Halfway there, the real deal about turning 50

Some people when they’re turning 50, climb Mt Everest. Me? I’ll be lucky to climb out of bed. We’ve all been there, that 4.45am wakeup, a deep grumbling of anxiety churning through us in waves. I used to worry about things that were happening a week from now, until the list of things that I worried about grew so long, I had no choice but to take things one day at a time. Which has worked out well really, because living in the moment is about all I can deal with.

I have lines, I’m chubby (sounds cuter than it looks) and my hair is greying. I haven’t had it coloured for over a year because there’s a part of me trying to embrace aging gracefully. Plus, I cannot bear the affront on my youth when they pull out the colour chart and try to match my layers to a drab tone of sepia. My wild russet auburn hair had been my trademark for years before it slowly turned blonde, or grey or just dull. And I can’t find anything graceful either about the onset of menopause staging an all-out attack; ghost period pains, phantom cramping, palpitations, flushes and indigestion. Am I what you call a hot-mess? 

Along with fine lines and scars of the heart, vulnerability is something that’s crept up on me too. Far from the years wearing next to nothing in the middle of winter, immune to both the cold and criticism, there’s been too many days where I’ve felt the ground shift and the earth sink away. On some days I don’t know where to place my feet or in which direction they should tread and what seem like easy steps for other to take, feel like icebreaker ships to me. My mid-life crisis has been more of a crisis in faith, in humanity, in myself. 

I’ve been judged, had abuse hurled at me and misunderstood like nobody’s business. Well, it really is nobody’s business, but what hurts more is being ignored by people who I thought mattered. People may know of an action we take, but with their most imaginative thinking caps on sitting in a google inspired think tank, could never conceive of the reasons that drive us there. The blade of the daggers have been no less sharp just because they’re being thrown from the sidelines. If the litany would have been heard, maybe the tide would have turned and I might have had a sea of support, not a tidal wave of obtuse, ill-informed judgments. Maybe everybody’s just chasing headlines.

So, I dabbled in some feel-good cosmic energy boosters to even things out. I found an Aveda calming spray meant to pacify my chakras. Day one, squirts in eye. The calming aps on my phone worked only until I turned them off or fell asleep. I ran through a morning routine of self-talk, packing into my daily affirmations a wish list including year-long holidays and weekly lotto wins. I even attended a 2 day happiness conference. Yes, an entire corporate event with “happiness and its causes” front and centre. I soon worked out it was a kindred gathering of other women turning 50, collectively trying to handle anxiety, too much chocolate and cramps. It was enlightening though and I loved the energy in the room. Turns out that happiness is just the in between bits of everybody’s anxiety and trauma. But we might be onto something if we can learn to be less unhappy. 

As a mum, I hear myself telling my son stories of when I was a kid, comparing the cataclysmic differences that defined my younger years. I’ve started to tell him about the road trips we took as kids. If the absence of a screen wasn’t bombshell enough wait ‘til I tell him about the time we went for a day trip bushwalking…in the bush without swings and slides, treats and hot chocolate.

Instead we thumbed the leaves, dragged sticks through the mud to make tracks and entertained ourselves with made-up singalongs. I don’t recall once ever being bored but I do remember the fresh smell of tea tree and eucalypt that filled the bush air. The real jolt came when I told him that that as kids, staying at our Grandmother’s beach shack, going to the loo in the night meant we peed in a pot that slid under the bed. It was the late 70’s. No, not the 1870’s, but like much that characterised my childhood, feels like a world ago.

Apart from that and the fact that all of sudden my mother’s advice makes sense, there are other reminders that I’m edging towards turning 50. I was in a hip Asian restaurant the other night but for the noodles tossing in the open kitchen, our table could have been plonked in the centre of a dance floor. Beautiful atmosphere, but I could hardly hear myself order and they must have thought I’d asked for a shot of merlot not a glass. But I’m grateful they took our order at all, rather than us surfing a menu tablet sitting on the table. I’m still not sure why everything but the rice could be doggie bagged, something about a health risk. What was left made it to a plastic container (thumbs down) but I didn’t have to pay extra for it (thumbs up).

Tolerance builds with age. The snappy energy you have as a thirty-something year old slowly mellows. As you fall in and out of so many experiences, it finally sinks in that we’re all mostly dealing with the same stuff and playing on the same side is a far gentler way to live. Except that I have so much less tolerance with everything, from big egos to small talk. That makes getting older something to leap towards, finding the emotional and metal clarity that stops you tripping over your own emotional baggage. Though the stakes are higher and there’s more to worry about, the little threads of self-assuredness you gather along the way help build a safety net.

I still feel like the sands are shifting, I can’t predict what next year or even next week might look like. Heck, at this rate I don’t even know what I’ll look like next. I grabbed a tea after the morning school run yesterday, and in an effort to make small talk the server asked if I was on my way home from night shift. And here I was feeling refreshed! No response could have been a better measure than my outburst of laughter.  If there’s one theme that’s woven its way through everything so far, it’s the ability to find, grasp and hold on to a sense of humour and a good dose of positivity. 

Life seems to come in a series of episodes, maybe that’s why Netflix is so popular. As each new episode plays out, I often feel that in many ways the previous one hasn’t taught me much at all; I seem ill-equipped to handle the latest emotional ambush and I have no more mindfulness techniques than I ever did to stop me from slipping. I’m no Sasha Fierce, but I do know this, I get through. The slight tattoo I saw imprinted on a colleague’s wrist the other day that read “this too shall pass” is the only flag I know how to wave, but maybe that’s enough.

There’s a lot we pick up on the way in addition to the years and experiences; important things like self-worth, self-love, self-acceptance and of course love itself. I understand now what it all means. I get that when you judge you become part of the story that tears someone down and that’s not a nice place to be. I think I finally understand why the things that matter most are the people we love and how much our everyday wellness, in every sense, is key. I get why authenticity and belief in yourself is enough and how the practice of gratitude gives you more. I know that there is always so much to be thankful for.

And though turning 50 was far more complicated than I thought, it turned out to be quite a simple mantra in the end; cut the bullshit, don’t let anything scare you, honour your heart, put yourself first and love in abundance! At 20 I would have thought these words were nonsense, at 30 I would have thought them selfish, at 40, a few randomly inspired wordporn quotes but now maybe, just maybe, they’re the words that will carry me the rest of the way there…

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