joy factor, (thank you Marie Kondo), to be extracted from a minimum $200 spend with a hygienist, simply cannot compare to a trip to the hairdresser or your massage therapist, say, for the equivalent amount of dollars.

You never know, I might change my mind. When I can still bite the old man in our aged care home.

What’s your biggest fear?

“Running Really Does Get Easier,” Said No Novice Runner Ever

Image of woman running up steps in orange runners.

There’s no doubt in my mind that what this year’s fun run is really about is another narcissistic attempt to deny the physical evidence that my body is as old AF and, well, a bit buggered.

The papers – or “the news” (as my millennial daughter corrected me yesterday morning because she has never read a hard copy newspaper) – continues to be full of stories of New Year’s resolutions that never got out of the starting gate, Dry January fails, and Januhairy – the least challenging resolution for the menopausal/hormonally hirsute amongst us.

Privately, I have made a couple of personal resolutions – that for legal reasons that involve the old man, I can’t share publicly with you yet – but I have made one that I’m happy to talk about.

This May, I will be competing in the 4k Mothers Day Classic Fun Run to support breast cancer research.

Yes, FOUR FUCKING KILOMETRES, and A RUN! The “fun” part, I’m not so sure about.

I did a similarly crazy thing a little over ten years ago when I celebrated my 40th birthday – don’t ask me why I have this tendency to come up with harebrained schemes such as these, although I suspect that wine has something to do with them – when, in the wisdom of what I will now refer to as my youth, I signed up for the London To Brighton bike ride, to prove that I was still young, hot and fit to raise money for The British Heart Foundation.

And evidently, few life lessons were learned from that day of shame. Either that or I have parked them in the dying brain cell department of my brain along with memories of childbirth and whatever I once saw in Johnny Depp.

In my defense, the temperature that day in the UK was (an unheard of) 33 degrees – the precursor to what the intelligent among us now accept as climate change – but added to which, I was also sporting a rather debilitating injury, incurred at training the week before; the result of a nasty brush with gravel. That meant that I had to compete with two stitches to my right elbow and severe PTSD in relation to every getting on a bike again.

To cut a long story short, I was the only competitor to cross the finishing line as the event organizers were planning their retirements – although twelve hours to complete fifty-two miles is apparently a record…of sorts. I was also the only competitor to be slapped around the face by their husband halfway around the course when he feared for my sanity – although, again, in my defense, my bum was really sore.

There’s little doubt in my mind that what this year’s fun run is really just another narcissistic attempt to deny the physical evidence that my body is as old AF and, well, a bit buggered. However, my ambition is not to complete this year’s run in a credible time. No, all I’m really aspiring to do is not look like a complete twat as I cross the line – IF I cross the line – ie. I’m hoping for no sign of poo or wee on my pants, that I haven’t stolen water from the nearest dehydrated child spectator, or taken the bus to raise money for a commendable cause.

I’m also hoping that on this occasion I don’t have to beg a steward to pull me up the last hill in return for sexual favors – something the organizers of the London To Brighton event got very sniffy about.

In case you’re wondering, I don’t know why I don’t organize a coffee morning, eat all the cakes, and be done with it, either. It’s not like I’m one of those stoic people who can put their mind to anything for a shot of very public altruism. Frankly, I couldn’t apply myself to catching a Huntsman spider if the lives of my children depended on it – something you might have picked up on in my last post. I’m not naturally a “charity” type of person – other than my belief that it begins and stays at home, ideally in my bank account.

However, I’m proud to say that I have reached the 2km mark in my training – not an easy feat in the humidity of a Sydney summer – and my only question at this stage of my running journey is when the fuck it gets easier? When will my legs and boobs stop hurting? When will my thighs stop sticking together? Will I ever enjoy it?