Word therapy…

On one of my recent insomnia fuelled drives for distraction I stumbled upon an interview that persists in my thoughts. It was Anderson Cooper discussing grief & loss with Stephen Colbert. Both had significant losses early in life. Anderson talked of wishing he had been physically marked by the experience. This is of course a reality I am familiar with. Which led to some slightly self indulgent word therapy.

He talked about how he felt it might be easier to have a permanent sign of the damage so that others may be aware of his condition. An idea I suspect he’d soon realise the error of if he actually did bear a mark of loss. He continued that he thought people should know that he wasn’t necessarily the person he should be. Tragic events had diverted him from the person he started life as. This concept felt lifted from my very own brain. Of course much thinking ensued.

When Anderson talked of being marked he suggested a scar running down his face. His reasoning being that in the wake of his mother’s recent death people had offered condolences, but also shared their experiences of loss. He found this sharing to be comforting and it’s not a thing that generally happens. The scar would show his pain & people would feel able to have those conversations. Colbert agreed in part as he recognised the feeling of his loss being a continual part of his life, whilst the world at large rarely considers it. All sentiments I relate to. I do often struggle with just how often I think of my babies when they’re rarely acknowledged by anyone else. That led me to ask myself questions I had thought settled.

I understand their reasoning, my experience just doesn’t bear it out. The look of my self harm was never a factor I gave much thought. Outside of the need to hide it from others, the visual of impact was a non issue. I never cared. Ugly scars were just a by product of a necessary thing. The pain & blood & release & expiation were essential. If mutilation was a consequence of that so be it. I don’t think it occurred to me that I had another option. Yet, now, clothed in the aftermath it does seem fitting.

If I could exclude third party reaction it would make sense. I can see a twisted symmetry in my flesh being ravaged, but still living. At my core that’s how I feel. I contributed to my destruction and then I toiled to repair the ruin. Of course, you can’t escape the opinions of others. Those who care about you are hurt by the reminder of your pain. Those who don’t know you are as often cruel as kind. Carrying your story everywhere is a complicated matter. Anderson might end up preferring the anonymity of a metaphorical scar.

The second part is harder to reason. For a very long time I wanted nothing more than to be the person I was before. It took me years to accept that wasn’t possible & several more to realise that wasn’t my fault. I still missed that fun, capable, handle it all girl. Still wondered what she may have become, but I didn’t hate the me that life had created anymore. Little by little I learned to like myself. I started to believe that might be able to take all the broken pieces & make something beautiful.

The universe had other ideas. It really does enjoy smashing me up. Each time I lost a bit making a whole seemed less & less likely. Now that I know for sure how unlikely, those other mes feel important again. I keep thinking about who I could have been. Which variation of myself was I supposed to be?

I can’t help but imagine that original version of myself would have made a shinier, happier life. That 19yr old was a powerful force. She’d have been unstoppable at forty. Even if I’d sustained the original hit there all there a still multiple variants. All these possible lys that could have existed if you subtract chips along the way. Sure, that could probably be said for anyone; I just don’t know if everyone can so clearly identify the points of impact. It makes it easier to compare the before & after.

I had made peace with the person I am. I don’t reject her now. The what if’s have simply grown louder. There could have been so much more. In the end I don’t care about the scars. I’d even take Cooper’s imagined facial disfigurement if it gave me a chance at one of those parallel lives. The older I get, the more certain I become; I want the more.

This is 40…

Fuck. This is it; the big 4-0. I am definitely not ready. Up until now I haven’t worried all that much about the number on my card. This year it all feels rather scary.

Pink birthday cake with sprinkles & 40

Forty is different. It’s just so huge. I have this sense of it being a before & after year. There’s the obvious sinking of youth. I’ve noticed a few changes on my face. In themselves they aren’t a problem, what they signify certainly gives me pause. I’m beginning to wonder how my body will stack up against the ageing process. Are my dodgy joints going to pack in altogether? Will my hair go white? Is menopause on the way?

ly is standing against a sandstone building arms stretched out wearing rainbow fringed top & blue velvet skirt

40 feels like the nail in the coffin of fertility. I know that hope is already all but extinguished. Hitting my fifth decade seems symbolic; a final snuffing. There are so many unattained goals. I expected to be living a different life by now. Time is whizzing by faster than ever. Getting through the ultimate to do list is increasingly daunting.

It’s not all black. I have built a life I’m proud of. I’ve filled it with bloody lovely buggers. All my people have made beautiful babies for me to adore. I’m doing the work I’ve always wanted to do. I feel loved. So, this is 40. Terrifying, but I’ve conquered the fear before. Why stop now?

ly is wearing a t skirt with the slogan ‘thou shalt never fuck a tory’ and blowing out candles on birthday cake

It’s later than you think…

I think it’s universally acknowledged that getting older is a wee bit scary. As one approaches those big milestone ages it is hard not to ponder the big questions. 39 is frightening mainly because of its proximity to 40 & all that entails.

I remember being worried in the run up to the big 30 too. Mainly because I felt like I wasn’t where I had imagined I would be at that stage of my life. That little measure of fear probably helped in the long run. It helped me make some needed changes. My thirties have been far happier than the preceding years. I believe what made that possible was time. I had time to think and plan and manoeuvre.

Ultimately, though, I’m approaching 40 still missing the crucial piece of my puzzle. However, this time I am very nearly out of time. My options are ever shrinking. That is frightening on a whole other level.

I sometimes feel like the proverbial guilty feminist when I have this conversation. Fear of ageing is often assumed to be about vanity. It’s thought silly to worry about grey hairs or crows feet. It’s assumed the desire to stay young is about adherence to sexist beauty standards. Or if it runs deeper the biological clock is referenced in demeaning tones. Ageing childless and/or single women are often perceived as desperate or pathetic. I suspect much of this is internalised, but I had to get these messages somewhere!

Balloon with sorry about my internalised misogyny

Where am I going with this? I suppose I just want to say it is ok. Things become a cliche for a reason. Ageing is scary. Whether that is because you are worried about physical changes, not achieving goals, your own mortality or all of the above. It’s ok. Most folk struggle a little with change. It’s perfectly understandable to feel uncomfortable with the alterations you see in the mirror. It’s fine to be concerned about the irrevocable biological changes that age brings. Knowing that some opportunities have passed you by can be hard to accept. The unstoppable nature of the passage of time is alarming.

In many ways age is just a number. Nevertheless, ageing does have concrete ramifications. It isn’t anti feminist to accept or care about them. A big part of the significance of our appearances is routed in living in a patriarchal society. It isn’t merely a shallow obsession with attractiveness; women’s ageing is not viewed sympathetically. There are real life implications beyond aesthetics. Career prospects, financial considerations, medical and fertility issues are a big deal. Even if you just really lovely your hair and don’t want it to go grey, you’re allowed to have a wobble about that.

ly looking in mirror sign towel around body and hair

In the end the thing that makes it so worrisome is also what helps me deal. You can’t stop time. It is entirely out with our control. Feel whatever you feel. Talk it out. Then carry right on living because it is always later than you think.

Tell me lies….

The older I become the more I realise that the world lies to me. I am keep coming up against perceived wisdoms that just aren’t true. In particular I feel some life events are so surrounded in supposed gravitas that we’re all set up for a fall. So many situations that I was led to believe were scary, amazing or life changing were in fact no great revelation to me. So, here’s a my top five non milestones.

  
Losing my virginity was no big deal. It wasn’t planned, I was just getting it on with a teenage boyfriend and it happened. I can’t even really remember the details. We progressed past our usual stopping point and I realised I didn’t want him to cease. So, we continued and had sex. It wasn’t fantastic and it wasn’t awful either. I didn’t feel any great pain; I didn’t really feel much beyond a sharpness when he first penetrated me. I didn’t bleed other than slight spotting in my knickers the next day. Afterwards we didn’t have a big discussion, there were no I love yous or promises. I think we went to sleep. It was nice. We had a cuddle and kiss in the morning then I left with my best friend to find food to cure our hangovers. I honestly didn’t feel changed in anyway. It seemed to me just a natural progression. I hear other women talking about regretting who they first slept with, wishing they’d waited for someone really special or even they person they married. I’ve never felt that way. The guy I shared my first time with certainly wasn’t a great love, he turned out to be a bit of a pig, but it’s never given me a moments pause. I was a teenager, even then it never occurred to me that he would be The One. I think that’s how it should be. Sex doesn’t define a person. It’s entirely healthy to experiment, make mistakes & learn from them. For girls especially we need to remove the idea that losing your virginity is somehow losing worth. We also need to ditch expectation that your first time should be an amazing, cherished moment. It hardly ever is and that’s ok.

  
Graduation was another milestone that didn’t rock my world. Sure I was proud of myself for attaining a good degree. I had to wade through some adversity during my university years and I was glad I had made it to solid ground. Other than that, it was unspectacular. I didn’t even attend my graduation ceremony. The thought of the gown and marching on stage when my name was called made me feel nauseous. So, I didn’t bother. Neither did I have a fancy dinner or party. At the end of all our exams my friends and I had a mighty piss up, but come graduation time we were all onto the next stage. We were trying to find jobs we actually wanted whilst working jobs we needed to pay the rent. In short I was getting stuck into being an adult. Graduation already felt like old news.

  
Getting my period was another supposed life changer that left no discernible mark. I can remember my friends getting theirs before me and feeling a tad left behind. The actual details of my first period have left no imprint. I have a vague memory of perhaps calling my mum into the bathroom, but that may just be the influence of countless teen movies. My mum had gone over what to expect long before the event, so there were no shocks. My early periods were unremarkable. I didn’t suffer from cramps or mood swings. I merely found the whole thing a messy nuisance. I didn’t feel like a woman, I felt inconvenienced. 

  
For me, leaving home was also accomplished without a fuss. I had always had a good relationship with my parents, but I craved independence. So, when I fell head over feels with an inappropriate guy, I leaped at the chance to move in with him. I was young, yes, but I wasn’t scared. My mum thought it an ill fated idea and told me so. I ignored her and she knew me well enough to know she had to let me make my own mistakes. There were no arguments or tearful goodbyes. I didn’t have a lot of belongings, so the actual moving was a simple task. I had already been spending most of my time at the boyfriend’s flat, so there weren’t any ugly surprises. I had to learn to be a little smarter with my money and the bf obviously turned out to be a big error in judgement. That said, I have no regrets. I wanted to spread my wings and I did. I loved the autonomy of having my own place, even more so once I freed myself of the stupid first love. I never looked back. I have lived independently -mostly on my own- since & I wouldn’t change a thing.
Now for the one I was actually scared of, but turned out just fine. The big 3-0. In last couple of years of my twenties I had begun to slightly dread turning 30. It wasn’t the aging, but realising I was nowhere near where I thought I would be at 30. I had for some reason believed I would be settled, own my home & be well on the way to motherhood. Turns out that’s not what life had in store for me. So, I made the usual jokes about mourning my youth and felt uneasy. The funny thing is when 30 became a reality, I was completely fine. It dawned on me that my, childless, less than settled state was not actually a problem. I hadn’t met anyone I could be happy with, so singledom was clearly a better option. Living alone suited me, in fact I wasn’t sure I really wanted anyone else invading my space. As for children, yes, I wanted them, but I knew It wasn’t my time. On top of that I felt pretty good. I didn’t feel old & I still looked rather nice. My 30th birthday ended up being a lot of fun. My family and friends organised various lovely events. I was whisked away for a spa weekend and glammed up for a drunken nights out. Yet, again I had been deceived. 30 wasn’t scary, it was a blast.

  
So, what’s my point? Relax. Hardly anything ends up feeling the way we’re told it wil & that’s just fine.