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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I’m An Empath, So Why Can’t I Cut Myself Some Slack?

I’ve been really grumpy over the past few weeks. I can tell I’ve not been my usual happy-go-lucky self because I’ve seen that fear in the old man’s eyes each time we pass each other, and he has been uncommonly brave and accused me of being “unreasonable” several times.

Photo by Dale de Vera on Unsplash

We’ve both been under pressure, having just completed our fifteenth house move since we met. I won’t bore you with the details, but sadly the landlord of the lovely pad we moved into in March last year decided to sell it for silly money and we found ourselves homeless again.

Luckily for us, our agents had this cute little townhouse on their books, and apart from a whining dog next door, blinds that bang against the metal window frames, and ridiculous Sydney temperatures that turn the bedrooms into our own private saunas at night, we’ve settled in relatively quickly.

But the move has highlighted how much pressure I put on myself to do everything perfectly. If I hadn’t had to work on the day of our move, I suspect that the house would have come together like a styled property by the evening, whatever the cost to my health. But fortunately, because I had to leave the management of our move to the old man – who prioritized moving boxes of stuff we don’t use (in typical man-fashion) from one cage to another – there has been quite a lot of unpacking and sorting left to do.

I’m not sure why I am so hard on myself when, in general, I would describe myself as an empath. I do believe that my journey with Kurt has made me more compassionate towards the plight of those less fortunate, or perhaps a greater empathy comes with the territory when you lose a parent at a young age. Whatever. I like to think I’m a good person to have around in a crisis, like when someone gets ill, or is blindsided by something unexpected.

I don’t need to tell you that I’m no saint, but I rarely judge others unless I am judged. For example, when I pass overweight people on my walks, I don’t judge them. My default setting is to think the best and to commend them internally for trying to change their lifestyle. And when I hear stories about the acts of the mentally ill or even paedophiles, I’m always trying to find reasons why they behaved that way or excuses for what they do.

I felt nothing but sadness for the plight of Joachim’s character in Joker in spite of his reaction to it.

But strangely, I don’t have the same reserves of empathy when it comes to myself. Like so many of us – on this endless treadmill in search of perfection in life – I never sit back and say ‘well done’ to me.

Perhaps, that’s because the stuff I do seems insignificant, and certainly not the sort of achievements that deserve a bottle of bubbly or a work jolly. My achievements are more micro, more everyday, like helping others in some way, ticking off something on my bucket list, or being nice to the old man for a day.

I know it’s considered losers’ talk to say that it is ‘the taking part that counts’, but I have to disagree. Social media has made all of us aspire to be what (perhaps) only the top 5% of people manage to achieve i.e. public success in some domain. And yet for some reason, these are the people we measure ourselves by – whether they are models or actresses, perfect mothers, successful career women, or simply “good” people.

The way the media handled Kobe Bryant’s death was a great example. I hated the way the deaths of the other people in that helicopter were barely acknowledged. Surely, they had full, successful lives as well?

I’ll save the question of how we measure success for another day, but if you’d asked me ten years ago if I ever saw myself becoming a paid writer, I’d have laughed in your face. And yet here I am – achieving something I’m hugely proud of. If someone told me a year ago that I’d hold down my current day job for a year – for which I’m ill-qualified – I’d have been equally as doubtful.

You see, I had to reinvent myself AGAIN for it. It’s a problem many women face when they need a job to fit in with family and lifestyle – hence the reason my resume reads like it belongs to Jill Of All Trades – none of which I have any real qualifications for. Luckily for me, I am good at being in the right place at the right time, I’m a great bullshitter, and look trustworthy.

Anyway, over the past few months I’ll admit that the role has proven to be too big for me. It has more responsibility than I want to handle at this stage of my life, and so I’ve made the decision to step back down into the 2IC role – which I believe is the right decision for my mental health. And I’m good with it. Sort of. I mean, I stepped up to the role last year when asked and managed it like a bitch… So why do I still feel like a failure for not being able to stick with it?

Why do we keep ramping up our personal goals without acknowledging the stepping stones we cross along the way? Small achievements are still achievements, aren’t they?

I’ve lost nearly two kilos in the past three weeks through sheer willpower. I’ve never felt as hangry in my life and my old clothes still don’t fit, but I am winning – I’m achieving what I set out to do. So why aren’t I happy about it? Why do I always focus on the days that I gained weight rather than the ones when I lost?

Why can’t I cut myself some slack? Why can’t I allow myself to admit that a stressful job is not something I need right now in order to keep supporting Kurt, managing our house moves, and achieving my writing goals?

Why can’t I see that the decision I’ve taken is not about failing, it’s about getting the balance in my life right for whatever time I have left. It’s about not being on my death bed and realising only then that my success in a job I hated was the most important thing in my life.

Have you done anything recently that you should have celebrated, but never got around to it?

Maudie, Self-Care and The Simplicity of Love

One pearl of wisdom you finally discover in middle age is the answer to that all-consuming question of “what the fuck is it all about?”.  And that it is “love”, of course.

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And trust me, you couldn’t find a better demonstration of that than the movie I saw yesterday when Louisa-No-Mates dragged herself along to the movies by herself for some TLS, or tender, loving self-care.

 

The rediscovery of simple things you enjoyed doing in the past is a little tip I picked up in the most recent self-help book I have read on self-love, and as it had been a while since I was brave enough to admit publicly that I have no friends, left the house or got dressed, I decided a trip to the movies would be a good starting point.

 

I rarely to the movies these days, probably due to my warped penchant for sad movies -something that is not shared by anyone else in the family… or anyone really. NC, the logician of the family, can’t bear to watch any movie that attempts to locate her heart strings, doesn’t have dragons, robots or star troopers, while Kurt and the old man – stereotypes for emotionally under-developed males – barely stray from violence or superhero nonsense.

 

Conversely, I like to give my mind and heart a full workout during a movie, and I am drawn to those thought-provoking little gems that usually have fuck-all budget. I like to see characters bare their souls and evolve in stories of personal triumph over tragedy. 

 

Maudie, the movie I saw yesterday, is based on the true story of Canadian artist, Maude Lewis, and her husband Everett. It is set in Nova Scotia, on the edge of a small town that has the appeal and climate extremes of all seven kingdoms of the Game of Thrones combined, and is the story of Maude, a woman physically disabled by arthritis and rejected by her family, who is left no other choice than to work as a housemaid for Everett, who is, in the words of Bridget Jones’ mother, ‘a very cruel man.’

 

In truth, the meat of this story is not the amazing tale of  Maude’s rise to fame to become a successful folk painter, but rather the simple and unlikely romance that develops between her and Everett, a man also starved of love as a child, and the way in which she successfully unlocks his unyielding heart.

 

‘The world didn’t give this woman much, but then, not much was required to make her happy.’ (Bob Mondello)

 

For while her painting fulfills her need for creative expression, Maude’s main goal in life is to be loved and to achieve happiness. Her poor start has made her more determined to find someone to love her, and although Everett is hardly Romeo material, (nor very much of a talker), when he demonstrates his developing love for her through small acts of kindness – albeit without grace – these are enough to give Maude the hope she needs to stay with him. 

 

‘I have been loved,’ Maude tells him when the light globe of Everett’s emotional intelligence finally switches on and he comprehends what she truly means to him.

 

‘It’s a story of pain and difficulty and cold, and also of happiness.’ (Glenn Kenny)

 

It is a story about the fabric of life and love.

 

 

Happiness, Self-Care And Grabbing Life By The Balls Again

I’ve been mentally packing my suitcase for a few weeks now; worrying how I’m ever going to fit all the pairs of shoes I might need over two weeks into my 30kgs of luggage.

Happiness, Self-Care and Grabbing Life By The Balls Again

 

I’m going back to the homeland this week, all on my lonesome, for a well-needed holiday to catch up with family and friends.

 

I turn fifty this year, and this is my treat to me.

 

Although I consider myself an independent, confident woman, it has been a long time since I travelled this far by myself so I’m understandably a little nervous. I made the trip to Australia when I was a student at twenty-one… and there was that time when I decided on impulse to drive from England to Germany without stopping…but since then I’ve never been long-haul on my own.

 

Where does the confidence of your twenties go?

 

Marriage doesn’t help. In spite of the best intentions, it’s easy to slip into the dangerous territory of becoming reliant on each other. Although the old man and I have an equal partnership, we have always had a traditional arrangement when it comes to travel – he takes responsibility for connections, passports and luggage, while I manage children and vomit.

 

But in spite of small peaks of anxiety, I am experiencing a childish excitement at the thought of watching movies without interruption, sleeping without Kurt’s gawky frame on top of me, eating all my plane meals without judgment and letting go of worries and concerns I can doing nothing about once I’m up in the sky.

 

That’s not to say I haven’t fretted like a toddler for the past few weeks about whether this is the right time to go, but it will never be the right time so I’m ignoring my old friend ‘doubt’ and taking the bold choice of self-care. After the last couple of years of exhaustively splitting myself into many different facets of care – to meet different family needs – I need to recharge my batteries and heal.

 

I’ll miss the family, though. Our migration has made us a tight-knit unit and we have rarely been separated. I’ll think of the old man when I test our UK credit card in the Champs Elysees, (without fear of immediate recrimination), I’ll miss my girl chats with NC about life, love, friendship, make up and men and I’ll hanker after one of Kurt’s big, goofy smiles or sudden bear hugs.

 

But I will be fifty this year and it’s time to start thinking about me again. As Kurt reminded me the other day – it can be a real mindfuck knowing that you might only have twenty-something years left – so I need to make the most of each day.

 

I will grab this trip by the balls, embrace every new experience and moment of happiness, push myself beyond my stupid, self-imposed boundaries and have some fun.