When I reached my 50th birthday, in the summer of 2009, I scarcely noticed it. I was working at a job I didn't actively hate, I had a nice house in which I'd lived alone for the past year, a jolly social life, I was in a happy new relationship and felt as fit and lively as I had throughout my forties, even though the menopause was already standing at the end of the road, waving hello. I spent my 50th birthday getting plastered on Cromer pier with several of those close to me. Being 50 wasn't an issue. I thought I'd just carry on carrying on. It never occurred to me how different I was about to feel.
|Age 49, in Cromer (where I used to live) with my friend Sharon|
The change came when I got to 51. The menopause had taken up residence and brought along its pals Hot Flush and Unreliable Moods. My body decided to add a dress size. My dodgy knees developed arthritis. I'd never noticed I had these things called jowls, but I knew all about them when they began to sag. Despite the happiness of the rest of my life, I kept feeling depressed and flat. My sister, who is two years and four months older than me, told me that all this passes, as soon as the menopause packs its bags. I couldn't imagine how this could be. Surely, if I felt like this at 52, the only way was down?
But she was right.
Sometime around the age of 54, I realised that I'd accepted this new stage of my life, and no longer mourned what was before. Which is just as well, because there's bugger all I can do about it. Of course I have the odd regret or two, everyone does, and moments of nostalgia (perhaps more for the simpler, pre-internet days than anything else), but I'm glad I've done a lot of stuff and known a lot of people; if nothing else, it's all material for novels! My mother often used to say 'youth is wasted on the young'. Like most things older people say, I didn't understand it until I was old myself. It's true, though. If only I'd had the head I have now, I wouldn't have made so many dumb mistakes. I wonder if part of this is simply being past the menopause; my moods/choices are no longer affected by my hormones.
I didn't want this post to be all about superficial stuff, ie physical appearance, but then I thought, what the hell ~ most women talk, think and care about how they look. So here it is: I think you have to accept that 'gorgeous' is no longer an option, and the sooner you do, the happier you'll be. I've always felt sorry for the film stars who have all sorts of scary work done to their faces in an effort to keep themselves looking 30. It never works. Plastic surgery, botox, whatever, it doesn't make you look younger. It just makes you look weird. I am 58. I have spidery liney bits around my mouth, the-jowls-that-sag, crows feet, a couple of lines around my neck, and a totally white hairline. My youth has passed. I can't bring it back; none of us can. No matter how much money you have, you can't hold back time.
The good, bad and ugly of being 50+:
- Good: In that I expect to be with my husband until one of us kicks the bucket, I am so glad that the ups and downs of my previously 'colourful' (euphemism for chaotic) love life are now over. Now, I don't know how I had the emotional energy.
- Good: I mind less what people think of me.
- Bad: I have aches and pains that weren't there 10 years ago, and less energy.
- Good: I've slowed down, and like being on my own more and more.
- Bad: There's stuff I didn't do that I am not able to do now, like travel and studying all the subjects that I find so fascinating. There simply aren't enough years left.
- Good/Ugly: That added dress size ~ mostly, I don't really care. I just dress accordingly. When I was younger I'd have been fretting, and loathing the sight of myself in the mirror.
- Good: I've stopped worrying about a load of stuff that doesn't matter, and feel more relaxed, generally.
- Bad: I have had to stop smoking, because it would be just crazy to have carried on. I loved smoking. I still have the occasional one, but it's very rare, because I'm now at the age when I have to take serious care of my health if I want to have a chance of living for as many more years as I can. Yes, I now have to think about all that boring stuff like high blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol; that alone is hard enough to control.
- Good: Experience has taught me how to deal with and understand the processes of grief, loss, rejection, bad days, anxiety, etc etc.
- Bad/Ugly: I have to take about 30 photos before I find one or two I can use for social media/guest blog posts without thinking 'Jesus H Christ' every time I see them. And no, I will never photoshop them, because that's just nuts.
- Good: I'm glad I had my youth before the women's liberation backlash; I feel saddened by the way in which so many young girls dress like hookers and feel under pressure to look and be sexually available. But perhaps that is another blog post.
Stuff to bear in mind if you're going through the 50-something depression:
- It won't last forever.
- The key to being happier when you're older (and I'm talking seeing 60 on the horizon now, not just perky, youthful 50!) is accepting it and learning to enjoy this new phase of your life. And only not doing stuff if it doesn't feel right, not because you think you're 'too old' to do it. The phrase 'too old' is different for everyone. For instance, I am too old to wear leopard print leggings/go to noisy pubs. I am not too old to *** insert something you not too old to do/be in comments, if you wish!***
- The menopause is a normal part of a woman's life, not an illness. Ideally, all the bleak times in our lives (bereavement, heartbreak, etc) are easier to cope with in the long run if you face and accept them, work through them, instead of masking them with chemicals. But this is only 'ideally'; of course I understand why some people choose HRT or feel they need anti-depressants for a while; many of us choose the pills route at some point in our lives. I used Prozac to help me deal with PMT for a few years, and it worked, but I think the key is not to let it go on for too long.
- Skin care works, and makes you feel nice. My skin is not too bad for my age, and I am sure this is partly due to slavishly slapping on the moisturiser and Tropics Organic Elixir. It doesn't have to be expensive; I use E45 during the day because my skin is so dry that it needs moisturising every few hours, and I can't afford to spend £60 a fortnight on face cream!
- Long baths filled with nice smells, walks in beautiful places, reading good books and watching escapist stuff on telly make you feel good, too (and it is a sure sign of old age to think of 'a nice bath' as something of a treat, but there you go!).
- My mother told me that the happiest part of her marriage to my father was when they were in their 60s and 70s. And I am actually happier now than I have ever been.
- We are so lucky to be at this age, at this point in history, generally. Even 50 years ago, women of our age were thought of as irrelevant by so many people. Now, though, it is generally accepted that this is but another stage of life, and can bring with it new discoveries, new experiences and a different sort of happiness.
Other 50-something stuff you might like to read:
Are you in danger of becoming an old fogey? by Sally Cronin
Not Invisible by Tracey Scott Townsend
Tamara Goriely on Tom Willams' blog:
Older women and sport: yet another gender gap
Loving The Fifty Something blog
~ Sam Smith on Twitter