Ocean Swimming In Winter: The Best Cure For The Menopause Blues

Sometime over the past few years, I lost my spark, and even though I wasn’t sure if menopause or the medication I took for my anxiety were the culprits, or even the amount of time my husband and I had spent together in lockdown together, I was desperate to retrieve it.

Woman swimming on her back in the ocean
Photo by Haley Phelps on Unsplash

Impatience and irrational outbursts of anger had become a big problem that were linked (I suspected) to menopause and poor sleep, hormone fuckery, the inability to control my body temperature, and my secret fears about the life-altering changes that lay ahead.

And, clearly, emotional eating and drinking weren’t working…

And so, as we approached our seventh week of lockdown — and I found myself subconsciously plotting my husband’s death — I decided enough was enough, and determined to find another outlet for my anger.

Admittedly, I laughed when a friend suggested swimming through winter, but I didn’t completely dismiss the idea when in the past, swimming has had a calming effect on me.

It wasn’t an obvious choice. Public indoor swimming pools had been closed down in lockdown and we were in winter in Sydney, and albeit I was aware of the health benefits of swimming in cold water, I needed more convincing.

After two years of comfort eating in lockdown, the idea of contorting my body back into tummy flattening swimmers didn’t fill me with joy

And despite living in arguably one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, I hadn’t been to the beach in a while. Two years ago, our summer was spoilt by the blanket of smoke from bushfires, and last year, my age caught up with my body — with, firstly, a painful case of bursitis in my foot, and secondly, a malignant melanoma on my arm, which entailed surgery and stitches and put an end to my weekend dips.

However, those health issues did provide an epiphany of sorts, (or the cliched “wake-up call”), about the importance of living each day as if it’s my last, being grateful, getting back to nature, and enjoying the simple things in life, blah, blah, blah

And so, I decided to take the plunge

The water temperature is not warm in winter, nor indeed at any time of the year in Sydney. In fact, the only way to swim in temperatures comparable to the Mediterranean or Hawaii’s Waikiki beach in Australia, is by heading north taking your chances with the crocodiles and box jellyfish.

Hence, I admit that the thought of my first winter swim in one of our local ocean pools— originally built to protect swimmers from dangerous surf, currents, and…ahem… sharks — was hardly appealing, and in the end it was vanity that swayed my decision. Because, surprisingly, there are benefits to the crazy activity of swimming in cold water:

  1. It improves the body’s circulation
  2. It reduces stress
  3. It boosts the immune system
  4. It rejuvenates the skin
  5. It gives you an immense feeling of smugness
  6. And it eradicates any middle-aged body image issues, because NO ONE over 50 looks good in a wetsuit

Furthermore, really “cool” people like Julia Baird, Kathy Lette, and Benjamin Law swim through winter

Convinced, I ordered myself the most fetching spring wetsuit I could find in my size, a very unflattering swim cap, a pair of new goggles, and I set about preparing myself for my new adventure.

Admittedly, alcohol may have been involved as I psyched myself up for my first swim

As one of those swimmers who lingers longer around the steps than actually in the water, I knew I had to get into the water quickly for any chance of success, but as my teeth chattered and I felt the need to wee again, I strode as purposefully as I could into the shallow end and all feeling left my lower body.

Luckily, the trickles of iced water that broke through the armour of my wetsuit restarted my heart several times

The temperature of the water was around 17 degrees, but felt closer to zero. However, my new wetsuit did a commendable job of protecting me as I submerged my body with far less grace than a submarine into the icy-cold beneath me, grateful for the odd trickles of iced water that broke through the rubber and restarted my heart several times in between my underwater expletives.

Holding my breath, fully aware of the importance of keeping my heart rate up as I doggy-paddled frantically in the direction the “real” swimmers on the other side of the pool, I prayed silently that none of the lifeguards would jump into save me as a group of kids in bikinis laughed at my progress.

But I made it

And more importantly, the anger left my body as my brain switched its focus from the inadequacies of my husband to my survival. And although the smile of relief on my face nearly cracked until I located a warm spot in the water where the kids had peed, by the end of my second length I remembered why I had married him again.

Photo by Haley Phelps on Unsplash

Why Do I Pee So Much? The Question So Many Middle-Aged Women Ask Themselves

In a vain search to reach the level of physical perfection required of middle-aged women, I’m endeavouring to drink more water.

My hope is that by upping the volume of water that passes through my body each day, I will drug a niggling kidney stone, transform my sallow complexion to the porcelain finish of my twenties, eat less, and sort out some digestive issues that started in menopause.

Basically, I’m expecting a miracle

Young, healthy woman drinking a glass of water
How I expect to look once I retrain my bladder. Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

Apparently, water is the elixir of life, and women should drink around 2L of the stuff a day. But I don’t even fulfil that criteria by counting my coffees, Sloe gins, and the desperate slugs my body demands after every attempt at exercise.

And none of them count, anyway.

The biggest problem I have with water is my body’s refusal to retain it long enough to do any good.

It’s like I have some structural issue whereby my oesophagus extends all the way to my urethra and there are no STOP signs along the way.

I’ve worked out the issue is not solely related to my shoddy pelvic floor – from birthing two babies, one of whom weighed more than a toddler and shot from my body with the speed of a canon ball – because I can still hold on, when I have to.

Just about…

But I can literally drink a glass of water and watch it exit my body before I finish it

Fortunately, because I haven’t experienced any other side effects or discomfort, my issue points to a frequent urination problem – thank you, Dr. Google – possibly caused by an overactive bladder or decreased oestrogen, and not helped by anxiety.

A very common issue in middle-aged women.

And while I always suspected that my bladder was the only naturally active part of my body, I do need to understand how to fix the problem before I get caught in a compromising position.

So what can I do?

Obviously, I don’t need tips to get more of the stuff down me, and the suggestion of cutting back on coffee and alcohol is tricky right now – as we’re currently in lockdown in Sydney, hence not the best time to reduce two of the few remaining pleasures in my life – see self-care/mental health.

So, on the advice of a nurse friend of mine, I’m giving bladder retraining a go. I’m trying to monitor how often I go to the bathroom and delaying urination a little more each time.

Admittedly, it’s about as much fun as the name suggests and (I imagine) feels a lot like the pain addicts experience during withdrawal – my fix being the bathroom – but I am getting better at it.

There’s no easy solution, unfortunately, and in hindsight I wish I’d done my pelvic floor exercises after childbirth

But I refuse to feel ashamed about a little incontinence caused by the awesomeness of the female body. And thank God for celebrities like Kate Winslet and her confession about her problem – “I can’t jump on trampolines anymore, I wet myself” – for bringing more awareness to it.

I won’t underplay the difficulty of drinking enough water at this age, and I’m not sure that rewarding myself with food treats while I wait fifteen minutes longer to pee is necessarily helping my goal of eating less, but at least I have the clear complexion of a twenty-year-old to look forward to.

How about you? Are you struggling with frequent urination or incontinence? If so, what treatments have worked?

Embracing The Menopause Belly

I caught up with an old friend recently and when the conversation turned to the inevitable topic of menopause and weight gain, I was surprised to see her stroke her belly and proudly flaunt it in my direction.

Close up of a woman's belly

She told me she’s decided to embrace the menopause belly – a brave choice, I thought, in a society that chooses to celebrate youth and beauty over experience and wisdom, and the reason many of us struggle to adapt to the mental and physical changes caused by this stage of life.

And I’m not talking necessarily about the well-documented changes caused by menopause, such as hot flushes and brain fog. I mean the symptoms that not even women are comfortable discussing until we’re halfway down a bottle of Chardonnay and someone blurts out they’re incontinent.

Not to mention the increase in facial hair, the decrease in libido, the thinning of the hair on our head, joint pain, and for some of us, the impact on our digestive system.

I thought hot flushes during meetings were bad, until menopause attacked my digestive system

A short time ago, (and in spite of a healthy diet), there was a period when I could have powered myself to work, such was the intensity of my intestines’ reaction to certain foods I’d previously eaten without any problem. Fortunately, I managed to reduce my mortifying excess emissions by switching to a Low-FODMAP diet, but I haven’t been quite as lucky solving my memo-pot.

In spite of eating less, dosing up on turmeric, and exercising like Jane Fonda on Speed, my belly still looks like a five-month gestation

I understand our metabolism slows down in middle age – although, recent scientific research suggests that increased weight gain has more to do with a reduction in our activity patterns rather than chocolate, because as Erin Brodwin points out in an article she wrote about the problem, “As we age, we also get less active while sticking to roughly the same diet.”

And I’m also fortunate that Facebook reminds me daily about my problem area with its clever promotions of the latest pills and exercises to combat bloating. And yet, in spite of trying just about everything to tighten up those loose folds of skin left by two pregnancies – short of a tummy tuck – nothing gives.

Why do I care so much, I hear you ask?

Well, if I’m honest, I care because the media tells me I should care. Apparently, women are expected to have a flat stomach – even though the majority of men my age walk around proudly with bellies the size of small beer kegs, and the average woman’s clothing size in Australia is a size 16.

And when I struggled to find an image of a “mummy tummy” for this post, it became even more apparent to me why women struggle with body image issues.

Last Christmas, I experienced this type of gender inequality firsthand at a drinks party, when a male friend of ours greeted me with, ‘You’re looking nice and slim, Lou.”

I’m still not certain if the implication of his words was that I was a bit porky the previous time we met, or if I was finally meeting expectation, but I suspect he thought he was being polite. Whatever his reasons, I can’t imagine ever greeting a man like that.

But life’s too short for crunches, pills that make you constipated, and wearing Spanx each time you want to wear a dress

And fortunately, one of the benefits of ageing is the wisdom that comes with it, which helps us appreciate the privilege of wrinkles. And so, instead of sacrificing the last chapter of my life to the knife or the gym to get back into my size 12 jeans, I choose to be a bit more circumspect about my priorities.

I choose to carry on eating good food and drinking good wine with good people

I don’t need to fit into a bikini again. EVER. I am actually really enjoying my middle-aged invisibility at the pub and on the beach. And I’m grateful for the extra time (I used to waste on the most minimal amount of pampering) to keep challenging my degenerating brain.

That’s not to say if I woke up one morning with a flat stomach I’d demand the old one back. But there’s an old quote about controlling the things you can control, and that’s where I’ve drawn the line with my belly. Like my friend, I’ve decided to embrace its wholesomeness in celebration of my age and maturity, its awesomeness in nurturing my two babies, and its visual presentation of a middle-aged woman’s right to be who the fuck she wants to be.

Photo by Monika Kozub on Unsplash

7 Surprising Truths That Came Out Of My Recent Health-Scare

I went through a “thing” last month. A health-scare that came out of the blue and made me look at the world through a different lens.

Girl laughing at camera.
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Followers of my blog will be aware of my propensity to over-think and many attempts to find my new “normal” in this middle-aged stage of my life. Hence, it will come as no surprise to you to hear that when my doctor called me with “bad news”, it kicked off a truly marathon session of overthinking about my life and its fuckeries.

Fortunately, on a scale of 1–10, my health scare was in reality a 1 in terms of seriousness — when compared to sufferers of terminal illnesses, and especially during these difficult COVID times, when their treatment has been compromised. And my treatment, while invasive, was marginal in terms of discomfort in comparison to the procedures some have to endure to simply stay alive. Nevertheless, it was scary enough to provide me with an insight into the question of how best to manage whatever time I have left.

The metamorphosis of my mindset over the three weeks was also an interesting experiment in resilience

As you would expect, my initial reaction to the news of my diagnosis was one of fear, anger, and self-pity, but that quickly involved into a need to be hugged, held, and sympathised with, until finally I reached a level acceptance – where I could joke about my plight and even discuss my cremation and my controversial choice of “Light My Fire” as the opening number.

My senses were heightened

But the real surprise — and I know it’s a cliche — was the way my potential, early death sentence made me look at life so differently. I was expecting to be racked by despair, for everything to suddenly appear bleak, when instead I started to view the world with rose-tinted glasses. My senses were heightened. The fear of time running out made me focus and appreciate the colour in my life, the simple pleasures, and the relationships I am often guilty of taking for granted. My doctor had switched on a timer that propelled me to cram in as much living as I could before it stopped.

There have been many times over the past few years when menopause has turned me into a cranky old bitch (my husband’s words), made me irrationally angry and resentful about unimportant stuff, and my scare provided me with the perfect reminder of what I have rather than what I don’t have.

Not that I needed it, but my scare gave me another lesson in gratitude

I can only describe the experience as a brief glimpse into how I would grieve for my own life. My mind wandered from a state of total numbness to self-pitying sessions that focused on my regrets and dashed hopes, an obsession with my bucket-list and a greater appreciation of minimalism — a lifestyle I have been drawn to in middle age — to, finally, some level of acceptance.

It’s impossible to list everything I took away from the ordeal, but below are 7 surprising truths I discovered:

  1. The realisation I don’t want to die — which for someone who has experienced several depressions was an awakening — and yet …
  2. The discovery that I’m also not afraid of dying. I came to the realisation that I am grateful for my half-century when so many others are cheated.
  3. The understanding that no one can understand the emotional battle you experience, unless they’ve been through it themselves. And nor will they handle the news particularly well that you have a potentially life-threatening illness. No one wants to believe the gravity of your situation or can really identify with the whirlwind of emotions that come with the territory. That’s why it is easier to limit those early days of processing the news with close family and friends.
  4. I felt ashamed. Inwardly, I felt responsible and judged for my situation, which is a horrible feeling when you are already coping with a potential fight for your life.
  5. My legacy is not what I believed. I came to the realisation that the legacy I want to leave behind is not about the paltry list of my professional achievements, it’s about my acts of service. It’s about the people whose lives I’ve touched by telling them I love them, remembering their birthday, calling them (when I hate the phone), and been there for when they needed me most; and my services to charities or the awareness I’ve contributed to charities through my writing.
  6. The need to change the narrative around death. I discovered the danger of the media’s drive to corrupt the meaning of death by making us believe that living longer and looking younger are what really matters, when all that does is increase our fear. Our culture’s fear of death is discriminatory and isolating for those who are nearing the end of their lives, when what they need is support.
  7. The importance of an equal healthcare system. True to my leftie principles, my experience cemented my belief in equal healthcare for everyone. Our system here in Australia isn’t perfect, but not only was I made to feel confident in my level of care, my scare was dealt quickly, professionally, and with compassion. That support helped me cope with the mental fear of the unknown.

Has anyone else experienced a health-scare serious enough to change the way you live?

It’s Obvious To Me Why So Many Women Feel Tired

Anna Spargo-Ryan spelt it out clearly in her article for The Guardian last week.

Women are tired.

And while there’s nothing particularly unusual about feeling tired in middle age, I sense there’s more to my dwindling energy levels than the depletion of oestrogen in my body.

The emotional exhaustion caused by COVID and the back and forth swing between daring to believe that our lives will return to some kind of (new) normal, to having our hopes dashed again, has been superseded recently by the continued ignorance of men in regard to consent and sexual abuse.

When a new cluster of COVID appeared in Melbourne a few weeks back – bringing with it the inevitable disruption of border shutdowns, flight cancellations, and wedding postponements – we stopped breathing again.

And while I, for one, have nothing but praise for our nation’s response to the virus – because I still believe that health should be our priority – this stop/start way of living is taking its toll. Every time, we have to put our lives and businesses on hold, with little to no warning, our confidence and mental health are knocked.

Woman lying on bed with her hands over her face.

According to Tara Healle, who wrote this post on Medium about why so many of us feel so bloody tired at the moment, we are suffering from a lack of the benefits provided by the initial shock of the pandemic.

She says that ‘In those early months, I, along with most of the rest of the country, was using “surge capacity” to operate, as Ann Masten, PhD, a psychologist and professor of child development at the University of Minnesota, calls it. Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters. But, natural disasters occur over a short period, even if recovery is long. Pandemics are different — the disaster itself stretches out indefinitely.’

Which is the stage we find ourselves in right now – a stage of permanent flux.

And that flux feels particularly relevant to our government’s lethargic reaction to the latest accusations of rape and sexual harassment levelled at two of its ministers. Their attempts to downplay the trauma of the two women involved feels like a kick in the teeth to women, particularly to survivors. For, it seems that in spite of the education that came from the #metoo movement, little has been learned, women’s voices are still being muted, and our right for equality is still moving too slowly.

I am surprised by my fatigue. Prior to COVID, I used to think I cope well in a crisis. Not when blood is involved, admittedly – as proven by my embarrassing reaction to a fall my husband had a few years ago, when the sight of abrasions to his face had me running to the bathroom. But in grave situations, (that don’t involve bloody, broken body parts), I perform at my best. I am more logical in a crisis than in normal times, and I am not afraid to make a call under stress.

Hence, I felt relatively calm when the virus first hit our shores. I don’t doubt that my reaction had something to do with my anxiety – which meant I was more prepared for it than most – but I found there was something almost reassuring about its sudden appearance.

It provided a kind of validation for all the years I’ve wasted stressing about potential catastrophes.

And so, I didn’t rush to the supermarket to panic-buy – although, the same can’t be said for the bottle shop. And when our son returned to the family home to live with us, and the nature of my job changed, and then I had to cancel Christmas – I accepted our new normal with stoicism.

I know that Australia has been fortunate. We haven’t experienced the impact of the virus in the same way as some other countries, hence I haven’t had to homeschool children or try to maintain some level of professionalism as I work from home. But no one has truly escaped the wide reach of the virus.

I wasn’t surprised by my lack of focus in January – because everyone struggles to focus in January – or when February disappeared in a blink of an eye, and now we’re in March in the midst of the next crisis to hit women.

Because trust me when I say, that although the virus killed more men, it hit women harder.

And as I struggle to find my direction, all I can assume is that the shock or surge capacity that helped me cope with the outbreak of the virus has disappeared and I am transitioning into the next stage of what I can only describe as a type of grief. Grief for normality, and grief for the millions of women who have been abused by men for so long – whose sharing of their terrible personal stories appears to have been for nothing.

I feel like I am climbing up a steep hill towards some kind of acceptance of 2021, that I’m not fully committed to.

I’m still trying to accept the reality that I don’t know when I’ll see my UK family again. It’s unlikely to happen, but there is a chance my my father will die before I get back there, that my nieces and nephews won’t recognise me, and my old friends will forgot me.

I’m scared that my kids may move to another state in Australia and get stuck there in the event of another outbreak.

I’m terrified that my daughter is growing up in era when women’s rights are moving backwards. At twenty-six, she is already tired of defending her rights and demanding her voice, and that’s not right.

I know we’re not living through a world war, and that not seeing my children for a few months at a time is a first-world problem (when the children of others are actually vulnerable to this virus), but the uncertainty caused by this pandemic and the ongoing discrimination towards women is exhausting.

Anyone else feel tired like me?

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Who Is The Perfect Middle-Aged Woman?

There was a point when I was going to name my manuscript, Grave Expectations – a wordplay on the title of the Dickens novel – that, initially, I thought was really clever. You see, one of the main themes of my story is the impossibility of living up to expectation – the expectation on the mother to be the glue of the family, the expectation on the father to be the breadwinner, and the expectation on the children – on the son to toe the line of convention, and on the daughter to compensate for her brother’s challenging behaviour.

Photo from Matheus Ferraro on Unsplash.com

The difficulties of trying to live up to expectation feel particularly poignant right now. Middle age has given me a clearer insight of the way that society measures “success” and its distorted values. I can see now why so many of us end up in jobs or relationships that don’t suit us, or in a permanent fug caused by a sense of failure.

Looking back, I spent my twenties trying to carve out the life my parents wanted me to have, and my thirties and forties trying to be a perfect parent. It’s only since I reached my fifties that I’m actually making decisions for ME, doing what I want to do – and only because I’m privileged enough to have the financial security to change my course.

I find it strange how we associate men with the midlife crisis – caused by the realisation that this is the last chance to make changes – when, in my experience, women experience a similar mental shift, spurred on by the same awareness of time running out.

That’s why divorce is so common in middle age. Women reach a point when they are exhausted by the pressure to be everything for everyone else. It’s not only career expectations we have to worry about. We live in a society that expects us to stay young and beautiful, to be perfect mothers, lovers and carers, and somewhere in that mix we are also expected to make a mark in our career.

The expectation to remain sex sirens – beyond our reproductive years – is the most ridiculous one to me. I don’t think I’m imagining the pressure on some women to remain available for their (more highly sexually driven) men at all times. Nor the trope of the stereotypical middle-aged woman as a moody, dried-up shrew, whose decision to batten down the hatches provides men with the perfect excuse to hunt elsewhere.

Conversely, middle-aged men are portrayed as George Clooney types – silver foxes who are still rampantly sexually active and attractive to women half their age, rather than the needy, pot-bellied, miserable gits that most of us know and love.

Very little is said about the men who lose their sex drive in middle age.

Caitlin Moran mentions the reality of middle-aged sex in her latest book “More Than A Woman”, and her description of what she calls the “maintenance shag” – the shag many couples (who have been married FOREVER) force themselves to endure to meet society’s expectation of a healthy relationship – is, frankly, hilarious. While her comments about anal sex made me a little uncomfortable, her dissection of the planning involved to get the weekly/monthly/annual/Christmas maintenance shag over and done with to prove to ourselves we’ve still got it – is something I can definitely identify with.

I feel that pressure to maintain a level of intimacy with my husband, that goes beyond him flashing his penis at me in the kitchen at every opportunity, or dry-humping me each time I bend down in front of the dishwasher. But the truth is, after more than thirty years together, I get more turned on by a Marion Grasby cooking video than the sight of my husband’s drooping balls.

And why should we feel bad about not shagging as much as the next couple?

Obviously, social media doesn’t help with the guilt. Images of women in their fifties who continue to look fabulous – and I don’t just mean young – pile on the pressure. As does advertising that blatantly targets our insecurities. Beauty companies are relentless in their quest to make middle-aged women question if they are living up to their responsibilities as perfect older women.

Personally, I refuse to believe that the majority of those middle-aged women, who have spent more than half their lives with the same partner, are really rooting like rabbits.

And in case you need reminding, there is absolutely nothing wrong with contentment. Sometimes, a marathon session on Netflix is far more fulfilling than a quick poke and associated muscle strains the following morning. And if the only intimacy you share with your partner is holding hands on the beach, that’s okay too. I suspect it’s way more intimacy than many couples experience.

No one leads a charmed life – you only have to look at what celebrities Chrissie and John Legend have gone through recently to realise that.

And on the subject of Caitlin’s sage advice, another piece that resonated with me in her book was “don’t marry a cunt”. Suffice it to say, there is no perfect man either – which is the most important nugget of wisdom we women should share with our daughters, after the truth about childbirth. Fortunately for me, I had a father who thought with his penis and I learned early on that serial Romeos can rarely be tamed. Hence, if I’ve done one thing right in my life, it has been to marry a good man.

Not a perfect man, but a good one.

Life is about making choices. If I really wanted to have hot sex every night of the week, I could probably find someone to deliver the goods – although, admittedly, I might have to pay for it. But would he be a world authority, i.e professional mansplainer about pretty much everything I need to know in life?

More importantly, would he have been there for me all those times I’ve fallen?

Middle age fucks with our bodies and our minds. It throws up all sorts of questions we stuffed away in the too hard box during those crazy years of young adulthood and parenting. And yet, it also opens the door to self-reflection. We can’t change the past, but we can make meaningful choices about our future. Self-evaluation is the path to that freedom. More time to think about what I want has given me freedom from toxic relationships, unnecessary anxiety, and the constraints of the ridiculous beauty standards demanded of women.

Slowly, I am silencing my inner judge that used to tell me I wasn’t good enough. At fifty-five, I can be who I want to be, and I’m enjoying the experiment. I don’t aspire to look forty, but neither am I ready for fluffy slippers and herbal teas. Right now, I want to be different things on different days, so long as I am me.

Are you meeting society’s expectations of the perfect middle-aged woman?

5 Wardrobe Essentials Every Middle-Aged Women Should Own

Woman sitting in jumper and skinny jeans eating popcorn.
Photo from Unsplash

When I wore a cropped hoodie to work one morning recently, one of the kids suggested I should dress my age.

As you can imagine, I was so enraged I demanded she tell me why I should kowtow to society’s construct of the way middle-aged women are expected to dress.

And needless to say, she looked back at me blankly

Why are women over-fifty expected to dress in a certain way?

Why, when the best part about the recent COVID lockdowns has been the permission to wear activewear 24/7, aren’t we allowed to experience the same fashion freedom as everyone else?

And the sad truth is, it’s not only our choice of activewear that is seen as inappropriate clothing for middle-aged women in certain circles of modern society – and yes, I did say modern. A similar judgment applies to short skirts, sleeveless tops, tight trousers, stiletto heels…

So, what can we wear, ladies?

WHAT THE F*CK WE WANT! However, if I had to choose a few items that (in my personal and not very expert opinion) cross the age ranges, here’s my list:

1. Skinny jeans – Personally, I believe that ANYONE, whatever your size, can wear skinny jeans – especially now they come in a wide range of stretchy fabrics. Dress them up with heels and a blazer, or down with with a tee-shirt and sneakers, and for those of you who aren’t confident about your tummy area (like me), hide it with an oversized or longer top. The skinnies from Zara are affordable and fit my body shape well, but I also like the “Riley” style from Decjuba. Recently, I found a pair in Country Road that are also surprisingly flattering. I was a bit nervous about the high-waist at first – although it is rather handy for tucking in my muffin top – but I really like the ankle bone length.

2. White Sneakers – I have no idea why I avoided this trend for so long, but when I spotted a pair in the Sportsgirl sale for only $40, I couldn’t resist. Needless to say, I’ve worn them to death. The great thing about these shoes is their neutral colour – which means you can dress them up or down, depending on the occasion and your mood. Read Elle’s guide to the best white sneakers.

3. The denim jacket is another classic that, somehow, managed to escape my radar over the past fifty years, even though it’s a wardrobe staple for most of my friends in the UK. For some reason, I decided I was too old for a denim jacket until I spotted the one below at Katie’s , which was 50% off. What I love about denim is its versatility, and because the denim on denim trend is back, you could pull off a Justin/Britney moment if you and your partner are up for it. Don’t worry if you’re not brave enough, this jacket is the perfect compliment to Boho skirts and culottes as we move into spring.

4. Culottes – Love em or hate ’em (and I BLOODY LOVE them), culottes are here to stay. I’m not sure why they seem to be as contentious as the Vegemite/Marmite war, because I think they flatter most body shapes. I own a range of culottes in different fabrics and colours, but I’ve worn my neutral ones to death. I haven’t made a decision about the longer 30s-style version to recently hit the stores, but I’m sure we’ll be wearing this style of pant for a lot longer. (The culottes below are from MinkPink).

5. High-neck jumpers and tops – Whatever season you’re in right now, the roll-neck is back for some vintage comfort and style. If you’re in winter, you’ll love the long-sleeved, chunky polo version, but for those of us in the southern hemisphere, there are plenty of short-sleeved options. Polo-necks, (as I was brought up to call them), are classy in the same way as the twin set. They remind me of “Mad Men” in a good way. I think they send out the message that you are a thinking, sexy woman, although I’m not sure the same can be said about them on men – unless they happen to be Idris Elba, a Russian spy, or a sexy, young professor. Personally, I’ve always loved high-necked jumpers for their ability to conceal my eight chins, one of the reasons I fell in love with the top from Seed below.

Are there any other essentials you would like to share with us?

Photo credits: 1. Top from Seed | 2. Sneakers from Sportsgirl | 3. Culottes from MinkPink | Skinnies from Decjuba | 5. Denim jacket from Katies

Middle-Aged Women: Let’s Talk About Exercise

Full Disclosure: As I write this post, I am sitting at my desk full of remorse about my complete lack of control around a wine bottle last weekend. Hence, I am probably the last person you should be listening to about how to improve your longevity.

I read somewhere recently that scientists have discovered that genes and family history are a much smaller risk to our mortality than previously thought – that’s the good news. The bad news is that middle-age is apparently the optimal time (or last chance saloon) to make the necessary improvements to our lifestyle that improve our chances of living longer.

What are “lifestyle improvements” I hear you ask, even though you don’t really want to know.

Kath and Kim image. Kath running with man.
Photo found on Pinterest

They’re all those boring things you have to do when you get old, like cutting back on drinking, stopping smoking, eating yucky green stuff – basically, anything fun.

Oh, and exercising!

Now, some of you may know that a couple of years ago (in what I now recognise was an out-of-control episode of health anxiety), I decided to take up running – or walking quickly, as the old man likes to refer to it – due to a horror story of a family history of heart problems and certain some pretty unhealthy life choices.

I picked running because I knew I had to do something that improved my cardio fitness, and the lazy bitch within me figured that a few laps around the block was the quickest way to do that, without impacting my other hobbies, like drinking and eating lots, too much.

As a starting point, I set myself the unrealistic goal of the 4kms Mothers Day Classic – which is basically a public pelvic floor challenge disguised as a fun run, and everyone knows that “fun” is a synonym for “walk” – and God knows how, I managed to complete it.

I didn’t finish the run/walk in a time or with any great finesse – but I did cross the finish line sweating.

However, erase from your mind that inspiring little image of me crossing the finish line jubilantly, hands in the air in victory, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. By the end of the race, I was knackered, swore I’d never run again, and then undid any good by vacuuming down a full English breakfast.

Because it bloody well hurts… like everywhere. And that’s not the only downside. when you’re middle-aged. So far, I’ve been lucky with my knees, but I’ve had a few wake-up calls when it comes to bladder control, I’ve found that I can’t knock back a couple of vinos the night before a jog, and some mornings my body aches so much I’m pretty certain it has finally succumbed to one of those terminal illnesses I’ve been waiting for my whole life – you can read about health anxiety here.

Let’s be honest, none of thought we would have to exercise in our fifties and given the choice, I would much prefer to go on a brisk walk with my girlfriends – with the added incentive of a wine milky coffee at the end of it.

But I know that’s not enough.

And I’m not here to tell you how to live your life or to lie about how running gets any easier – or about the huge selection of exercise options that may be more realistic for you – all I’m trying to do is remind you about the importance of maintaining a level of fitness at our age.

You can actually tell the state of someone’s health by the speed they walk. Did you know that? So the next time you’re out with your friends, take a furtive look at how well they cope with hills or distance.

Trust me, it’s a slippery slope once you lose your fitness – one day you can’t get out of a chair, the next you struggle to walk up hills. Before you know it, you can’t wipe your arse.

Fortunately, there is a silver lining – and I’m not trying to sweeten the pain because my local gym or any other torture chamber is paying me to – and there are benefits beyond the physical ones that come with exercise for women our age:

  1. Exercise improves your productivity: I’m sure you get those days like me when you get so engrossed with work that you put off going outside and finish the day in a slump at your desk. That used to happen to me until I discovered the importance of a change of scene. Whether it’s the beauty of nature, the increase in my heart-rate, or the free therapy from friends, I can guarantee that I feel much more productive when I come back from a walk. Being outside centres me; it resets my computer.
  2. It boosts your mood and confidence: I won’t promise you that you will lose weight from exercise, as I believe that what you put in your mouth is the biggest determiner of that, but I do think that a healthy diet with consistent exercise can help. And for middle-aged women, improving muscle tone and being a healthy weight will most likely have a knock on effect on your confidence. A dramatic boost of dopamine works wonders for mood – that’s why those crazy exercise junkies get so addicted.
  3. It broadens your community: Whether it’s a yoga class or a walk with friends, group exercise encourages connection – another vital component of longevity. One of the reasons men die younger is because they lose their social connections once they retire.
  4. It increases your sense of empowerment: I have always believed in the mantra that you enjoy things more when you’ve worked hard for them. The sense of empowerment, accomplishment, and positivity I derive from exercise filters into every aspect of my life.

I can guarantee that you’ll enjoy that evening wine so much more when you feel you’ve earned it

At school, I couldn’t run the length of the netball court without falling over. Back then, I thought I’d be on back-to-back cruises along the Danube in this stage of my life, not wheezing my way around the block, scaring old people and children. But life is about choices. And I choose to live as long as I can.

Have you taken up a new form of exercise in middle age?

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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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Middle Age: Time To Stop Worrying About Our Bodies And Start Focusing On Our Brains

I’ve had a mixed reaction in my circle about my decision to shed a few kilos. There are those friends who have been supportive – in that they understand the need to manage my weight gain through menopause, if possible. Then there is the other “life’s too short to be miserable” camp, who don’t believe I should worry about a few extra rolls at this stage of my life.

Photo by Jairo Alzate on Unsplash

Truth be told, I’m not so vain that a few extra kilos worry me, but I am conscious that carrying extra weight at my age is no good thing. I had also reached that point where I was climbing the dress size mountain a little faster than I wanted and was starting to feel the effects – physically and psychologically. There were several nights over Christmas when I had a ‘nothing to wear’ crisis, because nothing fitted.

Middle-age is hard enough when it comes to style, but it’s that much harder when you are heavier than you want to be.

However, I do believe that it’s important to put your health goals into perspective. It comes down to that balance thing that’s so hard to get right in life, which is why it saddens me so much when my girlfriends admit that they hate parts of their bodies. Because while none of us are immune to the ridiculous pressures of perfectionism created by women’s magazines and reality tv shows, I do feel that at some point we have a right (and it is healthier) to age and accept our age, along with the inevitable leaks and creaks that go with that.

I’ve mentioned before the glorious sense of liberation I have taken from the invisibility that has come with middle-age. I feel much freer when I go out without makeup, when I’m not wearing a bra, or can happily swan around the house in my pjs – and I’m loving the fact that I can get on public transport late at night without having to worry about being harassed.

In general, I feel much more confident in who I am.

However, there is no denying that we are the product of the expectations placed on our gender by the media. And many women have been victims of men who take their best years, use them as a vessel for their children, and then discard them during their mid-life crises for a younger model, thereby diminishing their confidence.

My body is a physical map of my life, that bears the scars of childbirth amongst other experiences. I am not ashamed of the physical evidence of that miracle of life or the way the intensity of my love has cracked the skin on my face. But I would point out that when it comes to ageing, there is no gender divide, and the old man’s body bears the same ravages of time as mine.

But imagine if women left men when they started to lose their hair?

I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t like to fit back into a size 10 and have the choice of high street fashion, or that I wouldn’t like my teeth to be whiter or my jowls to be less like my dog’s – BUT WHY? I’m fifty-four, not twenty-three.

And for the record, I wouldn’t want to be twenty-three again.

So does it really matter if the skin under our arms swings with the wind or if our faces looked like crumpled paper? I’m satisfied that I made the most of the beauty of my youth, and I wouldn’t choose to turn back time. But now is the time for my brain to shine.

I won’t be getting sober anytime soon but I am “drinking smarter”

Photo from Damir Spanic on Unsplash

I was a grown-up last weekend. The old man and I went on a date night to a swanky restaurant and I chose to drive.

In my last post I talked about the necessity of making choices in middle age, and prior to last night, I would have looked forward to washing down the posh grub with a bottle of expensive wine, and wasted the afternoon working out a feasible way to get to the restaurant on public transport. What can I say? I like drinking. Alcohol tastes nice. Drinking turns me into the interesting, cool girl I should have been…at least, until the next morning. It helps me cope, and gets me out of the house.

For me, drinking is also a form of self-care. Hear me out, peeps. You see, my list above doesn’t account for alcohol’s other, hidden benefits for me personally: its medicinal ones for colds, backache, and muscle pain; its effectiveness as a coping strategy for my social anxiety; its ability to foster connection; and the strength it provides me to contend with a society that writes women my age off, (or only draws attention to us for all the wrong reasons – Alexandra Grant).

Therefore, it was with some surprise that grown-up-me decided that night that (for the sake of a couple more drinks) I couldn’t be assed to sit on a bus full of obnoxious teenagers or work through a heinous hangover the next morning.

Anyway, everyone knows the first sip is the best.

A few years ago, I wrote in my first paid article for Mamamia on the subject of my concerns about my drinking and the increase in women’s drinking in middle age. I remember that what I was really aiming to do in that article was to empathize rather than shame women who drink. I can’t remember the exact headline I pitched to the editor for the story, but it was changed to ‘I am a functioning alcoholic and I’m not alone’ – and I was mortified. At the time I think I was looking for a new job.

BUT… if the decrease in the number of units our government deems healthy for us to drink is anything to go by, she had a point. AND…Maybe I’m paranoid, but drink shaming seems to be levelled more directly at women – and in particular middle-aged women. Granted, there are medical reasons for this – in that women’s bodies can’t process as much alcohol as men. But there is also this social construct that a woman who is drunk is far more shameful than a man, even though many men who have drunk too much go on to do terrible things, while a woman is more likely to fall asleep on the sofa. Just check out the photos of the after-race parties if you don’t believe me.

Why are men given license to have fun, while women are expected to stay at home and live like nuns? You can see that question in people’s heads when they see a group of drunk women – who’s looking after the kids while they’re out drinking? Well, Carol, who’s looking after the kids while their dad’s out drinking?

However, since I wrote that article, I have become more aware of the effect that alcohol has on my body – I’m getting old, Goddammit! – which is why, (and trust me when I promise that I am not getting sober and deserting my people entirely) – I’ve decided to “drink smarter” (in the words of Kate Spicer from The Sunday Times).

Menopause has played a huge role in that decision. I’m certain that many of you fifty-somethings will identify with the impossibility of being a functioning alcoholic when your hormones contrive to make your life – and in particular, your hangovers – as unpleasant as possible. Suffice it to say, I have to be fully committed to knock back a bottle of wine.

So, yes…the hangovers from hell, my aspirations to run 5kms (more than once), and that other cruel twist of menopause – weight gain – have guilted me into reducing the Rose and discarding the Chardy. I wish I could say that concerns about my longevity or longterm health were truly behind my decision, but after twenty years of smoking, a lifetime of anxiety, and a pretty shoddy family history when it comes to health, I know I’m fucked I’ve been playing Russian Roulette for a while now.

And I won’t deny it is a struggle. Alcohol is a wonderful crutch, it has been a loyal and reliable friend, and maintaining my commitment to Kombucha for just a couple of nights a week has stretched my self-discipline to the max. I am want to crumble at the first sign or conflict or stress.

But that’s okay. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I suppose what I’m really trying to say in this very convoluted post is that when the fun police make you feel bad about your drinking, don’t beat yourself up about it. You are not alone. Many of us have vices we’re not proud of – for some of us that is a glass or two of wine, for others it is several Magnums – as in the ice cream; for others still, it is leading corrupt governments and ignoring the voice of democracy.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with drinking with non-drinkers or fellow alcoholics and I don’t need anyone to drink with me to have a good time (See symptoms of an alcoholic). I do see the benefits of sobriety, but I am also aware that swift judgments are easy to make; it takes much more time to look beneath the surface.

My intention is not to glorify alcohol, but there are still occasions in my life when I am dealing with stuff when I want/need to drink. There are also occasions when I want to celebrate that I’m still here and in a good place. And in the words of the author, Mike Gayle “We all do what we need to do to get by.”

Empty-Nesting: How awesomely liberating is it doing exactly what YOU want now?

It’s my birthday next week, and as has been our agreement for a number of years, the old man and I have a process in place for the event when it comes to presents. It goes something like this: I negotiate a budget (that usually works in my favour because he pretends to feel some semblance of guilt for shirking his responsibilities) and then I buy my own present, whereupon he wraps itafter asking me if I’ll do it first.

Beautiful woman holding up a bunch of balloons on a yacht.
Happy Birthday to me! I’m sure that this is exactly what I’ll be doing next week. Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

I know that many of you will think that our arrangement is kind of sad, but I can assure you it’s not. If you’d seen any of the presents – the towels, the chunky ID bracelets and the over-sized lingerie – that he has picked out for me in the past, you’d understand that for my husband this is a vital safety precaution, and for me it’s about self-care.

I admit that I am fussy. I’m not proud of it but I have very firm ideas about what I like. And even if I sent the old man to the store with an image and code for what I want, he would somehow get it wrong. So in much the same way that people frown at us over about our choice of separate bedrooms, I’m gonna ignore your predictions that our arrangement is a recipe for disaster. It works for us.

But I digress. The reason I mention this birthday is that I have already been out on the town for some retail therapy and purchased a rather cute little Boho top from Sportsgirl that in my head I had earmarked to wear to the girls lunch I’ve organised for the occasion.

However, as I pulled it out of the bag in excitement to check that I still liked it – because I am a serial returner, who is no doubt blacklisted by many of my local stores – the thought crossed my mind that I had been an idiot. Of course, I couldn’t wear it to my lunch on Saturday, I thought, because it’s two days before my birthday.

Seriously, for a few seconds there, menopause-related dementia made me feel seriously fucked off about not having anything nice to wear to my own birthday party.

Until I realised how absurd I was being. Of course I could wear the top, I reminded myself. I’m a free-as-a-bird, ass-kicking empty nester now, with no little people to point the finger or be influenced by my poor example. I am no longer that parental role model who has to pretend to be something I’m not just so that my kids don’t grow up to be assholes. No one is here to judge me if I open my present a few days early, drink wine during the day, or even smoke Cannabis againnot that my abstemiousness prevented Kurt from doing any of those things… and others.

I can make my own decisions again.

This is the wonderfully empowering bit about middle age. It is liberating. I am back in charge of whatever is left of my destiny and I can do things the way I bloody well want to. And if I want to wear my new top before my official birthday, I bloody well can.

Let’s Stop Judging Ourselves By Our Bodies

I went on a girls night to the city last Friday night.

I’m ashamed to admit that it took me longer to get ready than usual because the outfit I had put together in my head that week looked crap when I put it on and I had a confidence crisis, which meant I had to go through every other outfit in my wardrobe until I came back to the original one.

Seriously, I thought that by this age I wouldn’t care how I look, but apparently, I’m not alone – all four of us “girls” that night had our own personal what-to-wear crisis before we met up.

Comments about fat thighs and dog jowls were bandied about, and sadly they’re not unusual. Honestly, anyone listening in on our conversation would have thought we were teenagers on the pull, not a group of middle-aged women praying we’d be home in bed by 10pm at the latest.

Who has done this to us? Who or what has driven a giant bulldozer through the confidence of women when it comes to their bodies? Because you’d think that by your fifties we’d have accepted ourselves for who and what we are, wouldn’t you? And that when we tell our daughters that it’s what’s inside that counts, we’d really mean it?

Sadly, our problem is pretty universal. Check out The Bikini Rant below:

I need to take her advice. I mean it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever wear a bikini again in public, but why do I still care so much about how my body looks at this stage of my life? Who do I want to impress? I should be proud of it. It’s been a reliable vessel to two children, a ton of junk food and a veritable Tardis when it comes to Chardonnay.

And it’s not like the old man ever worries about what his bum looks like.

This week I listened to one of Yumi Stynes fantastic podcasts from her Ladies, We Need To Talk series – during which she discussed this very issue.

Yumi mentions the importance of us having some self-compassion when we think about our bodies. She asks if we would say to our friends what we say to ourselves when we look in the mirror?

Like ‘Shit, Lou! You’d be quite pretty if you didn’t have those three chins!’

But of course, we wouldn’t, because a) It would be rude and hurtful, b) It doesn’t matter, and c) there’s probably nothing that I can do about them even if I really cared.

So, whose standards of beauty are we trying to live up to and judging ourselves by – because they’re not universal standards. Countries such as Mauritania, Tonga and even Fiji embrace a little extra weight in women.

No, they are magazine and social media standards – hello, Instagram – that push men and women to to attain impossible standards of perfection. In the same way that porn influences men to believe that women should be hairless down below, some of them now see a women’s size 6 as the norm.

Kim Kardashian has launched a new range of shapewear called “Solutionware” – a name which has the ‘built-in implication that there is a problem’, according to India Knight of The Times. And Kim’s range isn’t targeting mid-lifers like my friends and I, who are showing the normal wear and tear signs of ageing, they are aimed at our daughters.

Which is why we have to demand better role models for women and our girls. We don’t want our kids fawning over Love Island and Bachelor wannabees; we want them inspired by “real” women – true heroines, whose success isn’t derived from their looks, but from their magnanimity, their intellect and talents. Women such as Ashleigh Barty, Nakkia Lui, Malala Yousafzai, Lady Gaga, Jacinda Ardern or Tiera Guinn, to name but a few.

Historically, women have been prized for their looks and ‘valued for their sexuality’ (Darcy Steinke), because we used to live in a man’s world. But not any more. However, if we are to be taken seriously as equals, we need to value ourselves so much more.

Bad Dreams? I Blame Anxiety

Photo by Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho on Unsplash
Of course, sleeping in the garden might be my problem and I could simply invest in a bed.

I used to have this theory about dreaming, which was that only creative, imaginative people had them. I admit that this conclusion was drawn from the fact that the old man doesn’t dream.

As a middle-aged, menopausal woman on anti-depressants (who struggles with sleep), the only bright side to the kind of dreams I have – imagine GOT crossed with Psycho – are that as a writer, even crazy dreams offer up some wonderful ideas for content. But I can’t deny that it would be refreshing, occasionally, to have some nice, vanilla dreams. You know, the sort of dreams where I’m sipping expensive cocktails in exotic destinations or sexual dreams, with the men of my fantasies. Rather than dreams where I’m falling off cliffs or being chased by knife-wielding rapists.

Let me share the one I had last week. Interpret it as you will.

The dream began with me introducing one of my best friends to a new friend of mine, who swiftly replaced me in my BF’s affections. Unsatisfied with that, this interloper continued to torment me throughout the dream, popping up in other parts of it to enlighten me about secrets my BF had shared with her – the sort of secrets that she had never shared with me during our entire twenty-year friendship.

During this REM version of Mean Girls, I found myself back at uni in the classic dream of being late for, and not having prepared for, an exam. This time, however, I was studying for a degree in science, and not only was I late, but the only preparation I had done for it was to skim through a Year 6 book on nature.

While I was mulling over how I could make the life cycle of the amoeba relevant to a tertiary physics paper, I was also struggling to locate my seat in the massive exam hall, where thousands of candidates were waiting to take the same exam – each of whom was already in their seat and eyeballing me.

Finally, an adjudicator took pity on me. Relieved, I followed him as he directed me to my place, whereupon – and get this! – he pulled a machete from his apron and cracked open my chest to reveal my heart – which was bizarrely the first time I noticed that everyone else’s heart in the room was exposed. Even weirder, was the immediate sense of calm I felt, that finally, I was like everyone else. Hence, it was only as I shuffled about in my seat, preparing to start the exam, that I noticed that my heart was different to everyone else’s – because mine had bulging lumps in its arteries. Clots!

The finale to this horror story, was my embarrassing (somewhat deja vu) attempt to get my computer going and onto the exam program – because apparently, I was a technophobe in my dream as well as in real life. Until, fortunately, my neighbour took pity on me, setting me up in the nick of time for the start of the exam. I remember throwing him a look of gratitude as I placed my headphones on confidently as the examiner called out Start – which is when I discovered that I had no sound.

It is no secret that bad dreams and night terrors happen to anxious people, and unsurprisingly, I can relate almost every detail of that dream to current concerns about my health, work, and the fear of not living up to expectation.

But if my mind is really that bloody imaginative, why can’t I have nice dreams for a change? Why can’t I have the dream where I’m a famous author, who sells the film rights to my novel to Steven Spielberg, who then picks Meryl Streep to play my character in the book? Why can’t I dream about lunch with Meryl – where she perfects my accent, we sing Abba songs together, and she reveals all of her inner secrets to me, like the one about her best on-screen kiss?

BTW – My money’s on Robert Redford.