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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Middle Age: Time To Stop Worrying About Our Bodies And Start Focusing On Our Brains

I’ve had a mixed reaction in my circle about my decision to shed a few kilos. There are those friends who have been supportive – in that they understand the need to manage my weight gain through menopause, if possible. Then there is the other “life’s too short to be miserable” camp, who don’t believe I should worry about a few extra rolls at this stage of my life.

Photo by Jairo Alzate on Unsplash

Truth be told, I’m not so vain that a few extra kilos worry me, but I am conscious that carrying extra weight at my age is no good thing. I had also reached that point where I was climbing the dress size mountain a little faster than I wanted and was starting to feel the effects – physically and psychologically. There were several nights over Christmas when I had a ‘nothing to wear’ crisis, because nothing fitted.

Middle-age is hard enough when it comes to style, but it’s that much harder when you are heavier than you want to be.

However, I do believe that it’s important to put your health goals into perspective. It comes down to that balance thing that’s so hard to get right in life, which is why it saddens me so much when my girlfriends admit that they hate parts of their bodies. Because while none of us are immune to the ridiculous pressures of perfectionism created by women’s magazines and reality tv shows, I do feel that at some point we have a right (and it is healthier) to age and accept our age, along with the inevitable leaks and creaks that go with that.

I’ve mentioned before the glorious sense of liberation I have taken from the invisibility that has come with middle-age. I feel much freer when I go out without makeup, when I’m not wearing a bra, or can happily swan around the house in my pjs – and I’m loving the fact that I can get on public transport late at night without having to worry about being harassed.

In general, I feel much more confident in who I am.

However, there is no denying that we are the product of the expectations placed on our gender by the media. And many women have been victims of men who take their best years, use them as a vessel for their children, and then discard them during their mid-life crises for a younger model, thereby diminishing their confidence.

My body is a physical map of my life, that bears the scars of childbirth amongst other experiences. I am not ashamed of the physical evidence of that miracle of life or the way the intensity of my love has cracked the skin on my face. But I would point out that when it comes to ageing, there is no gender divide, and the old man’s body bears the same ravages of time as mine.

But imagine if women left men when they started to lose their hair?

I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t like to fit back into a size 10 and have the choice of high street fashion, or that I wouldn’t like my teeth to be whiter or my jowls to be less like my dog’s – BUT WHY? I’m fifty-four, not twenty-three.

And for the record, I wouldn’t want to be twenty-three again.

So does it really matter if the skin under our arms swings with the wind or if our faces looked like crumpled paper? I’m satisfied that I made the most of the beauty of my youth, and I wouldn’t choose to turn back time. But now is the time for my brain to shine.

The Brain Fog Caused By Menopause

Increased forgetfulness or fogginess in the brain has to be one of the most debilitating symptoms of menopause, and it comes at a time when dementia is already a terrifying prospect, particularly for those who have lost parents or older relatives to the degenerative condition.

Two or three years ago, when we were deep in the trenches of Kurt’s troubles, I rushed out of the house one day to get into my car and for some reason my attention was drawn to the little storage area in the door where I there was a lighter and some cigarettes. My immediate reaction was one of anger, because I thought that (on top of everything else) Kurt had not only used my car but smoked in it as well, and it was only after I had snapped my seat belt into its lock and was searching for the ignition that I noticed that the car’s dashboard was a different colour to mine.

I was in someone else’s car!

In a menopausal brain fog, many of us will have walked up to a car the same colour and shape to our own in the street, tried to open the door, and then made a hasty, red-faced retreat. But it’s another level of humiliation to have to get out of a car, praying that no one witnessed your (potential) theft of the vehicle.

Fortunately, I haven’t committed anything quite as embarrassing as that incident of late – and I still blame my poor brain function on the stress I was going through at the time – but pouring juice in my coffee, wearing clothes inside out, forgetting names, losing my keys and walking into rooms with no idea why I’d done so, have become regular occurrences.

Issues with memory loss, lapses and “brain freeze” associated with menopause are often attributed to hormonal imbalance, but did you know that those symptoms can equally be caused by poor sleep, certain medications, stress, and too much alcohol? Hmmm. So there were likely several very good reasons I got into the wrong car that day.

Forgetfulness is a topic that comes up regularly when the girls and I get together to discuss which of us has the most embarrassing dementia story that week. So when one of them told me that she uses the Lumosity App to keep her brain healthy, I decided to give it a go.

The aim of the app is to “challenge your memory and attention” and to improve your mental reflexes in terms of problem-solving and processing in a fun, want-to-cry kind of way, and it offers three free games per day to keep you on your toes.

Since I started using it, I’ve discovered that I am crap at games that involve cars, circuits, and especially parking – but funnily enough, I have demonstrated quite a talent for the coffee-making game and remembering ocean creatures. I can already see the benefit of the tool. I’m not grown up or boring enough to want to tackle crosswords or Sudoku yet, but I can now see how our brains need a workout in much the same way that the rest of our bodies do, particularly when our muscle starts to waste away in menopause.

The only problem with the app is remembering to do it.

I won’t be getting sober anytime soon but I am “drinking smarter”

Photo from Damir Spanic on Unsplash

I was a grown-up last weekend. The old man and I went on a date night to a swanky restaurant and I chose to drive.

In my last post I talked about the necessity of making choices in middle age, and prior to last night, I would have looked forward to washing down the posh grub with a bottle of expensive wine, and wasted the afternoon working out a feasible way to get to the restaurant on public transport. What can I say? I like drinking. Alcohol tastes nice. Drinking turns me into the interesting, cool girl I should have been…at least, until the next morning. It helps me cope, and gets me out of the house.

For me, drinking is also a form of self-care. Hear me out, peeps. You see, my list above doesn’t account for alcohol’s other, hidden benefits for me personally: its medicinal ones for colds, backache, and muscle pain; its effectiveness as a coping strategy for my social anxiety; its ability to foster connection; and the strength it provides me to contend with a society that writes women my age off, (or only draws attention to us for all the wrong reasons – Alexandra Grant).

Therefore, it was with some surprise that grown-up-me decided that night that (for the sake of a couple more drinks) I couldn’t be assed to sit on a bus full of obnoxious teenagers or work through a heinous hangover the next morning.

Anyway, everyone knows the first sip is the best.

A few years ago, I wrote in my first paid article for Mamamia on the subject of my concerns about my drinking and the increase in women’s drinking in middle age. I remember that what I was really aiming to do in that article was to empathize rather than shame women who drink. I can’t remember the exact headline I pitched to the editor for the story, but it was changed to ‘I am a functioning alcoholic and I’m not alone’ – and I was mortified. At the time I think I was looking for a new job.

BUT… if the decrease in the number of units our government deems healthy for us to drink is anything to go by, she had a point. AND…Maybe I’m paranoid, but drink shaming seems to be levelled more directly at women – and in particular middle-aged women. Granted, there are medical reasons for this – in that women’s bodies can’t process as much alcohol as men. But there is also this social construct that a woman who is drunk is far more shameful than a man, even though many men who have drunk too much go on to do terrible things, while a woman is more likely to fall asleep on the sofa. Just check out the photos of the after-race parties if you don’t believe me.

Why are men given license to have fun, while women are expected to stay at home and live like nuns? You can see that question in people’s heads when they see a group of drunk women – who’s looking after the kids while they’re out drinking? Well, Carol, who’s looking after the kids while their dad’s out drinking?

However, since I wrote that article, I have become more aware of the effect that alcohol has on my body – I’m getting old, Goddammit! – which is why, (and trust me when I promise that I am not getting sober and deserting my people entirely) – I’ve decided to “drink smarter” (in the words of Kate Spicer from The Sunday Times).

Menopause has played a huge role in that decision. I’m certain that many of you fifty-somethings will identify with the impossibility of being a functioning alcoholic when your hormones contrive to make your life – and in particular, your hangovers – as unpleasant as possible. Suffice it to say, I have to be fully committed to knock back a bottle of wine.

So, yes…the hangovers from hell, my aspirations to run 5kms (more than once), and that other cruel twist of menopause – weight gain – have guilted me into reducing the Rose and discarding the Chardy. I wish I could say that concerns about my longevity or longterm health were truly behind my decision, but after twenty years of smoking, a lifetime of anxiety, and a pretty shoddy family history when it comes to health, I know I’m fucked I’ve been playing Russian Roulette for a while now.

And I won’t deny it is a struggle. Alcohol is a wonderful crutch, it has been a loyal and reliable friend, and maintaining my commitment to Kombucha for just a couple of nights a week has stretched my self-discipline to the max. I am want to crumble at the first sign or conflict or stress.

But that’s okay. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I suppose what I’m really trying to say in this very convoluted post is that when the fun police make you feel bad about your drinking, don’t beat yourself up about it. You are not alone. Many of us have vices we’re not proud of – for some of us that is a glass or two of wine, for others it is several Magnums – as in the ice cream; for others still, it is leading corrupt governments and ignoring the voice of democracy.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with drinking with non-drinkers or fellow alcoholics and I don’t need anyone to drink with me to have a good time (See symptoms of an alcoholic). I do see the benefits of sobriety, but I am also aware that swift judgments are easy to make; it takes much more time to look beneath the surface.

My intention is not to glorify alcohol, but there are still occasions in my life when I am dealing with stuff when I want/need to drink. There are also occasions when I want to celebrate that I’m still here and in a good place. And in the words of the author, Mike Gayle “We all do what we need to do to get by.”

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.

Why Try Mindfulness In Middle Age? Because That’s When You Realise Just How Fucked Up The World Really Is

I took an introductory course in mindfulness a few weeks ago. I thought that the company of calm, spiritual people would wield its inner peace on me. But when it turned out that only my friends had signed up for the course, I realised something I already knew – that we’re all dealing with our own shit.

Women practising meditation.
Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

Among other living hells, Menopause is known to exacerbate anxiety, and while I have found other calming techniques for my over-active brain – such as running, writing, and drinking more wine – I keep hearing the word “mindfulness” bandied about in association with ADHD and anxiety, which is why I decided to give it a shot.

I suppose that everyone is seeking the simplest solution to cope with the trials of life, but that need becomes more pertinent the older you get, when you realise just how fucked up the world really is.

I also knew that my experience would make great blog fodder, and as I’m prepared to give most things a go to enhance the experience of this, the last, physically-able chapter of my life – apart from pole-dancing, obvs, which is a subtle reminder to my sister who, one birthday, demonstrated that my psychotic sense of humour runs in the family – I decided to ignore the natural cynicism of my inner voice that tells me that this spiritual stuff is a load of bollocks.

Indeed, I felt for the first time in my life that I had the appropriate level of maturity to handle it.

Which was where I was wrong when I got worryingly close to breaking the magical spell of silence during the walking meditation with a fart or a show tune.

But like when you give up smoking or drinking, you have to commit to new ideas such as mindfulness for them to have any hope of working, and once I got my giggles of self-consciousness out of the way, I did just that. I mean, let’s be honest, while the power of running has gone some way to combatting my anxiety, it’s far more appealing to sit in my own space and do fuck all for the same benefits.

Our teacher was lovely. Non-judgmental, with one of those soothing voices that carried us along to our safe place without too much of a fight, he managed to hide his despair at the three crotchety, middle-aged cynics in front of him, whose bodies creaked each time he asked us to change position on the floor. He didn’t even seem to mind when he told us to think about our favourite place for our first visualisation and I admitted that mine was in bed. Everyone else picked a tropical island!

Admittedly, I found that focusing on my breath was about as stimulating as Scott Morrison’s election campaign, but I loved the soothing effect of the chanting bowl. I defy anyone who has worked a full day and managed to get back out of the house for a mid-week evening meeting, not to find some relaxation in the sound – so much so, I’ve decided to invest in one for the next finance meeting with the old man. And the walking meditation was an interesting exercise in self-control and fitness as the five us us walked slowly around the room together, first like zombies, and then like Neil Armstrong on the moon, while I fought a personal battle to keep a straight face.

But there were many ideas and exercises that I loved. One of the exercises was to connect our heart to someone we love. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I picked the old man as the recipient of my limited levels of love – that are rather like the permanent level of cyan ink on our colour printer – but I suspect it had something to do with guilt. I’d been a complete bitch to him that week. Funnily enough, he didn’t mention feeling any different when I arrived home, which confirmed my suspicion that he likes being “treated mean.”

Anyway, I found this article on the web, which provides a really good beginner’s guide to mindfulness. So keep your mind open. It’s not easy, but focusing on what you are grateful has to be a far healthier way of getting through this crazy old thing called life. Since the course, I have inadvertently incorporated the deep breathing exercise when I feel anxious, and it has worked wonders for eliminating the shame I feel about pouring that extra glass of wine.

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.

Can I Suggest Eating Mindfully This Christmas Rather Than Dieting?

Let’s make a pact and enforce a community embargo against dieting this Christmas.

I won’t be dieting. In fact, I will be eating all of the pigs-in-blanket, swigging the whole jug of brandy custard, and scoffing every one of the purple Quality Street!

In Joanna Nell’s book, The Single Ladies Of Jacaranda Village, her doctor advises 80-something Peggy not to diet, but rather to ‘start eating mindfully.’ He elaborates: ‘I want you to think about every single thing you put into your mouth. I want you to taste it as you chew and listen to your body so you can work out when you’ve had enough.’

Easier said than done, I know – particularly at Christmas and when you’ve been raised by a war baby. And yet, the words of Peggy’s doctor really do make sense. He wants her to think more carefully about her relationship with food along with other adjustments to her lifestyle that will help her maintain her weight, rather than increase it.

No one should be miserable or deny themselves at Christmas, but it’s important to recognize when you’re full, make smart choices about what you eat, and exercise.

I’ve been trying to find that balance for a while. In calorie-speak, I have learned that when if I want a wine or two at night, I need to sacrifice bad carbs (such as potatoes or rice) with my dinner; I know that drinking water during the day fills me up and that chewing my food more slowly helps me feel more satisfied. I am also aware that the first mouthful of food is like the first sip of wine – it’s always the best!

I suppose that what I have been doing unconsciously for a while is eating more mindfully. The “eating healthily” part is easy for me – I love healthy food – although portion control, not so much. But I have also pushed myself to incorporate exercise into my routine each day. I don’t go on the scales anymore – why, when there are still women being murdered and Trump to depress me? – so instead, I gauge my weight by how my clothes fit.

Sadly, gauging your weight by how your clothes fit is becoming an increasingly difficult exercise due to the way that women’s sizing works.

The other day I tried on a bikini top in Bonds. I do not have a large bust, but because I have always carried some extra weight had a wide back (and didn’t want to spoil my day quite so early on), I attempted to be realistic and opted first for a size Large… moved swiftly onto the Extra-Large… and then, instead of beating myself up about it (and cutting up the Extra-Large into tiny pieces and shoving them down the front of the lovely sales assistant’s dress), I walked out of that shop with my head held high.

Generally, I wear a size 12-14 in tops, and yet I couldn’t squeeze my puppies into an Extra-Large. How can that make sense when the average size of women in Australia is a size 16?

So what do we do? How do we cater for the range of different shapes and sizes that women come in, without encouraging obesity? The only solution that I can see is education. 

I’m no scientist, but I’m always surprised by how little most people understand about the risks associated with processed food, portion control, sugar and the way our metabolism slows down with age. And that’s without taking into account the emotional eaters and drinkers among us or those of us in menopause.

I stopped self-flagellating over bad eating days a while ago. Like everyone, I have shit to deal with. Some days I feel on top of the world and others I want to never leave the house, and even though food is not my natural go-to substitute for happiness or self-medication – I’m wino! – I am guilty of major blow-outs like everyone else.

However, I’ve changed the way I handle them, which has nothing to do with the fact that I feel invisible anyway, or because these days I give zero fucks about pretty much most things, or even the emergence (finally) of some middle-aged wisdom. The alternative to getting depressed about something that is pretty irrelevant in my life right now – even if the magazines try to convince us otherwise – is to try to think calmly and positively for a solution to reverse the damage – such as half wine-half water, a few more salads, or some brisker walks. 

I’m already looking forward to those brisk walks this Christmas.

Have you got any other tips to share about eating mindfully? 

15 Things Every Middle-Aged Woman Needs In Her Handbag

  1. Panty liners and wet wipes – for when you sneeze, cough, laugh or have to jump on a trampoline to pretend you like little kids (and trampolines) at a family kid’s party.
  2. Thick foundation – to cover those break-outs of middle-aged acne or Rosacea triggered by all that intense red wine drinking exercise you’ve done recently.pete-bellis-458961-unsplash
  3. A timer – to make sure you don’t digress from your daily routine of a) pajamas by 3pm b) wine by 5pm, and c) bed by 9pm.
  4. Earplugs – so you can’t hear him when he begs for sex, mansplains or wants a money conversation.
  5. Aldi trolley coin – because one day… they will bring their Churros back.
  6. A backpacker’s expanding travel towel -for hot flushes.
  7. Spanx – in case you bump into another soulmate.
  8. Tweezers – for those rogue hairs that sprout when you’re away from home and are nurtured by office lighting.
  9. A pacifier – to remind you that life isn’t that bad.
  10. Snacks – for those hunger emergencies in between snacks.
  11. A hip flask – for your morning gin.
  12. A mini fan – because…menopause.
  13. Perfume – because you might be invisible, but you can still knock them dead with your scent.
  14. Condom – because you just never know
  15. Valium – In case there’s nowhere to buy coffee.

What have I missed?

Menopausal Mood Swings And Not Turning Into “That” Couple

Elderly couple sitting on bench in front of a view of the water.

There are weeks when we reach for the bikini briefs from our underwear drawer each morning, and others when we choose the big girl panties. There are weeks when we stop at the second cookie, and others when we devour the packet.

Life can be like that; a rollercoaster of emotions and ups and downs, with no real warning of how the next day will turn out. We are led to believe that the downs are a necessary part of growth and make us stronger, and yet it can be hard sometimes to embrace life lessons when we find ourselves permanently in the dips.

Menopause may contribute to those dips. Hormonal changes within our bodies make us vulnerable; they exacerbate our mood swings, diminishing our confidence. Some days it can be hard enough to get out of bed, let alone think clearly enough to make life-changing decisions that affect our future. 

Menopausal mood swings make PMT look like a walk in the park and the worst part is that they don’t stop after five to seven days. We never know quite how we’re going to feel each morning, and those disconcerting changes to our mental make-up – such as increased forgetfulness – can force us to second-guess ourselves. This is a period of our lives when we are coping with the passing and care of elderly parents, children leaving, downsizing – perhaps a terrifying sea change to another area – and changes to our work patterns and stability, and it can be easy to feel insecure and unsupported.

The topic of retirement or semi-retirement, (and more poignantly, WHEN we will be able to retire), is a subject that dominates conversation among my female friends. Most of us, independent of how successful our careers have been up to this point in our lives, have been ready to reduce our hours or work for ourselves (in an ideal world) for some time now. Sadly, few of us have the financial means. A reality that increases the anxiety of some women to such a level that they can find themselves reliant on anti-depressants to cope – or in the hands of dubious personal trainers. This, at a time when they should be reaping the rewards of empty-nesting.

There is a growing sense of frustration and restlessness about still being on the hamster wheel as the tiredness of age seeps into our bones, tempers and tolerance to dickheads. We feel compromised about still having to work for other people – often with no acknowledgment of the good job we are doing and that permanent, underlying fear of the consequences of ageism in the workplace.

A different headspace comes with the territory of middle age where our focus changes to freedom. No longer dazzled by the riches promised by work, (because we have a newfound sense of what is important), the dangling carrot is now the greater freedom to do what we want with whatever time we have left. How many times do we hear the story of the couple that worked hard all their lives for their retirement, for one of them to fall sick at the start of it?

Don’t be that couple.

In The End, We’re All Just Human Beans

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I had my second day-surgery last week; a procedure called an Endometrial Ablation, and the medical profession’s latest attempt to stop my uterus from going all Tarantino on me each month.  For any of you middle-aged women out there still suffering a Red Wedding-style of monthly – I’ll let you know if it works.

 

In the meantime, I thought I’d tell you about what I gained from the experience of being stuck in a hospital bed, on a mixed ward and opposite an Olympic farter, for a day. Because I’ve decided, (post-surgery), that being in a hospital has to be the best leveler, or the best reminder, as Roald Dahl would say, that we’re all just human beans.

 

Moreover, I do believe that these sorts of experiences, (once in a while), are vital for ramming home just how completely fucking privileged we are with the access we have to a medical care system that takes my uterus tantrums seriously – although trust me when I say, it never gets any easier to open your legs to strangers.

 

However, I couldn’t fault the care. In fact, if I had to rate the service with some Airbnb-style feedback, I would go as far as saying that the level of attention from my hot, thirty-something anesthetist was the stuff of dreams – although I’m certain he sees sad, middle-aged women with degrees in talking gibberish and the misguided belief that they can flirt in a barely-there hospital gown, most days.

 

Indeed, considering I was merely a number in a very busy hospital system, everyone endeavored to make me as comfortable as possible. And while I’m not naive enough to assume that my top-notch care was only about making my uterus like me a little more – I am aware that litigation is a threatening dark cloud that puts a huge amount of extra pressure and undue stress on our doctors – the name, temperature and blood pressure checks were reassuring for someone who had already made preparations for her imminent death.

 

Coincidentally – and this is possibly the best example of a segue you’ll see this week – just prior to the time that I was tidying up my lady garden in preparation for Dr. Hot’s close examination, I also signed up for a local community drive to assist in the assembly of a thousand birthing kits for women in Africa.

29468785_10156192410316788_3552530723703357440_nThis, you may be appalled to know, is the level of care those lucky women receive when they GIVE BIRTH. And while I’m not showing you this to highlight my pathetically privileged contribution to people less fortunate than myself – and I am also aware that in the grand scheme of things, my assembly of a few hundred kits (over some very pleasant chit-chat about the health benefits of Kombucha and keeping chickens with new friends) is unlikely to change the world – if my meagre contribution does improve the sanitation, experience, and outcome for a few women, it has got to be worth three hours of my time that I would normally waste on the beach or at the mall. Because, I don’t know about you, but the more I read about discrimination towards immigrants and those in poverty, the more shame I feel. And no, Dad, not just because I’ve turned into a raging feminist leftie, in spite of how you raised me. I mean, how come I get a shiny, clean white robe for a minor procedure and on the other side of the world women are still giving birth in fields?

 

Which meant that as I sat there in my unflattering white robe and socks in my hospital bed, feeling vulnerable and scared as shit, I realized that albeit just another number on the hospital minor procedures list that day, I was a number that counted. And surely everyone deserves that level of security? Seriously, all I had to worry about as I shuffled my bum nervously across to the operating table, was sucking in my muffin top and not flashing my wibbly bits to Dr. Hot. I didn’t have to consider infection, loss of power, OR BLEEDING OUT. I took my safety on that table for granted, when sadly, millions of other human beans don’t have that privilege.

What Happened To The Fearlessness Of My Youth?

It is no secret that anxiety can be linked to menopause, and for some women, the condition can be so bad, it forces them to turn to anti-depressants to get through it.

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According to Medical News Today: ‘Hormone changes, life stresses, sleep problems, worries about body image, infertility, boring marriages and aging are all factors linked to menopause that can contribute to mood swings, stress, anxiety, irritability bordering on psychopathy and a decreased sense of any rationality well-being in women.’

There’s nothing worse than feeling anxious all the time, and if I could change one element of this period of my life, it would be the sense of irrational fear that has worked its way into my everyday consciousness.

I often wonder where the fearlessness I had as a child and young adulthood disappeared to in the ageing process. Anxiety diffuses my every thought to the point where I’ve even started to worry on behalf of others. I stop to watch the surfers at the beach and instead of envying them their majestic feat of travel through water, all I can think about are the waves strong enough to crush them, sharks, rips, Russian submarines, and ear infections.

Fortunately for them, their passion overrides their fear.

What happened to the kid that used to roll and bound down steep hills and steps, without worrying about falling over? When did I stop swinging across monkey bars, spinning the swing almost 360 degrees and climbing trees – okay, so I never actually climbed trees.

Did we do all that because our brains were underdeveloped, or has experience taught us to be more careful?

I often wonder what happened to the girl who lived and worked in a foreign country, drove across Europe by herself, hitchhiked and took her chances with Lotharios she’d never consider leaving her daughter with now.  What happened to that courageous young woman who reinvented herself so many times in the workplace that not even she recognised herself?

What happened to the fearlessness of my youth? When did fear start to impede my enjoyment of life?

Anyone else feel this way?

Hiking, And How To Unhinge An Already Rocky Marriage

It may surprise you to know that the old man and I are not adventurers. We will never jump out of a plane, never consider it personally fulfilling to scale the Himalayas or even camp locally, so it was with some trepidation that we set off on an adventure last weekend.

 

My arty shots – it’s obvious why the old man had to carry the backpack and that he took the first, blurred photo

 

I had decided in my wisdom that we needed a team-building exercise. Working together from home, in the same space, at different stages of our individual mid-life crises, means that sometimes we forget that there is a world outside and our mutual respect for one another gets lost in the cyberspace of real life and its drudgery. Although we are fortunate to have a beach at the end of the road, I decided that what better way to rekindle the spark of our working partnership than with a challenging hike.

So on Saturday, we bravely left the safety zone of our suburb to head to the Australian bush, in search of paradise – a walking track in the Kuringai National Park that leads to a beach called Flint and Steel. We’ve walked the track before – around seven years ago – when we were younger, fitter, our marriage was stronger, and I imagine it wasn’t thirty degrees in the shade.

I was responsible for making the packed lunch and packing the backpack, while the old man mooched around the house searching for his sunglasses for about an hour. As this was a team-building exercise, on this occasion I didn’t argue with him when he instructed me not to pack for a two-week holiday – mainly because somehow, (and I still don’t know how), I had coerced him to carry the bag so that I could take arty photos (chortle, chortle). So in went a single bottle of water (huge mistake), snake anti-venom, flares, spider anti-venom, a British flag – so that I would remember to “stay calm” in the event of dire straits – and a splint because you can never be too careful in this country. Mentally, I had also allocated the old man’s towel as our ligature and his lunch and water as my rations should we get lost.

The craggy track down to the beach is only about a kilometer, but as you can imagine, the ascent back up is a bitch – think climbing a massive sand dune in Dubai, on your period, and you might get the picture – it is the sort of climb in which it is impossible to carry enough water to keep your wilting body hydrated as  the sun beats unforgivably down on you. Eventually, with your heart ricocheting inside your rib cage and your lungs drained of oxygen, you forget the mechanics of how to breathe completely and death becomes a more favorable option.

The old man scoffed at me when I insisted we take our small beach umbrella – because unfortunately, there are no toilets, coffee shops and very little shade in paradise – although one couple did manage to lug a whole fucking gazebo down with them.

‘Well, you’re carrying it then,’ the old man said, begrudgingly, straight after the row about his baggage allowance and his earlier sarcastic comment, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to get into the backpack as well?’

‘Well, if you don’t mind?’ I had replied before I realized that it was one of his funnier dad jokes.

As I mentioned, the old man is every bit as grumpy, mean and begrudging as I am these days, and he can’t blame menopause. Frankly, I worry about taking him anywhere in public at the moment. Two fifteen-year-olds nearly beat the crap out of him on the tennis court the other day after he accused them (very undiplomatically) of going over into our court time – heaven forbid – and an app to warn cyclists when he is out on the road would definitely be in their interest. Suffice it to say, I spend a lot of my day apologizing for my husband’s behavior and researching male HRT.

It turns out that there is nothing better than a relentless, hot, uphill climb with dangerously-low water supplies to truly unhinge one’s marriage, and it is amazing just how quickly one can forget what was definitely one of life’s moments only minutes before. For in that mountain climb back to civilization, I completely forgot about the clear water of the ocean, the gentle crash of waves and the sand between my toes, set against nature’s background music of mating cicadas and the sway of palm trees in the breeze. How easy it was to forget how smug and grateful to be alive I had felt as I lay on that un-spoilt piece of paradise, where not even the biting ants on my towel or the motor boats with their spluttering engines and squealing, entitled spawn on inflatable donuts, could spoil it for me. No, all I could think about on that walk back up was my miserable AF husband screaming at me to get a move on before we died of sunstroke.

Help! I Had A Sex Dream About Malcolm Turnbull

I had a sex dream about our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull the other night, which was particularly disappointing having forked out twenty dollars that afternoon to ogle see Chris Hemsworth in the latest Thor movie.

 

220px-Malcolm_Turnbull_at_the_Pentagon_2016_croppedFor those of my international readers who don’t follow Australian politics religiously, and haven’t a clue what an understated sex god our Prime Minister is, let’s just say that he is no Justin Trudeau… or Emmanuel Macron, but a fairly conservative-looking, middle-aged man, in his early sixties, with grey-white hair who looks like his days would be better spent on the golf course. ie., not necessarily the man you’d choose to indulge the last strains of your sexual fantasies with.

 

Of course… when it comes to leaders of countries, it could have been so much worse.

 

Anyway, appalled by my infidelity, I turned to Mr Google to see why I could possibly be fantasizing about a multi-millionaire who owns so many vast properties around Sydney that he refuses to live in the small, waterside mansion that is the official Sydney residence of the Australian Prime Minister.

 

‘To have sex with a stranger may symbolize a new you that is emerging due to changes you are going through. The stranger may also indicate you are open to a change or a new opportunity that is underway.’

 

Upon reflection, my dream was as weirdly bizarre and disjointed as the usual dreams I have after a couple of glasses of red and a curry. Although for some reason, our awkward middle-aged tryst took place in the Oval Office at the White House, and while I was trying to remember how to do my “sexy” face and conceal my muffin top into my granny pants, Malcolm kept stopping to take important calls about security. It was pretty frustrating. And then Kurt walked through the room, music blaring, and I did that mom-thing and shouted at him to turn it down.

 

Malcolm is actually sixty-three, a mere decade older than me, and objectively, I would say that he looks relatively fit for his age. It is still interesting though, that on the rare occasion that I re-open the gates of my sub-conscious to “sexual thoughts”, it should be with an older man because I always saw them as, well, “old”, and not as attractive as, say, the son of Odin. You see, sometimes I forget that I, too, am a middle-aged woman and no longer the fantasy of every younger man I meet. And usually I am reminded of this when I go to Aldi and some old geezer – usually in his eighties – takes a second look. Although, in reality, he’s probably checking out the Wednesday and Saturday “specials” on display behind me.

 

I suppose it’s lucky that as we age physically our perceptions of what is attractive change in tandem. Not in all cases, admittedly, but that’s how I assume it’s supposed to work in terms of evolution – the old die out to make way for the next batch of breeders. Fuck knows how all these old men taking younger wives will change the natural order of things.

 

Creepily, and it’s not something I ever thought about before my dream, I do find Malcolm quite attractive and it has nothing to do with his millions in the bank, power or his pad in Point Piper. As for his politics… let’s just say that there would be a lot of post-coital banter on the topic of the Asylum-Seekers.

 

Perhaps my dream is linked to some Freudian return to the protectiveness of a father-figure at this later stage of my life due to the scrambling of my eggs and the depletion of my sex hormones that make me feel under-appreciated. Whatever it was, no curry for me tonight.