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

Running Doesn’t Get Any Easier, But Let Me Tell You What It Does Do…

This week, I’ve decided to guilt you off the sofa with another smug-assed update about my new running career.

Woman standing on beach with arms in the air in celebration.
Photo from Unsplash. Catherine McMahon

Cue drumroll: Last week, I reached my target of 4kms for the Mothers Day Run For Breast Cancer. In other words, my weekly jog/hobbles around the lagoon in our new suburb has paid off. Go me! And while I would love to describe to you in triumphant detail the exhilaration of reaching such a pinnacle of fitness at the age of 53, I’m too knackered. Worse, I’m worried. You see, I suspect that I’ve potentially put myself in a dangerous psychological place now. With five weeks still to go before the official run (You can sponsor me here, because as you can see, we need all the help we can get), I’m worried that I may have peaked too early, which means that the next few weeks are going to prove a battle to get motivated.

But if it makes you sloths out there feel any better, I am also here to confirm that running doesn’t get easier – that is indeed a myth – and that in no way has this new sport become my raison d’etre.

For while it is tempting for me to paint a dazzling image of me crossing the 4kms mark, legs reaching across the finish line with the litheness of a gazelle – that’s simply not how the moment was, as I’m sure that most of you can imagine. The fact is, the mechanical process of moving my legs fast never gets any easier. And frankly, if it wasn’t for sheer will-power and the image in my mind of the big brekkie and coffee I promised myself at the end of each practise session, it is unlikely I would have stuck to such a ridiculous goal.

For the record, I would also like to point out that I will never want to set myself another goal and increase my distance. I will leave that to those of a competitive nature. For me, this run was only ever about a personal goal and raising money for a worthy charity, and once I tick that box, I will resume my Friday nights with a bottle of wine and a packet of pork scratchings.

But let me tell you what this silliness has done. It has made me feel better overall – mentally and physically (sort of). I haven’t lost weight – indeed, my calves have packed on something that the old man has identified as muscle – but the push to get outside and into the fresh air twice a week has helped me develop an old person’s greater appreciation of the outside world and nature. I have more energy, I feel more positive, and I’m drinking less alcohol – because it is definitely more challenging to get my legs going after bevvies the night before.

Goals and finding ways to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, (or simply into a different zone), are so important at this stage of our lives. And it’s important to remind ourselves of how lucky we are to reach middle age, at all – a gift denied to so many victims of breast cancer.

New challenges and experiences keep me mentally alert and curious – and ultimately youthful, I hope – in what can be a disconcerting last chapter of our lives. For me, this year is about running, but next year’s challenge might entail another new hobby, travel, or meeting with a different social group – whatever it is, the curiosity that gets me there is what will keep my mind sharp.

Anyone that knows me – but in particular I must mention the crowd who did the Jane Fonda Workout with me for high school sport, (when everyone else was playing proper sports) – would laugh if you told them that I had taken up running – at any age. But perhaps, more importantly, in a period of my life when I feared that there were no surprises left – apart from those generously supplied by Kurt – I have surprised myself.

Go on, sponsor me…

“Running Really Does Get Easier,” Said No Novice Runner Ever

Image of woman running up steps in orange runners.

There’s no doubt in my mind that what this year’s fun run is really about is another narcissistic attempt to deny the physical evidence that my body is as old AF and, well, a bit buggered.

The papers – or “the news” (as my millennial daughter corrected me yesterday morning because she has never read a hard copy newspaper) – continues to be full of stories of New Year’s resolutions that never got out of the starting gate, Dry January fails, and Januhairy – the least challenging resolution for the menopausal/hormonally hirsute amongst us.

Privately, I have made a couple of personal resolutions – that for legal reasons that involve the old man, I can’t share publicly with you yet – but I have made one that I’m happy to talk about.

This May, I will be competing in the 4k Mothers Day Classic Fun Run to support breast cancer research.

Yes, FOUR FUCKING KILOMETRES, and A RUN! The “fun” part, I’m not so sure about.

I did a similarly crazy thing a little over ten years ago when I celebrated my 40th birthday – don’t ask me why I have this tendency to come up with harebrained schemes such as these, although I suspect that wine has something to do with them – when, in the wisdom of what I will now refer to as my youth, I signed up for the London To Brighton bike ride, to prove that I was still young, hot and fit to raise money for The British Heart Foundation.

And evidently, few life lessons were learned from that day of shame. Either that or I have parked them in the dying brain cell department of my brain along with memories of childbirth and whatever I once saw in Johnny Depp.

In my defense, the temperature that day in the UK was (an unheard of) 33 degrees – the precursor to what the intelligent among us now accept as climate change – but added to which, I was also sporting a rather debilitating injury, incurred at training the week before; the result of a nasty brush with gravel. That meant that I had to compete with two stitches to my right elbow and severe PTSD in relation to every getting on a bike again.

To cut a long story short, I was the only competitor to cross the finishing line as the event organizers were planning their retirements – although twelve hours to complete fifty-two miles is apparently a record…of sorts. I was also the only competitor to be slapped around the face by their husband halfway around the course when he feared for my sanity – although, again, in my defense, my bum was really sore.

There’s little doubt in my mind that what this year’s fun run is really just another narcissistic attempt to deny the physical evidence that my body is as old AF and, well, a bit buggered. However, my ambition is not to complete this year’s run in a credible time. No, all I’m really aspiring to do is not look like a complete twat as I cross the line – IF I cross the line – ie. I’m hoping for no sign of poo or wee on my pants, that I haven’t stolen water from the nearest dehydrated child spectator, or taken the bus to raise money for a commendable cause.

I’m also hoping that on this occasion I don’t have to beg a steward to pull me up the last hill in return for sexual favors – something the organizers of the London To Brighton event got very sniffy about.

In case you’re wondering, I don’t know why I don’t organize a coffee morning, eat all the cakes, and be done with it, either. It’s not like I’m one of those stoic people who can put their mind to anything for a shot of very public altruism. Frankly, I couldn’t apply myself to catching a Huntsman spider if the lives of my children depended on it – something you might have picked up on in my last post. I’m not naturally a “charity” type of person – other than my belief that it begins and stays at home, ideally in my bank account.

However, I’m proud to say that I have reached the 2km mark in my training – not an easy feat in the humidity of a Sydney summer – and my only question at this stage of my running journey is when the fuck it gets easier? When will my legs and boobs stop hurting? When will my thighs stop sticking together? Will I ever enjoy it?

The Hidden Link Between Muscle Tone And Weight Gain In Middle Age

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I know I drone on about the unfairness of weight gain in middle age a lot. I don’t want to sound like some narcissistic bitch bemoaning the first-world problem of the loss of my youth, beauty, and self-esteem, (which I am…obviously), but we women of a certain age have a lot to come to terms with.

Almost a year ago, as I began to watch the weight creep on, I decided to try something new. I took up exercise again. I suppose I got caught up in the hype of wanting to look young again – thank you Revitalift – and so I’ve been secretly beavering away at some fitness stuff in an attempt to shed the kilos and keep the old ticker working as it should.

I suppose I thought I’d surprise you. If women’s magazines are anything to go by, many of us struggle with our weight at this age and I thought that one day I would put up my before and after photos and my secret to losing weight on this site and you’d all hate me. I’d sell my story about how I did it, and how simple it really was, because all it really involves is loving yourself, drinking lots of red wine (not white) and walking to the pub instead of catching an Uber. I thought I’d be one of those unrealistic representations of health that you see in photos of beautiful, young people in the gym. Only I’m no longer young and beautiful.

But then, in a moment of sheer madness, I decided to get on the scales – something I haven’t done since the last time I couldn’t do up my jeans – and to my horror, I discovered that I’d gained six kilos. This, after almost killing myself for a year.

And the problem with that is that I’m not the sort that sees the unfairness of life as a challenge. I see the world in black and white – as in I’m the type that receives that kind of devastating news and heads straight to the pantry for a six-pack of Kettle Chips and a bottle of Baileys, in spite of everything I write about accepting myself for who I am.

To be honest, I’m feeling kind of cheated right now about all that time I spent gritting my teeth through the pain in my lungs and the swelling in my knees, and my disappointment isn’t entirely linked to vanity. It’s linked to the unfairness of working so damned hard for fuck-all results. It is linked to the sacrifice and unfairness of losing not only my looks, my hair, and my memory, but of also having to come to terms with how my clothes sit on my new size 14 frame.

We’ve all heard overweight friends say things like, ‘I don’t know why I can’t lose the weight,’ and then we watch them eat and become smugly judgmental. And I will admit to enjoying my food as well. On occasion, I have been known to give in to my body’s natural bent for eating MOST of the pies, and yet, in general, I eat healthily at least five days a week.

And yes, (before The Alcohol Police remind me), I am fully aware of those naughty wine calories, which I had hoped would be compensated by my hour of exercise each day. Two glasses of wine equate to 160 calories, which by my calculations, equates to an hour’s walk. Added to which, I must lose the equivalent amount of liquid in sweat during my jogs around the park.

Cortisol can be another cause of weight gain at this age, and I admit that I have been content in the past to latch onto the excuse of stress as a result of Kurt’s antics and living with the old man. And yet I can’t even blame the boy at the moment, who has been suspiciously tame for a while now.

Which leaves only a couple of possible excuses reasons for this weight gain. 1. The first is that biologically-speaking, many middle-aged women gain weight during menopause – something to do with an extra padding of fat to protect our crumbling bones, which is vital if we want to continue to outlive men and lead the human race. Because seriously…who wants to leave this world on something boring like a fall, unless it’s in a bar, of course? But as I’m not officially in menopause yet, it has to be the second reason.

2. Muscle tone.

‘Making Self-Love Habitual’

‘Self-lovers don’t diet. They eat what they want, when they want, but do so mindfully.’ (Jacinta Tynan, Sydney Morning Herald)

reading-925589_960_720Admittedly, I’m still working on the ‘mindful’ part of this comment, but I’ve been doing a lot of research recently about loving yourself and this article – How To Make Self-Love An Instinctual Habit – confirmed to me how easy it is to change your outlook if you look at it as something that needs and deserves the same care you give the rest of your body.

Ie. If you value yourself.

 

I also rewatched Tim Minchin’s Nine Life Lessons again  – frankly, one of the best video clips online, in my opinion – in which he recommends embracing life and taking a positive approach wherever possible, even if (naturally) you err on the side of “glass-half-empty-dom” or like him, take the piss out of people for a living. 

Recently, I have tried to mix things up a bit within the confines of my own personality – to adopt new interests and remove bad habits, so that I embrace life more proactively. Recent health studies into dementia stress the importance of learning new skills – crosswords aren’t enough, it seems, (much to the old man’s disdain) – and so, after my last stay in the Doldrums Hotel, I’ve introduced nine habits of my own (below) that I’m forcing myself to do I’m cultivating within my lifestyle to help improve my mental outlook:

  1. Reading – As a teenager, I was an avid reader – anything from Mills and Boon to Jane Austen, and loads of Jackie Collins in between. It provided escapism, fuelled my eschewed dreams of romance and relaxed me when I was feeling anxious. And then I had kids, and the opportunities for reading time dried up. I tried various book clubs – that forced me to read books I wasn’t interested in – and when I began to write seriously, fiction had to be replaced by articles, how-to-write and self-help manuals. Anyhow, recently I’ve forced myself back into reading before bedtime, and not only am I sleeping better, I’ve also been inspired by what I’m reading from both a creative and educational standpoint. You’re never too old to learn.
  2. Fangirling – I know it sounds as pretentious AF – and by way of a pathetic excuse, I will say that this new pleasure of mine is somewhat tenuously linked to my writing – but I love to listen to author talks. NC and I attended a Q and A with the writer Emily Maguire last weekend, which included High Tea and Champagne.  What better way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon?
  3. Masterchef – After a sabbatical of seven or eight years, I decided to give Masterchef another go and I’ve dragged the old man in for the ride. Neither of us has massive culinary aspirations – and I’ve ignored the notebook he passes to me each time the show starts – but what’s not to love about watching the journeys of this likable, brave group of amateurs, who are willing to make mistakes so publicly in search of their dreams?  The arrogance and bizarre eating habits of the chefs are equally entertaining as is the occasional public slaying of the professionals. Miss you, Brendan – talking of fangirling!
  4. Exercise – Admittedly, I never thought I’d include this one in a list such as this, and after years of wobbling down my street in a vain attempt to shed weight, that’s no longer my goal. These days, I exercise to keep my brain fit and healthy. Nothing too strenuous – mainly walks and swimming – but just enough to stop my mind reaching into those dark corners where it prefers to reside.
  5. Simple cooking and eating – I’ve always been an advocate of four-ingredient cooking (preferably three), and recently I’ve turned my hand to a few new dishes. Soups have been my thing in these cooler months and I’ve worked out that you can basically knock up any sumptuous vegetable soup with one hero vegetable and a base of potato, onion, and stock. Comfort in a bowl. I sprinkle a handful of crisp bacon on the top to disguise the fact it’s vegetarian from the boys.
  6. Friends – I know – obvious, right?  And yet ageing and menopause can conspire to push you back into the doldrums more than you’d like, making you socially anxious. And one day, the thought of staying at home under a blanket with the dog on the couch sounds far more appealing than making an effort to see people. Having moved back to our old neck of the woods, I’m so grateful to old friends for forcing me out.
  7. Writing/Journalling – For me, writing has been a life-saver. It’s cheap therapy for me, and really, I should be paying you for listening. There was a while back there when I was so focused on my manuscript that I rarely left the house, when I felt like I had nothing much to say and I parked the blog for a while. But recently, I’ve got back into it with a renewed fervor. My world hasn’t suddenly developed more layers, but it has evolved and developed different layers, and I have begun to enjoy the writing process again. I’ve also started writing a new blog about interior styling here for anyone who is about to sell their home or is passionate about interiors.
  8. Resting – I haven’t resorted to nana naps (just yet), even if some of my friends swear by them, but I do force myself to sit down occasionally. Over-stimulation fuels my anxiety and when I am impulsive and rush, I make mistakes. This has been one of the hardest disciplines for me.
  9. Medication – In the wake of recent events, I can’t emphasize this example of self-love enough. There is no shame in taking medication for an illness – many people are forced to. There should be no stigma attached to taking medication to live a normal life, especially when a normal life is not being afraid to leave your house. Obviously,  I would love all my nine points to be based on organic, holistic ideas, but the reality is that some people need more than that. To enable a quadriplegic to ski, he needs the assistance of a specially-designed chair;  to help someone with anxiety leave their front door, a pill can work. So, what’s the problem?

Hiking, And How To Unhinge An Already Rocky Marriage

It may surprise you to know that the old man and I are not adventurers. We will never jump out of a plane, never consider it personally fulfilling to scale the Himalayas or even camp locally, so it was with some trepidation that we set off on an adventure last weekend.

 

My arty shots – it’s obvious why the old man had to carry the backpack and that he took the first, blurred photo

 

I had decided in my wisdom that we needed a team-building exercise. Working together from home, in the same space, at different stages of our individual mid-life crises, means that sometimes we forget that there is a world outside and our mutual respect for one another gets lost in the cyberspace of real life and its drudgery. Although we are fortunate to have a beach at the end of the road, I decided that what better way to rekindle the spark of our working partnership than with a challenging hike.

So on Saturday, we bravely left the safety zone of our suburb to head to the Australian bush, in search of paradise – a walking track in the Kuringai National Park that leads to a beach called Flint and Steel. We’ve walked the track before – around seven years ago – when we were younger, fitter, our marriage was stronger, and I imagine it wasn’t thirty degrees in the shade.

I was responsible for making the packed lunch and packing the backpack, while the old man mooched around the house searching for his sunglasses for about an hour. As this was a team-building exercise, on this occasion I didn’t argue with him when he instructed me not to pack for a two-week holiday – mainly because somehow, (and I still don’t know how), I had coerced him to carry the bag so that I could take arty photos (chortle, chortle). So in went a single bottle of water (huge mistake), snake anti-venom, flares, spider anti-venom, a British flag – so that I would remember to “stay calm” in the event of dire straits – and a splint because you can never be too careful in this country. Mentally, I had also allocated the old man’s towel as our ligature and his lunch and water as my rations should we get lost.

The craggy track down to the beach is only about a kilometer, but as you can imagine, the ascent back up is a bitch – think climbing a massive sand dune in Dubai, on your period, and you might get the picture – it is the sort of climb in which it is impossible to carry enough water to keep your wilting body hydrated as  the sun beats unforgivably down on you. Eventually, with your heart ricocheting inside your rib cage and your lungs drained of oxygen, you forget the mechanics of how to breathe completely and death becomes a more favorable option.

The old man scoffed at me when I insisted we take our small beach umbrella – because unfortunately, there are no toilets, coffee shops and very little shade in paradise – although one couple did manage to lug a whole fucking gazebo down with them.

‘Well, you’re carrying it then,’ the old man said, begrudgingly, straight after the row about his baggage allowance and his earlier sarcastic comment, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to get into the backpack as well?’

‘Well, if you don’t mind?’ I had replied before I realized that it was one of his funnier dad jokes.

As I mentioned, the old man is every bit as grumpy, mean and begrudging as I am these days, and he can’t blame menopause. Frankly, I worry about taking him anywhere in public at the moment. Two fifteen-year-olds nearly beat the crap out of him on the tennis court the other day after he accused them (very undiplomatically) of going over into our court time – heaven forbid – and an app to warn cyclists when he is out on the road would definitely be in their interest. Suffice it to say, I spend a lot of my day apologizing for my husband’s behavior and researching male HRT.

It turns out that there is nothing better than a relentless, hot, uphill climb with dangerously-low water supplies to truly unhinge one’s marriage, and it is amazing just how quickly one can forget what was definitely one of life’s moments only minutes before. For in that mountain climb back to civilization, I completely forgot about the clear water of the ocean, the gentle crash of waves and the sand between my toes, set against nature’s background music of mating cicadas and the sway of palm trees in the breeze. How easy it was to forget how smug and grateful to be alive I had felt as I lay on that un-spoilt piece of paradise, where not even the biting ants on my towel or the motor boats with their spluttering engines and squealing, entitled spawn on inflatable donuts, could spoil it for me. No, all I could think about on that walk back up was my miserable AF husband screaming at me to get a move on before we died of sunstroke.

Aqua Aerobics: Welcome To The Middle-Aged Club Of Fitness

Firstly, I believe that this is an appropriate opportunity for me to issue a formal apology to those women that do aqua-aerobics, that I may have slighted in the past with a secret snigger of immaturity as I swaggered past them, head held high, towards the fast lane of the pool.

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Because yesterday, I joined them, and I haven’t laughed as much since the old man tried to walk through a friend’s patio door.

 

The three of you that read my post last week, might remember the video I shared by Randy Pausch here, in which he gave his recommendations for happiness – one of which, was to keep having fun. And as I am leading a rather self-imposed, solitary existence at present, with scant opportunity for a laugh – aside from making fun of my husband – I realized with a sadness the other day that he was right, and that I don’t do anything silly anymore – at least not the kind of public activity that pushes me out of my comfort zone. 

 

Not that aqua aerobics is “silly”, I hasten to add, as I discovered yesterday, but I have to admit that frolicking publicly in water and drawing attention to my shoddy fitness level, middle-aged body, and my age, (due to the stereotyping that only middle-aged women do aqua aerobics, that yes I know, I am guilty of influencing), is something I would have run a mile from in the past.

 

However, there was a relaxing and embracing ambiance when I entered the pool yesterday with twenty or so women my age, who like me, obviously don’t care that much anymore, all of us similarly kitted out in our tummy-flattening cossies and highly unflattering swim caps, one eye focused on the proximity of the nearest toilets at all times. Because…water!

 

At least that was our vibe until Iron Woman, our aqua teacher, rocked up – muscles flexed, tummy taut – the only woman (I believe) that could complete the whole forty-five minute Jane Fonda-esque workout on land ie. no water to absorb the pain and shock to the joints – which led to the swift departure of our gung-ho, ‘we’re-just-here-for-some-fun’ attitude, and in its place, a steely determination to zap our muffin tops.

 

She threw sets of foam dumbells at us, no doubt to wake us up, then cranked up the eighties music on her beatbox – loud enough to scare the mums and bubs in the baby pool next to us – as it became obvious that we weren’t really there to have fun and we sucked in what’s left of our pelvic floors and focused.

 

The last time I did Jane Fonda at a professional level was at high school – an option for those kids with zero hand/eye coordination, who also couldn’t run. But what wonderful memories managed to bypass my early onset dementia as we grape-vined from left to right through the water and pranced around like children, star jumping here, power walking there, all of us without a care in the world – the perfect sample group for a council urine test of the pool.

 

It took me a while to realize that the foam weights only work underwater, where there is resilience, and for a while there I looked like the only mum who’d nicked her teenage son’s festival drugs as I waved my weights around in the air like one of those people that guide aircraft on runways – Job title, anyone? And it was hard work – I could feel the pain in my glutes immediately, and several times caught myself looking longingly towards the café, drooling for the taste of my first muffin of the day.

 

But what a wonderful invention those weights are. You can even put them under your armpits so that you float while you do the leg and tummy exercises – the perfect opportunity for a sneaky gulp of wine from your water bottle, head resting on the lane rope, as you perv on the lifeguards.

 

 

Never Judge A Book By Its Cover

Picture the scene. I’m at the local pool, in the fast lane even though I know that I have no right to be there after two weeks of culinary debauchery and enough alcohol in my body to pickle every organ, but I don’t feel too guilty because there’s some cheeky geriatric in there, too, and we’re eyeballing each other because even though she’s only slightly slower than me there’s an etiquette at the pool and that bitch knows it and should fucking keep to her side of the lane so that I can take over her if I can muster the required amount of speed. swimming-924895_1280

Anyway, suddenly this Adonis enters the pool at the shallow end and the heart rate of every woman over-fifty increases dramatically. His appearance is like all our cougar prayers have been answered at once as his body glides into the water, he fixes his ‘I’m a bonafide swimmer’ cap in place and prepares to take off. Back to the body, which is the body of Thor, and I’m sure that many among us in the water, transfixed by this rare beauty in our pool and with tongues hanging out, are all wondering if he has the hammer to match in those tight little white budgie smugglers that are the only fabric to cover a body as ripped as Channing Tatum’s. And he must be supremely confident, because who the fuck has the sheer impudence to wear white budgie-smugglers? and then further exerts his machismo by waving his muscled arms behind his head in a gesture of warming up and athleticism not usually demonstrated at our pool.

 

And as the sun shines off the water to highlight his perfect, glistening torso, we wait in silent anticipation, mixed with a tinge of sexually-heightened fear, as the only athlete among us adjusts his goggles one final time to show us what a real swimmer does,and  takes off into the water in what can only be described as the most uncoordinated doggy paddle I’ve ever seen, finishing at the other end of the pool a panting disappointment.

 

It was a harsh reminder never to judge a book by its cover.

 

Which is a behaviour we’re all guilty of sometimes, mainly because we’re human and because we get indoctrinated and brainwashed by the media and ignorance. And in the same way that I was oh-so guilty of several second looks, provoked by anxiety, at certain individuals on my plane the other day, after all the hype about terrorism and the terrible sadness that very same day after the latest plane crash, we need to close our minds to stereotyping and the panic it can create.

 

Just as my son has been unfairly judged when people see the slashes on his arms and the scars on his legs, and others are misjudged for their own marks of self-expression or pain, sometimes we need to stop and think and understand that life is rarely black and white and that there is more complexity than we realise. We need to recognise that perhaps the boy with the shaved head does so because he thinks it makes him look tougher, less vulnerable and less likely to be picked on by the bully who has probably dealt with other sorts of shit that have made him so insensitive to that boys needs. We need to understand that that same boy cannot leave the house at all sometimes due to the brutal constraints of anxiety.

 

Adonis may have been a disappointment to us middle-aged saddos in the pool, but luckily we recognised that his swimming technique is probably one tiny microscopic element of his persona that is forgivable.

 

 

Fear of Ageing and How I Wish I’d Started Walking Years Ago

I apologise sincerely for neglecting you this past week, although I did warn you that I was about the enter a period of life-sucking demands from the day job, and it’s only today that I’ve managed to raise my head above water again. walker-1208261_1280

So I’m finally squeezing out a post so you don’t forget about me, because aside from prioritising my daily walks and wine consumption, I’ve achieved very little this week apart from working like a bitch and becoming an expert at moaning about it.

 

I’ve noticed that the old man has escaped to the driving range more than usual.

 

‘Walking’ has maintained my sanity this week. In fact ‘walking’ has become a game-changer in my life recently, and without wanting to sound like a complete twat, I’ve been thinking for a while now about my appreciation for this simple pleasure which has personally become one of the major benefits of getting older for me.

 

Because about half-way through my daily walk, when my dwindling muscles have finally reached acceptance that they have to work and warm up, my legs begin to coordinate (vaguely) with each other and my digestive system has given up on all thoughts of food, my feet do eventually begin to glide majestically along the boardwalk at Lavender Bay and I can then chew over the fat of my life.

 

I’m still an amateur walker, not one of those seriously healthy women that pound past me on the pavement, head-to-foot in the latest baby-blue Lorna Jane attire, yet I’m still amazed by how much good energy it generates within me. Had I possessed the maturity and wisdom to appreciate the benefits of this exercise in my youth, rather than scorn it,(when I still had some vitality), I might be in a different place mentally and physically today.

 

But unfortunately, the only sport I took any serious interest in during my twenties was drinking. It would be futile to knock that choice now, when I’m aware that we all need to travel a different journey to adulthood and its wisdom, and it is often our mistakes that shape us the most, nevertheless, my mind certainly might be in a healthier state now if I’d allowed myself to be more at one with nature back then; and fed my soul rather than pickling it.

 

The climate in the UK had a lot to answer for, too, being more conducive to the pub lifestyle than a healthy one, and despite the knowledge that regrets are pointless, I admit to being envious of the millennials that leave me in their wake as they stride ahead of me on my walks; women who have so much more information at their fingertips than we did, about health and exercise and diet.

 

I sometimes wonder that if I’d had that knowledge back then, if it would have changed my path.

 

But probably not.

 

Yet there’s no denying that even a low-impact exercise such as walking is more challenging now, what with an irritating lower back issue that has hounded me since I carried Kurt, and the twinges in one knee whenever I walk uphill. I know I’m not the only one to suffer from these common ailments of ageing – they tend to be the topic of choice at most of the social events we attend these days – where once we bragged about our children, we now bemoan our premature health issues.

 

It seems that while there is a mutual, innate fear of not doing enough to help prolong our lives, it’s balanced by the fear of overdoing it, and doing more harm than good.

 

Skiing and running are seen as risky, and the status of knees can dominate conversation; only to be rivalled by the interest generated by which private health company you’re with.

 

But as NC so often reminds me, fear is a prison so I’ll take the risks to my knees and continue to walk, because giving up is almost as terrifying as getting old.

The Reality Of Those Damned Middle-Aged Fitness Resolutions

We’ve reached the end of the first week of January, so I wondered how everyone’s doing with their fitness resolutions? Or are you, like me, surreptitiously gorging on carbs and quaffing wine when no-one’s looking?

woman jogging in park at morning

 

I’ve been walking/jogging for the past ten days. I say ‘jogging’, but my pace is actually somewhere between a fast walk and a jog; I suppose it’s progress of sorts.

 

I’ve decided that the best way to attack and succeed in my personal goals this year is if I’m mentally and physically stronger. Gyms have never been my style because they’re too enclosed, have people and I get cabin fever, so I’m trying to find something I can do in the fresh air that doesn’t involve sweating embarrassingly, too much tit wobbling and running up hills.

 

Anyhow, I came up with this plan where I walk up hills and then jog/fast walk on the flat and down hill; that is until a ‘friend’ pointed out last weekend that I will fuck up my knees if I run downhill now I’m middle-aged, so now I just jog on the flat.

 

Although my fitness goals are nothing to do with losing weight (lying), it has been hard for my vanity to completely erase the awful memory last year when my client’s daughter asked her mother if I was pregnant.

 

What I keep trying to remind myself is that being middle-aged, I’ve got an excuse for being a bit porky but it’s hard not to get sucked into the obsessiveness of confusing fitness with weight loss, and inevitably I started the week with that whole soul-destroying drudgery of weighing myself every day. Which I know is the wrong thing to do because two days into my new regime I had gained half a kilo – most likely due to the late descent into my belly of that body weight of pate and French bread I stuffed into my gob at the New Year’s Day party to compensate for no fucking alcohol. Nevertheless it was a huge blow to my confidence…and the point at which I usually fail, miserably.

 

So from this point on I will only weigh myself once a week and I will starve myself for 24 hours and get an enema beforehand.

 

Exercise is all well and good when you’re feeling upbeat and positive but so much harder once you’re back at work, carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Today my feet felt like heavy, pneumatic drills, digging into the concrete, added to which it was windy so my brain kept calculating over and over again how the wind velocity would affect the results of my workout – something I shall have to consult the astronaut about because I can rely on him to give me some convoluted scientific mumbo jumbo for an answer that I have no chance of understanding but will want to hear, if I promise him a free bottle of vino.

 

Before this week, the old man would occasionally lower his standards and accompany me. We have very different levels of fitness obviously, him being an unemployed bum and all, with so much free time to waste on exercise. But we made it work. He would run up and down several miles of steps while I plodded down a very steep hill, say, or do five circuits to my one. But now I can sense that he is just too competitive to come out with me anymore.

 

My suggestion that he put bricks in a rucksack, tie his arms behind his back or wear a blindfold as handicaps seems to have fallen on deaf ears and it’s obvious he just can’t force his athletic (his words) body to decelerate to my pace, so I am a lone wolf on the streets again.

 

But I’m trying to remain positive…

 

Fuck middle-aged weight gain. Fuck fitness. Fuck resolutions.

Nailing The Middle-Aged Beach Routine

Yes, we have become THAT middle-aged couple who go to the beach, fully prepared, military-style, for Hurricane Patricia or a tsunami at the very least. 

Nailing The Middle-Aged Beach Routine
Obviously this image bears absolutely no resemblance to us on the beach.

Because when you’re middle-aged, anxiety makes damned sure that you’re super-prepared for any eventuality. It’s not like when you were young, free and impulsive and just threw on any old bikini, grabbed any towel and spent the whole day oblivious to potential skin melanomas, what sand does when it gets in your vagina or under your foreskin and dehydration.

The old man and I have become professional middle-aged beach goers.

We know exactly where to get our sneaky parking spot, we only go to the north end of the beach where the rocks are so dangerous we know there won’t be any young families, and we arm ourselves with every conceivable means of sun protection.

Which, I know, kind of begs the question why we actually go to the beach at all?

He ALWAYS carries the beach bag and beach chairs; I ALWAYS carry the beach brolly and lunch. Obviously, I can’t trust him with our sandwiches until we get onto the beach.

We even take our own home-made sandwiches, fresh fruit and water these days – to save money. Because we’re THAT middle-aged and seriously classy all at the same time.

Those days when we took bottles of cold beer and chips seem like a lifetime ago now.

Once we arrive on the beach we have our routine of setting up our ‘spot’, which takes place with military precision, each knowing what the other’s responsibilities are. Out come the his n’hers beach chairs with matching towels, the brolly is erected and sun screen applied – which takes a bit longer these days due to our increased surface areas – then we sit on aforementioned beach chairs, (until they start hurting our backs), people-watch and wonder what the fuck to do with ourselves.

Nailing The Middle-Aged Beach Routine
Sandy sandwich

‘I bet you eat your sandwich within ten minutes of getting to the beach,’ I had joked with the old man on the way this morning. Because we have interesting conversations like that in the car.

‘What am I doing for the first ten minutes, then,’ he joshed back.

Hilarious

Today was an all-time record when he began to talk about his sandwich within one minute of our bums sinking indelicately into our beach chairs, and within five he had opened the foil like an over-excited school boy and promptly dispensed the contents that I had so lovingly chosen for him straight onto the sand.

Karma!

Shouldn’t have moaned about the pesto, I thought, as those always-hungry, scary white beach birds began to surround us to scavenge.

All oxygen in our two square metres of sand was extricated immediately from the atmosphere as I watched the old man fight internally his need to have a full-blown, middle-aged, man-trum, while even the annoying, scary white birds stood back with a ‘Whoa’ and watched on in embarrassment.

But luckily, it was just my fault again…apparently due to my poor ‘sandwich packing’ skills.

Ha ha!

Lunch over, and the disappointment of that very fact settling in, we searched the beach for something to entertain us now that the old man had eaten and my fair skin was beginning to turn a redder shade of burnt, in spite of the immense diameter of my wide-brimmed hat which shaded all the families within a 10m radius of our ‘spot.’ From the old man’s perspective, I imagine that all visible boobs had been duly noted and scored, and from mine, I had picked out all male torsos worth perving on behind dark glasses later in the day, while the old man took his afternoon nap.

But luckily we still had our walk to look forward to, with a warm up just getting our asses back out of our sunken beach chairs. We’ve become rather sucked into the 10,000 steps a day philosophy for fitness, recently – apparently it’s called ‘incidental’ fitness, but I can assure you there’s nothing fucking ‘incidental’ about walking ten kilometres.

But we were yet to experience another tinge of disappointment upon our return when the Apple fitness device informed us that by the end of our walk a mere 4000 steps had been used up, in spite of dragging our feet through thick, hot sand the full length of the beach and back like lost Bedouins.

Nothing that a nice few glasses of cold wine won’t put right this evening, though.

What it does mean, however, is that today’s loser will have to run up the four flights of stairs to the apartment (several times) rather than take the lift, just to equalise.

I ignored the unsubtle teasing of the old man in the car as he kept reminding me that ‘there can only be one winner, Lou.’

These little competitions keep us together and mentally astute.

The sport of beach napping is the reward for enduring the middle-aged beach visit. However, there are certain rules about letting it all hang out while unconscious in a public place: you must lie on your front so that the beach towel can perform its duty of soaking up nap dribble and muffin top sweat, which has a nasty habit of trickling the length of all tummy folds and forming puddles beneath you.

But once in the right position, (ie.a position that you can raise yourself up from afterwards without the need of a younger, helping hand, all the while remaining as attractive as you can, prostrate on the unevenness of sand mounds), beach napping is a task that us middle-aged couples find particularly exhilarating and are very adept at.

And it makes all the torture associated with sand and sun management just about bearable.

Exercise And Listening To The Needs Of Your Body In Middle Age

Imbruglia lying on a bed topless.
Imbruglia lying on a bed topless. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I chose to listen to the physical needs of my body yesterday, and remain in bed, even though my nagging brain was telling me to ‘run, fat girl, run.’

It took all my willpower not to throw on my runners and leggings and jump out of bed, straight into the gym.

Jokes aside, making exercise a part of my weekly routine is a constant battle between mind and body, and one that torments me daily. I’ve accepted that menopause and age are determined to make me fat, but it’s hardly fair that they should make me feel listless enough not to fight them as well.

I’ve just been through a really tough few weeks of work, mentally and physically, and at times it felt as though I was sinking into a quagmire of stress.

And the first thing to give is exercise.

I DO know that you have to MAKE TIME for exercise, even though that’s one of the items on my daily to-do list to be completely ignored when I’m bogged down and in the thick of it. Interestingly though, I did manage to make time to watch The Bachelor, bitch at the old man about the quality of his housework, and drink copious vats of wine.

Which is why I don’t think I had ever looked forward to Sunday more. I actually typed the words ‘day off’ in my calendar so that I wouldn’t be tempted to take on more work or check my work inbox for more shit to fuck with my brain.

And while my body might be as resistant to exercise as it is to kale chips, I know I need to do it, not just for the physical benefits, but for the mental positivity it brings, too.

So the plan yesterday was to start my day with long overdue lay-in, and follow it up with a run (*snort*) and soothing swim afterwards.

Obviously when I employ the verb ‘run’, my personal interpretation of the word is no doubt a little different to the general one, having not used my legs for anything more tiring than getting in and out of my car for the past month. The aim is to walk 100m, then increase the speed to a ‘run’ for 100m, or at least until the fear of an embarrassing case of sudden death syndrome on the side of the road overrides my good intentions.

My lay-in, which included three hours of Facebook-trawling in the guise of research for the blog, (my favourite thing in the world to do), was as fulfilling as I had hoped, but apart from naked torso shots of Chris Hemsworth, it doesn’t really get the heart racing, and the internal guilt at being a complete slob threatened to spoil my relaxation during the third hour.

English: Chris Hemsworth at the 2010 San Deigo...
English: Chris Hemsworth at the 2010 San Deigo Comic-Con International. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Around 11am, the old man informed me he was off the gym and I discerned in his tone an accusatory ‘shouldn’t you be out of bed by now?’ Maybe I’m being paranoid, but that sort of passive aggressive behaviour made me suddenly resent him even more than usual and so much more determined to remain there, embroiled in the heat of stale sweat caused by sitting under a heavy winter cover in a thick towelling dressing gown for far too long.

And looking about as far from how Natalie looks above as possible.

Because I am fundamentally a child and despise being told what to do.

But as I heard the front door close on Mr Fucking Smug, I sighed, rolled over and attempted to heave my sticky mass out of bed deciding it was indeed time to give the neighbours some entertainment and pound the streets to get this lardy body feeling the burn.

But the sudden movement must have confused my body, for suddenly my eyes began to glaze over again and the Princess took full advantage of my brief confusion and snuggled in more tightly for her post breakfast, pre-lunch sleep, and I thought ‘Fuck It!, I’m going to listen to my body’.

And if what my body needs to do is rest, then so be it.

The Soul-Destroying Fuckwittage of Dieting

The Soul-Destroying Fuckwittage of Dieting

 

So I do realize how highly unfashionable and politically incorrect it is these days to mention wanting to lose weight, and that we should all proudly flaunt our lardiness as an expression of our inner confidence and contentment, but I have a very good reason for going on a diet.

 

It’s not for some vacuous reason like I think I’ll look more beautiful, or because I aspire to the sylph-like proportions of catwalk models or Disney princesses; or even because as winter approaches, at some point I need to get back into my skinny jeans.

 

It’s simply because in two weeks time I head back to the UK for what will be a marathon event of gluttony with family and friends, as well as some solitary confinement with my father who remains in denial about his alcoholism. Frankly, I’m bloody terrified I won’t fit into my Emirates seat on the flight back.

 

It’s not like I want to drop anything stupid like an extra tyre; a measly 2kgs will suffice.

 

A small steak and kidney pie made as a one cru...
A small steak and kidney pie made as a one crust pie with puff pastry for a lid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

How hard can it be? Stupid, naïve-me thought, (was it only) three weeks ago.

 

You see, I’m not normally THAT vain about my body or weight. I eat healthily, generally – well, apart from at the weekends or when I’m REALLY hungry or hungover. I also try and fit in exercise when there’s absolutely nothing else to do.

 

And I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that as you age, your weight increases at an unnatural and unfair rate, disproportionately to how much your body consumes. I’ve managed to ignore those extra kilos that menopause has unjustly thrown my way without getting my big-girl knickers in a complete twist.

 

But everyone has a line, and I’m over mine now, and I haven’t so much as sniffed a steak and kidney pie yet.

 

And I know that if I cross any further over my line, it will be a slippery slope towards Weightwatchers, Spanx and the plus-size floor of Myer.

 

The problem is… dieting is just so fucking soul-destroying-ingly boring.

 

It’s not like I didn’t do my research before I started denying every aspect of happiness in my life. I read all the books and blog posts about how to go about a diet, sensibly, and came to the conclusion that the only way to really lose weight was by eating less food.

 

In theory.

 

It made sense on paper, but as biologically logical as it sounds, my body refuses to play the game. It has reacted to its sudden reduction in calories as a personal attack on it and the fact that I’m MAKING IT RUN, too, was undeniably the final straw.

 

So…PAYBACK, BITCH!

 

You see, over the past three weeks, I have made healthier food choices: I have halved the amount of expensive, sugary cereal I normally inhale in the morning, I’ve given up red meat and stopped drinking alcohol three days a week. I have either run or swam on alternate days; or done both on days I’ve needed to clear my brain of Kurt stress.

 

Yet, in spite of all this pain I have gained 500g.

 

And this, ladies, is the point where we all fail. Days like these, when you hop on the scales full of hope, only to feel as disappointed as you did when Abbott survived the Lib Spill, inspire failure, not success.

 

They become FUCK IT! days where the local bakery becomes your safe zone again.

 

http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/78952881

 

Because, mathematically speaking, less calories + exercise (should, by rights) = weight loss.

 

So it’s either the jungle for a month or a bean and rice diet, because if Merv Hughes can do it, so can I.

 

 

If you found this post vaguely entertaining, come and share more laughs at my expense on either my Facebook (www.facebook.com/mymidlifemayhem), Twitter (@louisasimmonds) or Instagram (Louisa Simmonds) pages. And by the way, it’s #celebfreddie all the way.

 

How To Change The LifeStyle Of Middle Aged Man

How To Change The Lifestyle Of Middle-Aged Man
Neanderthal by David Smittcamp at http://www.flickr.com

The problem with having to change your lifestyle is having to change to your lifestyle.

 

The old man is suffering from his eighth mid-life crisis in as many years at the moment because he has finally realised that he is in fact mortal like the rest of us and may need to change his lifestyle if he wants to reach his fiftieth birthday.

 

Of course I know that his real fear is that I may get to enjoy all our hard-earned dosh without him. Which is why I’m not completely convinced that my support this increase in his longevity is a totes good idea for me.

 

What he doesn’t seem to have appreciated up until now is that the lifestyle of man has changed historically. No longer hunters and gatherers, kept nutritionally healthy by the Paleo diet and fit from the exertion of chasing dinner, it’s no real surprise that his twelve-hour, sedentary days behind a desk surfing the Internet was bound to have a negative impact on his health.

 

The old man does not do ‘change’ quietly. He proclaims ‘change’ from the rooftops and everyone has to be involved, rather like when he has man flu.

 

He has spent valuable Game of Thrones hours researching on the computer to see what he can eat, drink and do physically to improve his lifestyle, while we wait for him to crash and burn at the first chocolate bar.

 

His doctor insinuated that he could lose a few kilos at his last check up and he also suggested that binge drinking at the weekends should stop. Doctors always run that idea past me too – it’s their job – yet, as I consoled him, I’m still alive and kicking and the perfect role model for healthy living.

 

But we need to let him go through that process of thinking he can change for who am I to burst his bubble?

 

I’ve been instructed that he is longer wants to eat processed food, so last night I made him an appetising dish of Aldi fish and salad. I caught him salivating over the kids chicken pie in the kitchen and it might have been a real tear I saw drop onto the pastry crust as I gave the leftovers to the Princess.

 

I was surprised by the doctor’s comments, to be honest, because since we moved to the city the old man had led us to believe that he was power-walking and running to and from work.

 

And we have kept Nike in business, recently.

 

But alas, it turns out that most days he has been power-walking and running to the train station and living an appalling lie.

 

The ‘drinking’ issue will be harder to control than the change to his diet. Drinking is what we do together. It’s what keeps us together. I can’t imagine Friday night on orange juice but I suppose we have to go through the process until he comes to his senses.