Trusting The Journey: The Secret to Happiness in Middle Age

Being in constant control of everything. The older we get the more we realize how little we actually control. And there’s no good reason to hold yourself down with things you can’t control. Learn to trust the journey, even when you do not understand it. Oftentimes what you never wanted or expected turns out to be what you need.”

Neon sign in shop window that says "I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring."
Photo from Logan Weaver on Unsplash.com

The above is a quote from Marc Chernoff’s article, 20 Things That Will Matter A Lot Less To You in Twenty Years. I assume Marc is younger than me and is predicting the wisdom that often comes with someone my age – 50+ – but clearly I’ve been a slow learner, and it’s only recently that his ideas have started to resonate.

I’d recommend you read the post in full, because there’s tons of great advice in it, or at least advice I’m finding relevant to my life right now. But the one that struck me the most was this one, because I was/am a control freak who tries to fix everything – as my sister recently informed me.

Trust me, you can’t fix everything

It’s only now, in middle age, that I’m finally accepting that I don’t have the superpower to fix everything – no one does, not even those with the money to buy (in theory) whatever they want or need. Money can buy rockets, but it can’t buy your health, for example – as Steve Jobs found out – or love and loyalty.

Money can’t buy everything

This is why we have to learn to trust the journey, as Marc says, and not let the frustration of not being able to control what we can’t make us unhappy or bitter.

To put this idea into context, I have realised that two things have held me back in terms of accepting my lack of control:

  1. The first has been my preoccupation with the past and the victim persona I have allowed myself to adopt as a result of of the trauma I experienced in my childhood. Perhaps, the tendency to self-pity is ingrained in my character – because I can clearly remember an aunt once telling me that I whined a lot as a child, but that may also have been a symptom of my undiagnosed anxiety, feelings of insecurity, or need for perfectionism to feel in control. What I do know now is that those “why me?” feelings aren’t helpful and I allowed them to detract from my happiness. I’m not negating the emotional impact of childhood trauma, but constantly looking back means you get stuck in time and struggle to move forward.
  2. The second is the amount of time I have wasted trying to change my son. I wish I could say that I have spent a lot of time trying to understand his differences, but that would be a distortion of the truth. For too long, I have tried to change him to the son we anticipated – a clone of us, I suppose – and that has caused an enormous amount of pain for both of us. My abortive attempts to change him, fix him, and make him fit into the hole we expected him to slot into have threatened our relationship and I see now that I have tried to carve out his future for him to validate our lives in some way – like there is only one way. It has taken me almost twenty-five years to understand that he must make his own journey, take responsibility for his choices, and I must trust his journey.

I could ask myself why I had to go through that challenge, and trust me, I have, many times. But what is the point?

However, if someone were to ask me if I have learned anything from the experience of raising our son, I would say, hand on heart that it has made me a better person.

Trusting the journey is a simpler way of defining the best way to make the most of this precious opportunity of life. And what I love about the expression is that rather than define our mission around the social construct we have been sold in the west – that success is intrinsically linked to financial success – it redefines it as learning to accept whatever journey life gives us.

I now understand that happiness is directly linked to accepting whatever life throws at us

It is about making the best of the hand you are given. It is accepting that there is only so much you can do to control your life and the lives of others. I’ve had countless why me? moments during my journey with our son and there’s no way I could have prepared myself mentally for the anguish we have experienced, but when I look back on the aspirations of my twenties, I realise I was lucky – I got what I wanted. I have been happy and loved, many times over.

So maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves. Maybe, we should set ourselves a lower bar and measure our success by whether we can meet our basic needs, like so many people in the world must. Can we put food on our table? Is our health good? Do we have a roof over our heads?

Because once we meet our our basic needs, surely everything else is a bonus?

The wisdom of middle age and the experience of a decade of renting houses have shown me that material things, and in particular where I live, are minor contributors to my happiness. Living in Australia, a rich country where the main focus of the lifestyle is outdoors, may make that easier, but for me the value of my home is in its functionalism. It is somewhere to invite family and friends and it protects me from the elements.

“‘The good life’ begins when you stop wanting a better one.” (Nkosiphambili E. Molapis)

And ‘experiences’ are where I am choosing to place my time, money and energy in the future. Because, finally, I understand the power of a beautiful sunset, a walk in nature, a check-in from a friend, a new food, a new cocktail or an impromptu gathering of friends to reset me, which why all those things hold so much more value than the size of my living room.

A minimalist lifestyle is the key to happiness

I have a habit of saying annoying things like “It is what it is” and “What will be will be”, but those expressions don’t mean I’ve given up on my dreams, they mean that finally I am trusting my journey and I’ve never felt less pressure in my life.

Does Pain Make Life More Meaningful? How I Navigated The Shit Show That Was 2021

I have been sitting on this post for several weeks. Partly because I am struggling to write anything cohesive at the moment, and partly because I can’t make this a “things I was grateful for in 2021” post with which to wrap up the past year.

Not even the most optimistic blogger could reframe 2021 as a great year. Months of lockdown, fears about catching COVID, distance from family and friends, and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness have ensured that the past twelve months were a shit show for many of us.

Girl leaning against tree looking empowered, resilient

The Australian government did a reasonable job of tackling the pandemic, but who knows what the real, longterm cost will be to our mental health and the economy. And it is terrifying to think about how many other important policies have been sidetracked to save us from this virus, not to mention their lacklustre approach to climate change, their ongoing lack of commitment to women’s issues, and the arrogance of our PM on the international stage.

But this isn’t a political blog and several personal challenges last year, that started with a serious health-scare in February, have been followed by a problematic transition into semi-retirement.

Did I really feel optimistic in January?

But we were in a different situation back then. Our family had just survived a lockdown Christmas and re-entered the world with the excitement of William Shatner on his descent back to earth, optimistic and eager to move onto the next phase of our lives.

So blinded was I by the excitement of what semi-retirement would bring me, I forgot that the finger of fate is always on the button and that it would take more than a fancy-pants new computer to fulfil my grandiose intentions of becoming the next Sally Rooney. Hence, when the emotional ramifications of the pandemic dried up my creative juices like a harsh summer in the Northern Territory and I couldn’t string even a few words together or achieve anything other than watching back-to-back episodes of New Amsterdam, the year started to unravel.

I wondered whether my lack of motivation was caused by menopause or if some greater force was at work

Was I suffering from a case of minor PTSD related to COVID, or had I simply underestimated the disparity between the expectations of retirement and the reality? Whatever the reason for my lethargy, my focus went out the window and I spent most of the year wandering aimlessly around the apartment.

The difficulties that some people experience during the infamous transition into retirement are well-documented, but in my defence, what the brochures fail to mention is that you don’t suddenly land in some nirvana after your last day at work. You still have to balance the books, care for those in need, and worry about the unknowns, currently under the permanent shadow of a pesky virus that appears to morph into something even scarier each time it mutates.

Then there’s the overthinking that accompanies your approaching mortality. I mean…don’t get me wrong, I am inordinately grateful to be still be here with a wealth of choices, but what has materialised so far will require some adaptation. For example: Having waited my whole adult life to implement a proper fitness routine, my body has conveniently decided to degenerate with the speed of light since I acquired my new gym membership.

And I’ve lost count of the number of conditions ending in itis I’ve suffered from this year, none of which I’d heard of before

But my biggest bete noire has been my preponderance to overthink. “Existential crisis” doesn’t cover the number of Camus moments I’ve experienced in my quest to work out exactly what my purpose is now. I have days when I feel guilty about not being productive enough and days when I feel guilty about taking on too much and not making the most of this wonderful privilege of free time. The only thing I have recognised is the underlying pressure to reinvent myself and redefine my purpose.

I would struggle to answer the question of what I do right now

Like most retirees, when people ask what I do, I bore the pants off them with how busy I am. And I am busy: I write a lot – although, very little worth publishing; I read and file a lot of research; I try to stay fit within the allowances of my degenerating body, and I attempt to live vicariously through the lives of my children – albeit, they don’t seem as keen on that idea.

But what am I actually achieving? And do I need to achieve anything?

My single accomplishment from this year’s shit show has been my clearer understanding that LIFE IS HARD for everyone, an acknowledgement that has carried me through many difficult moments and highlighted the importance of resilience to me again.

Fundamentally, I have always believed that resilience is the key to happiness but in the past I struggled with the in-egalitarianism of that idea, i.e., why some people (seemingly) sail through life whilst others struggle through no fault of their own.

I never quite understood the “pain makes you stronger” theory because I allowed the traumas of my childhood to define me. Unlike some people, I struggled to harness my pain and transform it into a strength. Instead, I chose to wallow in it, allowing it to weaken and control me.

I chose to be a victim

Unfortunately, victimhood has served as the perfect excuse for my inadequacies, my fragility, my tendency towards mild depression and my struggles with work and parenting. It makes sense that if your emotional battery has never been fully charged, you go flat much more quickly when faced with challenging life situations like parenting, relationship disharmony and rejection, which must increase your predisposition to mood disorders. And as I discovered recently, difficult transitions like middle age – when there is more time to overthink the meaning of life – can also be a trigger.

The struggles of people who have suffered trauma are valid – as proven by research into the longterm effects on their potential and mental health – but I’ve come to understand that being a victim is neither a healthy option nor a solution to my low moods.

So how do you stop the pain?

For years, I masked my low-grade depression with self-medication. I still do, to a degree. I had to, because despite my awareness that no one leads a charmed life, my anxiety-induced perfectionism and hypersensitivity ensured that the knocks hit me harder.

But this year, I had the time for an epiphany. Tired of wondering why the fuck I couldn’t enjoy what (by most standards) is a pretty good life, I spent the year experimenting with different strategies and medications – HRT in combo with my anti-depressants – in an attempt to change my outlook. I took the opportunity provided by COVID’s restrictions to rest, exercise harder and create boundaries in relationships that were becoming toxic. In brief, I sought a way to approach the rest of my life in a way that suits my brain.

I chose to live by two maxims:

1) “Life is shit and then you die”. Because when you expect the worst, (which you do when you suffer from anxiety), things can only get better;

2) And “Tomorrow is another day”. Because time does indeed move relentlessly forward and dwelling for too long on the unfairness and the absurdities of life is clearly a waste.

Now, I realise that to the optimist that those maxims sound ridiculously defeatist, but they work for me.

Which brings me back to the question of whether pain makes life more meaningful?

Maybe. I haven’t experienced life from the other side, so I suppose I will never know what might have been. What I will say categorically is that my pain has shaped me in many ways for the better despite my moans about the negative impact of my trauma. I believe the knocks have shaped me into a kinder, more compassionate person – if not a happier, stronger one.

The writer, Paul Bloom, an advocate of this theory, agrees. He says:

“Some degree of misery and suffering is essential to a rich and meaningful life.”

And I think he has a point. Maybe we do have to experience pain to understand our purpose here. The gift of semi-retirement has given me the time to look at my life more closely, to separate its different elements and compartmentalise. All those cliched strategies for people with depression – walking in nature, fortifying relationships with family and friends, standing up for my rights, and being more self-compassionate – have helped me develop more resilience and autonomy.

Anxious people like me place an inordinate amount of pressure on themselves to lead perfect lives and then, when they don’t succeed, they see themselves as failures. But as Mofiyinfoluwa Okupe’s points out in her article on Medium, though many of us may have come through the past twelve months without any outstanding achievements, we must remember that some of us have “fought different, less glamorous battles…clawed through {our} own darkness and now {we’re} standing in the light.”

Every year brings a mix of highs and lows, and good stuff did happen to me this year: I caught a potentially life-threatening Melanoma in time, I watched my children continue to grow with pride, I discovered what I can only describe as the spirituality of swimming in cold water, and I fell more deeply in love with my husband. I have also been fortunate to live in a democracy that provides a wonderful healthcare system and (for the most part) promotes values I agree with.

And so, I will leave you with one final, simple quote which I hope inspires you as much as it did me, or at the very least helps you reframe your pain if it is holding you back.

“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” Gratitude Addict

Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash.

Make A Proper Apology, Trevor, And Learn From This Experience

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Portrait of an Aboriginal woman in western dress. Part of the Walter Herbert Bradshaw collection in the exhibition Unruly Days: Territory Life 1911-1921, Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, Northern Territory. Michael J Barritt on Flickr.

There is no doubt that the derogatory comment Trevor Noah made five years ago about Aboriginal women was appalling and a foolish error of judgment. As an advocate for equal rights and a comedian of mixed race himself, who has himself admitted that ‘My mom used to get arrested for being with my dad. She would get fined. She would spend weekends in jail,’ I fail to understand the brain snap he must have experienced to take such a shockingly cruel potshot at this vulnerable and defenseless group, no matter how desperate he was for success at that time.

However, as Ben Pohble pointed out on Twitter, (in typical tongue and cheek fashion), by way of his response to the planned boycott of Noah’s upcoming Australian tour: “No, every single thing we have ever said and done in our lives should be held against us forever. Duh.”

Because if we were all held to account for every mistake we made, Prince Harry would have had a quiet wedding, Churchill would have been sacked several times over, and Trump would have never made President.

As it says in the Bible, ‘Let he that has not sinned cast the first stone.’

No, we are human and we all make mistakes, and as long as we learn from them, make our apologies to those concerned – or pay the consequences if required – we need to accept this fallibility of human nature, as just that.

We are learning all of the time; through each stage of our lives. That’s one of the best bits about our short time on earth, and new learning contributes to our growth and sense of purpose. Ten years ago, I wasn’t a vocal feminist, a writer or a potential influencer for wine companies –  yet, like a fine wine, I have evolved with age. An avid desire to learn has had a direct influence on my personal growth – and if I’m honest, I’ve probably learned far more from my mistakes than my successes.

And to my mind, more change has happened to alter our social conscience over the past few years than in the decades before. The potency of the internet has given each and every one of us a voice to share our opinions, which means that what we say and do can be transported around the globe in a nano-second – quite a terrifying responsibility for people that rely on the medium to make a living and one that  makes me think twice every time I put a word on a page.

While I can’t imagine that Trevor is quaking in his boots right now about the proposed boycott of his tour in Australia, I suspect that he will be ashamed that this video has been dredged up. He and his team will have gone into damage control to protect his reputation as a professional, a fighter of discrimination and a genuinely nice lad. No-one wants to be labeled a racist, least of all someone who has spoken so openly to leverage awareness about the problem.

Is it right to pull up a man with such talent and with such a prominent voice in the fight against racism, for a single performance, for one mistake that happened a long time ago, before many of us were fully educated about discrimination? Before Trump, before #metoo, before same-sex marriage.

Make a proper apology, Trevor, to the beautiful Aboriginal women of Australia who thought you were on their side, and learn from this experience.

We Owe It To The People Suffering To Live Our Lives To The Full

27047393_10155000472936277_225680280_o-684x1030+2The news doesn’t seem to get any better and I expose myself to it daily in search of inspiration for my writing. While physical empaths are people that absorb the physical symptoms of others, I absorb the anguish of others and the unfairness in their lives, and that transference has a direct impact on my mood and mental health.

Poor me!

Stories such as the shooting of the two teenagers by their father last week in Sydney and articles and fiction I’ve been reading about the victims of our under-serviced mental health system can turn a promising day into a bad one.

And then, occasionally, a post like this one from Victoria.com catches my eye. I shared it last week on my FB page because I recognised it as an important reminder not to wish our lives away or forget to make the most of every opportunity. Many of us are guilty of packing so much into our lives that we find ourselves looking ahead all of the time rather than relishing every precious moment. In my case,  I waste far too many hours brooding about the problems that I can’t change in the world. I consume the pain of others and carry it around with me. It diffuses through my pores and weighs me down until the shame of my privilege feels like survivor’s guilt.

And seriously, what right do I have to pretend to know anything about the suffering of the mother of those teenagers?

At one point during the lunch I described in my last post – as I was sinking the final mouthful of perfectly-cooked lemon meringue tart into my mouth whilst bemoaning the migrant crisis – one of the other guests pointed out to me the danger and futility of absorbing everyone else’s pain. The point he was trying to make, I believe, was that life is too short to waste beating ourselves up about things we cannot change. We have one journey and we need to make it a good one.

Which is selfish, right? And for a second, the serial (wannabe) do-gooder in me, reared up defensively like a snake on behalf of all of those suffering right now in the world, while I digested the perfect steak with my perfect friends. I wanted to remind him that we should all be doing more. I wanted the eight of us to get up the following morning and enlist in a world aid association or train to become mental health nurses.

But instead, I bit my tongue – because, as painful as it was to admit, I knew that he had a point.

My own time is running out. Each of us has an internal timer, and none of us knows when it will stop. And there is another part of me – that I secretly despise – that wants to put myself first now as illness begins to ravage people my age to remind me of my mortality. Life is short – indeed, it is getting worryingly shorter. We get one bite at the cherry. And while we can be mindful of the plight of others and lend our support in whatever small ways we can, we have to make the most of this, our one opportunity at living.

While I thought about those boys and their parents in Thailand, I recognised that they needed something greater than my compassion – whether that was a God or the wonderful people that risked their own lives to save them. We can’t fix everything.

I have been lucky enough to have been given the opportunity of a good life. No road is free of dips and I have been forced to fix some potholes along the way, yet I have never looked at the smooth tarmac of others and felt resentment. To use a monetary term, we live within our means, with the hand we are given.

How many times have you been shocked to hear someone who has been seriously ill or faced a tragedy admit that they are glad it happened? Because it made them recalibrate and appreciate life for what it is – in all its beauty, brevity and fragility. Those people are our inspiration, and we owe it to them to live our lives to the full. 

Living One Day At A Time And Being Content With What We Have

4939a1e96f466bb6214bb62cd62c9e12A successful designer, seemingly with the world at her feet, takes her own life. Her body is found in her New York apartment with a note that will devastate her family and change the course of her young daughter’s life forever. One thing is certain: she achieved success in the way that the west determines success, and yet, something was still missing. She didn’t ‘have it all’.

We will never know or perhaps understand the demons that led Kate Spade to make the ultimate sacrifice, but if there is one thing to take from this tragedy, it is that happiness cannot be bought, a belief shared by a young eighteen-year-old boy in another section of the news today. Jake Bailey was diagnosed with cancer at the age of eighteen – discovered in the dentist’s chair following a pain in his jaw – whereupon he was given three weeks to live, without treatment. He survived, and his experience has taught him the invaluable lesson of embracing life, each hour, each day, each tiny, magical moment.

 

To take one day at a time.

 

Meanwhile, Matt Haig, whom I’ve quoted on this blog before  – author of “Reasons To Stay Alive,” “Notes On A Nervous Planet” (out in July), and advocate for increasing mental health awareness – is considering removing his presence from Twitter due to the abuse leveled at his comments about positivity, gratitude and empathy for those struggling with mental health issues.

 

He wrote this comment on Twitter this morning, which resonated with me after reading of the tragic death of Kate Spade.

 

‘We need to radically change the idea of ‘having it all’ so that it includes contentment. Without it, ‘all’ is nothing.’

 

Most of us are guilty of jumping ahead of ourselves, planning for the future and not living in the now. The old man and I do it. We tie ourselves in knots, worrying so much about whether we’ll have the money to retire, that we forget to “live”. We wasted many years aspiring to meaningless symbols of materialism, that for the most part didn’t make us happy – (Apart from the Lexus – the Lexus made me happy!). And then, when finally we think we have it all and yet somehow still haven’t hit the sweet spot of contentment, we question why.

 

Imagine if all we had to think about was our survival? There are many examples of tribes and cultures around the globe that only have to consider living from one day to the next, that live a happy, fulfilled existence. Whereas globally, one person suicides every forty seconds, according to the World Health Organization, and the occurrence of “depression” is highest in the US – ‘the land of opportunity and dreams.’ It is lowest in Japan, a country that has adopted a simplicity in their approach to life, such as its practice of Kintsugi – the art of repairing broken pottery with gold rather than replacing it with new.

 

‘While the general Western consensus on broken objects is that they have lost their value, practitioners and admirers of Kintsugi believe that never-ending consumerism is not a spiritually rewarding experience.’ (Make)

 

Or as Val Jon Farris says in the Huffington Post:

 

‘It is the practice of focusing one’s intention on life’s hidden beauty and power.’

 

Fundamentally, is loving ourselves, valuing and being content with what we have.

 

 

In The End, We’re All Just Human Beans

BFG1

I had my second day-surgery last week; a procedure called an Endometrial Ablation, and the medical profession’s latest attempt to stop my uterus from going all Tarantino on me each month.  For any of you middle-aged women out there still suffering a Red Wedding-style of monthly – I’ll let you know if it works.

 

In the meantime, I thought I’d tell you about what I gained from the experience of being stuck in a hospital bed, on a mixed ward and opposite an Olympic farter, for a day. Because I’ve decided, (post-surgery), that being in a hospital has to be the best leveler, or the best reminder, as Roald Dahl would say, that we’re all just human beans.

 

Moreover, I do believe that these sorts of experiences, (once in a while), are vital for ramming home just how completely fucking privileged we are with the access we have to a medical care system that takes my uterus tantrums seriously – although trust me when I say, it never gets any easier to open your legs to strangers.

 

However, I couldn’t fault the care. In fact, if I had to rate the service with some Airbnb-style feedback, I would go as far as saying that the level of attention from my hot, thirty-something anesthetist was the stuff of dreams – although I’m certain he sees sad, middle-aged women with degrees in talking gibberish and the misguided belief that they can flirt in a barely-there hospital gown, most days.

 

Indeed, considering I was merely a number in a very busy hospital system, everyone endeavored to make me as comfortable as possible. And while I’m not naive enough to assume that my top-notch care was only about making my uterus like me a little more – I am aware that litigation is a threatening dark cloud that puts a huge amount of extra pressure and undue stress on our doctors – the name, temperature and blood pressure checks were reassuring for someone who had already made preparations for her imminent death.

 

Coincidentally – and this is possibly the best example of a segue you’ll see this week – just prior to the time that I was tidying up my lady garden in preparation for Dr. Hot’s close examination, I also signed up for a local community drive to assist in the assembly of a thousand birthing kits for women in Africa.

29468785_10156192410316788_3552530723703357440_nThis, you may be appalled to know, is the level of care those lucky women receive when they GIVE BIRTH. And while I’m not showing you this to highlight my pathetically privileged contribution to people less fortunate than myself – and I am also aware that in the grand scheme of things, my assembly of a few hundred kits (over some very pleasant chit-chat about the health benefits of Kombucha and keeping chickens with new friends) is unlikely to change the world – if my meagre contribution does improve the sanitation, experience, and outcome for a few women, it has got to be worth three hours of my time that I would normally waste on the beach or at the mall. Because, I don’t know about you, but the more I read about discrimination towards immigrants and those in poverty, the more shame I feel. And no, Dad, not just because I’ve turned into a raging feminist leftie, in spite of how you raised me. I mean, how come I get a shiny, clean white robe for a minor procedure and on the other side of the world women are still giving birth in fields?

 

Which meant that as I sat there in my unflattering white robe and socks in my hospital bed, feeling vulnerable and scared as shit, I realized that albeit just another number on the hospital minor procedures list that day, I was a number that counted. And surely everyone deserves that level of security? Seriously, all I had to worry about as I shuffled my bum nervously across to the operating table, was sucking in my muffin top and not flashing my wibbly bits to Dr. Hot. I didn’t have to consider infection, loss of power, OR BLEEDING OUT. I took my safety on that table for granted, when sadly, millions of other human beans don’t have that privilege.

Your Fifties: The Make Or Break Age Where Bad Decisions And Bad Genes Can Catch Up

c360d830ff6fe6d59c4cd99911501992It is always a shock to hear about the death or illness of celebrities around our own age. While I don’t believe that their lives are more special than mine, it can be hard not to secretly suspect that their barbeque areas aren’t paved with gold.

 

Which was why the passing of Emma Chambers at 53 and Stephen Fry’s cancer diagnosis were all the more shocking this week. Without meaning to give them god-like status, it’s easy to assume that these people are untouchable, for no other reason than they have the money to pay their way out of death.

 

Not true, sadly.

 

I don’t know Emma and Stephen personally, but the gifts of the arts and culture are their reach and the poignant way they touch our souls. The works of these two, in particular,  have resonated with me on different levels: I have followed Fry’s struggles with depression and tested my stress incontinence several times watching Emma in Notting Hill and The Vicar of Dibley.

 

Emma was 53, Stephen is 60 – similar in age to myself – a make or break period where the poor decisions of youth and bad genes can start to catch up. I’m not afraid to admit that I get a bit scared when I look back at all the cigarettes I rolled in my twenties.

 

Worse, I know from experience that death is forgotten, quicker than any of us would like. Not because of our shallowness or callousness, but because of its inevitability, because of the prolonged pain from dwelling upon it, the busy-ness of life and the salient reminder to squeeze every last drop out of it.

 

So I’ve decided that I want to die from a long illness – words I imagine I will eat should my fate work out that way – and in spite of the inevitable pain and suffering that decision will cause to my others and myself. I want the luxury of being able to say my goodbyes, and in a perverse way, I want to feel spoiled during my last moments. I want everyone to focus on me for once, and the role I played in their lives. I don’t care if there’s a wake or a party – I’ll be dead anyway.

 

Thanks for the laughs, Emma. Good luck, Stephen.

 

Family and friends: FYI, I don’t like grapes, but weirdly I am quite partial to wine.

Ever Feel You’ve Lost Your Way?

I posted this meme on my Instagram page this week and it obviously resonated with my followers, so I thought I’d share it with you.

 

I have a morbid addiction to allowing those “bad chapters” in my life cloud the good ones, and sometimes the clouds get really dark and fluffy, and no matter how many “gratitude” posts I read or how many  memes about happiness I am inspired by, I can’t seem to clear them and retrieve the happiness from my soul.

 

You know that I am generally a glass half-full gal, (full to the brim if I can get away with it), who is only too aware of each person’s responsibility for their own happiness and the importance of living life to the full. And in general, I am quite proactive when it comes to soul-searching and finding impulsive short-term solutions to my problems.

 

But this time, I have struggled to find my way out of the maze.

 

I gave up one of the best jobs I’ve had a few months ago because mentally I wasn’t coping with its demands alongside the impact of other forces in my life, and I needed to take some time out to mend my broken wings. The loss of my salary – as pitiful as it is – means that we are cutting our cloth accordingly, (although not as short as the old man would like), hence the fourteenth house move.

 

The idea was to try “something else”, which was to be “writing”, you might remember, and the dream started off well. In the first month of my “sabbatical”, I returned to my manuscript, signed up for some courses, got my blog into better shape than it had been for a while and I felt excited. I was ready.

 

Not even the first rejections that began to dribble into my mailbox put me off and I managed to brush their implication aside. I know the story of JK Rowling’s difficult road to publication by heart and as I am obviously the next JK, I was mentally prepared for those evil little reality checks. What I was less prepared for was the outcome of my other dead cert plan during my time out – to get my son’s life on track while I was at home. Stupidly, I believed that under my supervision, his life would fall directly into place and when it didn’t – hasn’t – my confidence began to flounder. I questioned my purpose.

 

As a creative, you can guarantee that as soon as you start to question your purpose, your ideas dry up and all productivity comes to a grinding halt. And again, even though the advice to writers is to keep writing through a “block” – even if the only words you get onto the page are a load of old bollocks – my focus had disappeared along with my confidence and the coordination required to juggle so many different balls and I went into self-protection mode. I began to avoid the blank screen that symbolised my failure completely.

 

I lost my way – perhaps because I’m better when I’m chasing my tail with no time to over-think. They do say that retirement is dangerous and although I am not in that position, I can see where the life of the wannabe “writer” – in particular, the lack of social interaction and abundance of focus for just about anything other than putting words on a page – can be dangerous.

 

It’s time to stop watching what time the neighbors leave the house to go to work; it is time to stop checking Aldi’s Wednesday and Saturday “specials” online; it’s time to stop looking up recipes on Taste.com that I will never cook. It is time to put those bad chapters behind the Great Wall where they belong, pull up my big girl panties again and find my way back. Which is why, my friends, I am gifting you this generous page of complete bollocks.

 

 

 

Those ‘What’s It All About?’ Moments

mandrill-1194343_1280I’ve been having a lot of those ‘what’s it all about?’ moments recently.

 

I changed my medication recently so it could be that, or simply a residual post-sickness tiredness that has sapped me of the energy to exercise, socialise and get out of my yoga pants.

 

Then again it’s probably the hormones, the tail end of winter, the move or a million other fucking things that I can’t put my finger on, but that make me feel as anxious as fuck.

 

 

I’m okay, but I’m kind of not. An unsettled feeling.

 

One of my good friends thinks it’s our age, that we all feel a bit out of kilter at this stage of our lives, when we’re beyond the disappointment and acceptance of ‘this is it’ that we went through in our forties, but ahead of the ‘fuck it’ financial gloriousness of retirement and our twilight years.

 

I just feel overwhelmingly tired most of the time, which might be because the old man keeps waking me up rudely in the middle of the night because I’ve begun to snore and then I can’t go back to sleep, but not even wine and Netflix can seem to restore my Tigger bounce.

 

A woman, probably in her sixties, walked in front of my car on the pedestrian crossing today with a huge grin plastered on her face and I said to the old man ‘that’s how I want to look all the time.’

 

‘Probably not going to happen with me,’ he replied dolefully, because even though I feel that we’re on a rare plane of closeness at the moment, we exacerbate each other’s anxiety and the impending move has begun to play on our minds.

 

I feel a sense of sadness deep down in my marrow that I can’t explain. Even Bridget Jones barely raised a smile.

 

Thank God for friends.

 

I know I have no right to be sad when there are refugees fighting for their lives and acceptance and inspiring stories such as the one I read this week about the two kids with Cystic Fibrosis who married each other even though they knew that to be together would ultimately kill them. I never realized before that people with the condition can’t mix with each other because of the low immune system caused by CF, and the ability for bacteria to grow easily on their lungs. But it doesn’t work like that.

 

How lonely AF must it be if you can’t even moan to your closest friends about how much life fucking sucks sometimes?

Family, And being Shaped By The Good As Well As The Bad

It has become quite commonplace for many of us to blame the past for all our problems. Perhaps we know too much now. We know that trauma, if it isn’t dealt with properly, at the time, can leave a lasting trail of damage that affects the rest of our lives. There is some proof that trauma has been passed through the DNA of Holocaust survivors. blackberry-412571_1280

 

What we rarely do is cite the positive experiences from our past, that helped shape us into the adults we have become.

 

My grandmother was a spiritual woman who disappeared for weekends on religious retreats and who wore an imposing wooden cross around her neck, yet I don’t remember her ever mentioning religion to me. She outlived three of her four children – something no parent should have to go through – and I’ve often wondered how she managed to balance that terrible loss with her faith.

 

Perhaps she chose to believe the lie that the ‘good die young’.

 

Religion has a lot to answer for, made more poignant today as we witness the atrocities of ISIS, the concealed child abuse by a number of Catholic priests and the general misuse of religious funds. In spite of my own religious upbringing, I veer towards atheism in adulthood, yet I still understand the important place that religion holds in the hearts of many cultures and occasionally, when I walk past our local church and hear that contemporary happy clappy music boom joyously through its walls, even I feel drawn in to be part of it.

 

My grandmother’s cross, the stark white walls, a few symbols of religious paraphernalia and the minimalist style of her small council flat were the only imposing things about a woman who was adored by her grandchild. Being the eldest of a single mother of three, (along with the prohibitive cost of childcare even back then), I was put on a bus every day of the school holidays to stay with Granny, a period of my life I remember with an intense warmth and fondness to this day.

 

Fortunately, we are shaped by the good as well as the bad.

 

I remember that the skin on her face was softer than a baby’s, so fine, it was almost translucent, and that the soft grey curls on her head sprang to the touch. Her dog was her companion, a grumpy old man of a canine that we walked each day I was there, come rain or shine, over fields that sat behind her block. In the summer we picked blackberries, the richness of their juice staining our fingers, and in winter we rugged up and said little as we watched our breath form smoke clouds in the fresh morning air.

 

Before lunch we always headed down to the local shop to pick up food supplies. I always wanted macaroni cheese and she always let me have it, in spite of the fact that she was supposed to adhere to a low dairy diet. Then we would prepare it together in her cold, sparse little kitchen and once sated, felt like queens afterwards. We whiled away the afternoons in front of the comfort of her gas fire, playing Scrabble or cards, or watching some terrible seventies game show on her little black and white tv.

 

I was lucky to be shaped by a good family.

 

 

 

 

My Top 35 Rules For A Happy Life

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This list felt particularly poignant last week, the night before we boarded our first flight without our children, when I was as anxious AF about leaving my ‘babies’ behind. However, (and before I’m reported to Child Services), let me reassure you that our ‘babies’ are eighteen and twenty-one respectively, but if perchance I do bump into Prince Charming in the Harrods Food Hall, or (more likely) Isis gets me, these are the rules I’d pass onto them for a happy life:

 

  1. Chase happiness, not wealth.

 

  1. Focus on what is in your head and comes out of your mouth, rather than how you look.

 

  1. Appreciate your ‘kind’ friends, even if they might seem a bit dull when you’re young. Their value will increase as you get older.

 

  1. Don’t smoke.

 

  1. Have children, because eventually the joy will override the pain.

 

  1. Never give up on your passions, even if they never give you any commercial success; the personal fulfilment you gain from them will most likely be enough.

 

  1. Adopt a pet, or several – they will be your best teachers after your children.

 

  1. Work out early on if the compromise for the fuck-off house with the fuck-off mortgage is worth it.

 

  1. Understand that education is more than just about academic grades.

 

  1. Travel whenever you can because spontaneity gets trickier as your body gets older. Travelling is not just about wondrous landscapes and different foods, it’s about learning about different cultures and their values to gain a better understanding of humility, and ultimately what the meaning of love is all about.

 

  1. Never stop learning and expanding your mind.

 

  1. Sex is great, but overrated in the grand scheme of things.

 

  1. The best foods often cost the least and are made in your own kitchen.

 

  1. Sometimes you’ll need to follow your heart; other times it will be your head. You’ll get better at recognising which instinct to trust.

 

  1. Invest in one innate talent or learn one new trade from which you can earn the minimum wage. That way you’ll always be able to put a roof over your head.

 

  1. Make sure there’s always a bottle of wine or a few beers in the fridge.

 

  1. Keep your passport up-to-date.

 

  1. Even if it’s not obvious, be aware that sadly there is a world of seediness and corruption out there, so be careful who you trust and always watch your back.

 

19.True friends are there for you ALL the time.

 

  1. Happiness is the key to good health. Never take your health for granted.

 

  1. Laughter is responsible for those telltale lines on your face of a life well lived, which makes them beautiful.

 

  1. Follow your instincts – they’ll turn out to be your most trustworthy friends.

 

  1. Give in to grief, or it will follow you around for the rest of your life.

 

  1. Learn to trust and trust again, even when you get hurt. Most importantly, be trustworthy.

 

  1. Forgiveness and compromise are the understated necessities of all successful relationships, but if you can learn how to do them, you’ll be rewarded with deep love.

 

  1. If you have to sell your soul for anything, it’s not worth it.

 

  1. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

 

  1. Don’t be afraid of regrets – they mean you tried something and even though it didn’t work out, you learned from it.

 

  1. Beauty comes from the inside out.

 

  1. Feminism is about equal rights, not man-hating.

 

  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn how to laugh at yourself.

 

  1. Embrace emotion and cry when you need to, even if you’re an ugly crier.

 

  1. Do a job you enjoy.

 

  1. Exercise is more vital to the health of your head than the rest of your body.

 

  1. And most importantly, know your worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 Fascinating Things I Realised In 2015

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  1. Whenever I think I’ve finally reached rock bottom, I can always rely on my teenagers to up the ante.
  2. The word ‘meringue’ springs to mind whenever I wear a cream dress.
  3. I need stop at one whisky.
  4. All diets are lies.
  5. The upside to being ‘invisible’ is not giving a shit about what I look like in public.
  6. Yoga pants and leggings get a bad rap these days; personally, I think they’re underrated.
  7. Men CAN change – don’t let them tell you any different.
  8. Skiing is like glamping – an endurance test dressed up by men to look like something fun.
  9. ‘Loose change’ will never be a problem in a house with teenagers.
  10. If a size 12 equates to a size ‘large’ in Zara, I don’t need that level of shit.
  11. Sexy ‘big knickers’ are still to be invented.
  12. The most-used word in my vocabulary last year was ‘thing.’
  13. Mad Men is the finest historical documentary about sexism and John Hamm’s developing sexiness.
  14. I want Jon Hamm’s babies.
  15. Albeit horribly undignified, the process of home poo testing is now a reality.
  16. I still have no idea what the difference is between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol and continue to stare blankly at the doctor when she explains my results.
  17. 10,000 steps is way more than a fucking walk.
  18. I made a mistake – men cannot be conditioned to wipe down bench tops, replace toilet rolls or answer when spoken to the first time.
  19. Teenagers have a gap in the synapses of their brain vis a vis hanging up wet towels, walking the dog and emptying the dishwasher.
  20. It’s impossible not to get wee all over yourself when you use the ‘pull to the side’ method for a full piece swimming costume.
  21. Netflix is the welcome third wheel to a long marriage.
  22. You can use the camera on your iPhone from that little camera icon at the bottom right of your screen.
  23. NEVER ride a motor bike or climb a ladder (thank you 24Hrs In Emergency)
  24. My most over-used phrase last year was: ‘why did I start telling you that?’
  25. Bacon is still worth the cancer risk.
  26. Colouring-in is still boring.
  27. I could be a really good swimmer if swimming goggles existed that didn’t leak.
  28. Although my ovaries no longer function in the role they were designed for, they do however, become highly activated these days at the sight and smell of babies.
  29. From my limited experience so far, Dementia is gonna really suck.
  30. You must never accept that you’re too old or too cuddly to rock a bikini.

 

If I Can’t Eat Cheese, Surely That Means That Life As I know It, Is Officially Over?

English: Avocado with its cross section. Pictu...
English: Avocado with its cross section. Pictured in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. App 18 cm (7 inches) long. Français : Un Avocat entier et en coupe. Photo prise à Dar es Salaam, en Tanzanie. Longueur 18 cm environ. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I admit that I may have ridiculed friends in the past who have been sucked in by fad diets, and for this I bow my head in shame.

Because I’m about to bore you again with the downhill progress of my middle-aged facial skin condition, Rosacea.

I’m also ashamed to admit that I never realized before just how much I took my looks for granted in my previous life.

Over the past ten years, I’ve been forced to come to terms with fading looks, ‘invisibility’ in public, out-of-control whiskers and general tubbiness, but it’s a real kick in the scrotum when what the ageing process has left of my face has become a red, blotchy horror show.

The old man’s empathetic words of “At least I don’t have to worry about you leaving me now,” have been far from comforting.

Even worse, is that after a lengthy hypochondria-fuelled research session with my best mate Dr Google and various international quacks of certain ill-repute, it appears that the diet I need to go on to make my face acceptable to the public again is bordering on inhumane.

I have always been a healthy eater, so I never considered that being forced to become more ‘clean’ with my food choices would be that difficult, but below are just some of the yummy foodstuffs I am supposed to eliminate:

Avocados – We all know that all gut street credibility goes back to zero these days unless you have at least one avocado crammed in your gob at every opportunity. Avocados have assumed super, super-food status now; let’s face it, they are bordering on becoming the God of the food kingdom.

They’ve also shown up quinoa to be the fad we all hoped it was.

So how exactly will I be able to show myself in my local café again if I can’t flaunt my superior healthiness with avocado on the side of every order? And the thought of the breakfast perfection that is smoked salmon, toast and poached egg, WITHOUT their perfect green sidekick, is already giving me sleepless nights.
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Dairy – not so hard for me to relinquish, I thought, as I’ve never been a huge dairy fan due to scientific misconceptions about cholesterol that cemented an innate fear of premature mortality.

But then I remembered cheese.

I may need to take a moment….

I can’t pretend that giving up cheese, one of the major keys to happiness in life, will be easy. ‘Cheese’ deserves a proper grieving period, a moment to reflect on what it has done for me throughout my life. Hell! even scientists admitted that it is addictive this week, so it must be good.

How exactly are me and my mates supposed to survive PMT, women crises, man-bitching and The Bachelor without a Frisbee-sized slab of the fullest-fat Brie on the coffee table, to temper our white wine?

Everyone knows that cheese is comfort on toast

And let’s not forget all those traditional cheesy faves we were bought up on, before dairy and carbs were excommunicated: cauliflower cheese, macaroni cheese, lasagna, quiche…

The good old days… before we told that anything that tasted really good would give us cancer.

Allow me to welcome bacon, sausages, burgers and red meat into that group this week, too.

Spicy foods – I’ve served my time with hot food. I’ve earned my chili stripes. After two years of the roof being taken off my mouth, feeling as though my whole body was about to lift off, I’ve finally found an appreciation for the not-so-subtle thrill of wasabi. Sashimi without wasabi is like wine without cheese, Will without Kate, Kurt without….Hmmm…and let’s also remember the Thai green curry, Indian Dahl, and the piece de resistance of spice, Mexican food, which combines just about everything my Rosacea reacts so violently to.

I just don’t know how I’m going to sing along to the El Paso adverts anymore, without feeling a fraud? Is it even possible to make a taco without cheese, avocado, tomato or spicy fill?

And finally, to tomatoes…

Anyone ever nailed an appetising, tasty salad without tomatoes or cheese?

Thought not.

I’ve tried. In a moment of insanity, I went all out last night and added some fresh, sugar-snap peas to my pathetic-looking green salad.

It was a fucking riot.

Which leaves me with a choice of chicken, fish and lettuce.

So can you now understand that why I am destined to become that grieving, twisted, mad woman who hates everyone and mumbles curses under her breath to any innocent shopper in the supermarket who dares venture towards the deli counter.

My life is officially over. Goodbye world.

Priorities And Not Giving A Shit About Space

(*Steps on soapbox*)

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One of the most eye-opening changes to happen to me since I reached middle age is that I’ve developed a defiant political conscience and can become quite hostile about my need to change the world, even though some days I struggle to get out of bed in the morning.

I’ve become THAT irritable middle-aged tv viewer who knows absolutely nothing yet has an opinion on EVERYTHING and tuts loudly when the news is on, especially when I hear about another politician abusing their position and spending public funding on personal extravagance in the name of government expense.

Do you question the financial priorities of a government in charge of developing the country our future grandchildren will inhabit? Would you like to know just how exactly the government justifies its expenditure and prioritizes what to spend our taxes on, without bias? I question how politicians sleep at night when so many of their decisions seem to bear no relevance to saving, preserving or prolonging human life, and instead are frittered away on useless research projects.

And the prolongment of life is getting kind of important to me now.

I’ve never understand why we spend money on grants for pointless research that has little relevance to our day-to-day existence, especially when we have homeless people on our streets, victims of violence without access to justice, mentally ill people without access to the right treatments and children still in care.

English: Homeless man in New York 2008, Credit...
English: Homeless man in New York 2008, Credit Crises. On any given night in USA, anywhere from 700,000 to 2 million people are homeless, according to estimates of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Priorities.

And then there are space programs.

Although our government has pulled the plug on much of the scientific research and development previously assigned to space, only a few years back we were spending up to $1.6 billion on space research.

WTF!

Does anyone really give a fuck about what’s going on in space? Does anyone really care if a planet we’ve never heard of suddenly implodes, shimmies over to another orbit, or if in the year dot we can transport humans to some planet that cannot sustain human life. Admittedly, I may be guilty of over-simplifying this and NB would jump in here with some intelligent and soul-destroying argument about research in space no longer being just about rockets and astronauts, (but satellites communication and spying), but the fact is, there are so many more worthwhile, life-saving projects we could be developing with all that money.

It’s not that I’m not progressive or forward thinking but I suspect that much of the scientific research carried out in our universities has far more to do with our standing in world politics and one-upmanship, than genuine need.

How many more unexplained explosions at NASA will make the news – at the loss of millions of dollars and precious human lives – to be met with a shrug of the shoulders, and a ‘back to the drawing board’ attitude, even though much of the public don’t care?

Imagine how many homeless people those shitty rockets could have housed in the US, how many drug abusers could be rehabilitated, how many cancer patients could receive treatment and how many refugees might have been re-homed.

Priorities.

(*steps off soapbox*)