This was the year I was going to quit dyeing my hair and give into the white hair that has been fighting its way out since my early twenties. To get it started, I got an incredibly unflattering short haircut to let the butterfly metamorphosize into the old lady I was always meant to be. With the extra menopausal pounds, I now look like a potato with a sprig of hair, working my way out to a full pumpkin shape. Occasionally I catch sight of myself in the mirror and just have to laugh.
With all the advice, articles, and products relating to anti-aging, they often fail to mention what an odd ecosystem the aging body is. I watch with bemused curiosity. The random hairs, the delicate balance between hydration and the number of times you have to get up in the night to de-hydrate, your eyeballs sinking in, slowly being swallowed by your eyelids, and how you begin to fade until you look like an old dish towel that’s been through the wash one too many times.
I write this and can already hear the protests about loving yourself and the cruelty of a youth-obsessed culture and how it’s inner beauty that counts. Blah, blah, blah. Beauty has never been an aspiration of mine. I went through the motions when I was younger, but could never really pull it off. I was average and bookish and looked like I was playing dress up when I attempted anything feminine. So I stopped trying. I focused on getting and staying fit and that worked for awhile. Until it didn’t. Injuries took longer to recover from and I started to not want to interrupt a day of reading and writing, with, you know…moving.
Your 50s and 60s are where you get to reap the rewards and punishments of life choices. Every illness, bump, odd intestinal feeling is now accompanied with the anxiety that this is going to be what gets you – a tumor, cancer, some weird infection that incapacitates you and makes you a burden to everyone around you. I mean, it’s going to happen eventually. There are people who use this uncertainty as a launching pad for unmitigated daily joyfulness. I am not one of them. But I stay curious and occasionally have a laugh about some of the more ridiculous aspects of being human.
Still, I feel it’s my duty to make some sort of effort towards health. I’d like to make it until my daughter, now a teenager, is in her 30s. You know, after all the bad boyfriends, fender benders, and years of therapy to undo the damage I’ve done – when there is a possibility that I could call her out of the blue and not hear her eye roll at the other end.
So this brings me back to aging. I believe in leading by example as a parent and sometimes I’ve gotten it right, sometimes not. Now, I need to navigate the aging process, the last third of life, the accumulation of good and bad decisions, and whether or not I can still make better ones.
I sense that I’m at a tipping point. Over the last year, I gave up on planned diet and exercise, choosing instead to focus on my creative life. There have been immediate consequences. I’ve suffered insomnia, heartburn, panic attacks, low energy, weight gain, and low spirits. I’m having trouble rallying the troops to get back to good habits. I reverted to childhood – comfort foods, burying myself in books, dreaming of a day when I can feel successful, productive, whole, loved. It’s elemental. All that growth, all that learning, and the moment I stop trying, I become the bespectacled silent girl with a book who loves mashed potatoes and cheese and spends a lot of time daydreaming.
My life coach friend will likely be irritated reading this. She likes to point out progress when I’m in one of my discouraged moods. It’s true, my life is taking a different shape. In some ways, that shape is returning me to who I started out being before the vagaries of family and society became internalized. There is a reason that parallels are drawn between adolescence and middle age. Hormones in reverse. Everything is up for grabs. Suddenly you have to start thinking about potential and possibilities again.
The ride this time is accompanied by a lifetime of lessons. Some of those lessons are about limitations and disappointments. And there’s a lot of here we go again...it’s a little exhausting to think about getting on the right track, making a change, getting my shit together so that I don’t completely fall apart, so I can age gracefully. I hate that phrase. I was never graceful before, why do I have to start now? I’m a mess of habits and emotions and moods. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in months. Things are wobbly and I don’t remember why I went into a room half the time.
Age gracefully my ass.
I’m going to age just the way I’ve always lived – curiously, awkwardly, and one can always hope, slowly. My life will continue to be the three steps forward and two steps back dance that it has always been. I’m just going to look like an avocado doing it.