Travelling Solo In Middle Age: Why It’s A No-Brainer

2022 is looking as unpredictable as the past two years. Just as we’re getting some handle on COVID – we hope – we are now facing the threate of a global war over Ukraine and the escalating effects of climate change, with little hope of any real improvement from either Australian political party at the next election.

COVID has left many of us feeling shell-shocked and a little uncertain about our place in the world

On a personal note, we’ve also recently experienced several health crises amongst friends and family. Nothing major, but enough to remind us that life is short and that we need to drag ourselves out of the lockdown lethargy caused by COVID and start living again.

Travel is my top priority for the next year

Sadly, however, travel doesn’t rate as highly on my husband’s agenda – a Cancerian with an abject terror of finding himself more than five kilometres from our suburb, which he refers to as “the safety zone”. And so, a few months ago, I decided that the best way to give him a gentle nudge back into the outside world was to organise a mini-break for the two of us.

Woman looking out at view
Photo by Djordje Petrovic on Pexels.com

Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly in the mood for anything super-adventurous either, especially with (what was then) the recent arrival of Omicron – which, even though I’ve reconciled myself to catching it at some point, I’m still not foolhardy enough to court.

However, the mere mention of the idea to my husband – albeit a short trip to a neighbouring suburb – was like pulling teeth. Each time I went into my his study to show him some fabulous boutique hotel with an alluring “special offer”, he planted his fingers in his ears or made those humming noises I make when he wants to discuss our finances.

Frankly, he sucked every ounce of pleasure out of planning something that in my mind should have been fun

When my husband decides he doesn’t want to do something, he reverts back to the single-mindedness of a toddler – like many middle-aged men, it seems – and it became obvious pretty quickly that he was depending on his strategy of laying as many roadblocks as possible to change my plans.

To start with, he set a ridiculously low budget that would stretch to some tiny home in the middle of Woop Woop if we were lucky – and I don’t mean those pokey dwellings that are now deemed a luxury destination, I’m talking about a 3-star motel on the outskirts of some mining town. Then he insisted that the accommodation was walking distance to the beach on aforementioned miniscule budget.

But the biggest problem was the difference in our priorities over the break

We couldn’t even agree on what we would do once we got there, if we ever got there. My perfect break incorporates fancy dinners and long lunches spent in a more eclectic range of restaurants than those offered in our area and the chance to dress up – because although there are benefits to the relaxed lifestyle on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, sometimes I want to put on some lippy and heels.

His biggest fear was what exactly he was going “to do” for two days with his wife of almost thirty years

Hence, top of his requirements – thanks to a second La Nina year in which all his favourite pastimes have been compromised by rain – were good internet reception, a pub with a wide selection of craft beers, single beds and a lock on the mini bar.

The other problem was that prices of holiday rentals and hotels outside of Sydney have increased drastically since the last time we went away. Many of the Airbnb properties in our price range had stopped offering full refunds for cancellations, which made the risk of spending money (we don’t really have) on a cheeky weekender even more like Russian roulette – especially with Omicron biting at our heels.

The fear of disappointment was palpable

But, finally, after a full risk assessment of bush fires, floods, poisonous snakes and jellyfish and a full scale search of locations within a 2.5 hour drive of Sydney, from the beautiful Kangaroo Valley in the Southern Highlands – prior to the realisation on closer examination of the “dairy conversions” we could afford that their vintage styling reminded me too much of my various uni accommodations – to areas closer to home and the ocean.

Finally, I booked

I found an apartment approximately an hour down the road in an area close enough to home for hubby to run back to if he got too homesick, in a suburb close to where we used to live. That meant, that in spite of the rainy forecast, there were many places we could revisit as well as Barangaroo, a new waterfront precinct in the city to visit for dinner one night. I won’t deny that what sealed the decision was the hotel’s motley selection of sports facilitites which I knew would appease hubby’s need to get an hour away from me do some kind of exercise each day.

And we had a lovely time, BUT…

When you really think about it, isn’t life too short to travel with someone who doesn’t enjoy the same things? Especially, when you spend the rest of the year together?

Travelling solo or with like-minded people at this stage of our lives has to be a no-brainer, doesn’t it?

  1. You get to spend time with people who feel as passionately as you about the trip which ensures less friction and a REAL holiday,
  2. Your friends tend to be more respectful and less resentful of your choices, i.e., you don’t get bogged down in the petty-mindedness that can sometimes be symptomatic of a long marriage, and…
  3. Travelling without your partner means you get a break from each other.

A large 2018 study conducted by Booking.com found that 40% of 55 to 64-year old’s had taken a trip alone in the past year and a further 21% were planning to take one in the future. British Airways reports that more British men and women were over 50 on their first solo trip compared to any other country.” (The Flashpacker)

Surely, marriage doesn’t have to be about compromise all the time?

Men and women change as they get older, and research suggests that many men prefer to settle down and enjoy a quieter life in retirement. Fair enough! But equally, many women are searching for new activities to challenge and empower them at this stage of their lives.

So, surely, travelling solo or with friends makes sense?

Overall, our weekend was a success and even met our budget – something to do with the hotel’s location slap, bang in the middle of a small business district which is a ghost town on the weekend, I imagine. I got to wear my heels, sleep in crisp white sheets and fill my washbag with freebie bathroom products. Hubby got his gym – albeit his workout gear never left his suitcase.

But the organisation to get us there was painful reminder of why, prior to COVID, I had started to travel solo, and why my husband was so supportive of that decision.

Anyone else decided that travelling solo is easier in middle age?

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.

I’m A Feminist, So Why Won’t I Allow Myself To Age Naturally?

When we came out of lockdown, I broke an Olympic record for the speed with which I booked my colour at my hairdressers, hence it was reassuring to see Melburnians bang down the doors of their salons when their Premier released them from the longest lockdown in the world.

Ageism has a lot to answer for, proven by a recent study by Australian Seniors that showed the drastic lengths middle-aged women and men go to – from hair colouring to plastic surgery – to remain visible, relevant, and employable.

Ageism has a lot to answer for

Woman with blonde hair blowing in the wind.
Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde on Unsplash

I’m lucky, apart from basic body hygiene, I don’t have to maintain any particular beauty standards for my job, and neither am I high maintenance when it comes to my appearance. That may be why I transitioned so smoothly into living like a slob during our restrictions. Living in lounge wear day and night was a dream come true for me, and that extra layer of hair on my legs made the switch from autumn to winter much less painful.

But it was a different story with the hair on my head. Like many middle-aged women, I went through the seven stages of grief as the visible signs of my age crept through my parting.

Hats and scarves helped, but my biggest low point – at the Mare Sheehan stage of rootage – was when I succumbed to smudging my roots with mascara. I wouldn’t recommend it.

In retrospect, though, I handled the ever-widening salt and pepper line down the centre of my scalp with stoicism, and the return to my mousey roots didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. So much so, the closer we got to the magical seventy percent vaccination rate required to open our salons, I began to seriously toy with the idea of ageing naturally.

Which makes my midnight vigil outside my hairdressers all the more perplexing. Not to mentiion that as a feminist, dying my hair is a surrender to the blatant gender inequality around beauty expectations, and each time I agree to pay through the nose to highlight my hair, I’m giving into the narrative that youth trumps pretty much everything.

The sad fact is, for any chance of staying visible, I am not allowed to look my age

That is why so many women cannot give up on the last bastion of their youth.

It’s not like I enjoy the experience of sitting still in the hairdressers for two hours, staring at myself whilst I pretend not to be appalled by the cost of my foils and the special shampoos and treatments required to maintain my hair in some vaguely manageable condition. Not to mention the social anxiety I experience each visit a propos of my hairdresser, a lovely Millennial who has quietly surrendered to my refusal to talk to her – although, I’m still not sure if that unspoken rule has made our two hours together more honest or more awkward.

It’s just that I can’t chit-chat inanely about the mundanities of life with a woman whose biggest daily conflict is the straightness of her hair

I know other women my age can, but I cannot pretend to have anything in common with a twenty-something who goes out for the night at the same time I’m going to bed. Perhaps, if she had something to add about vaginal atrophy or grumpy, middle-aged husbands, we might have something work with, but I’m just not that bothered about Tik Tok and online dating at this stage of my life.

I realise I could buy a lot of new lounge wear with that extra $200 every eight weeks, but I like being blonde and evidently, I’m not grown up enough yet to come out as an old person. Perhaps, if I was a good feminist, I would feel proud of this ageing body of mine and what it has achieved, but the shame of it is that though I can’t control what happens to my face, I can still control the colour of my hair

As I left the house for my appointment, my husband told me how beautiful I looked with my new “natural” look. But the comment came from the accountant in him rather a man who has any real desire for his wife to turn into his mother.

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

Embracing The Menopause Belly

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

Close up of a woman's belly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Monika Kozub on Unsplash

How A Good Book Can Change Your Life

In the months I’ve been labouring through the latest edit of my wretched manuscript, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the writing process and the impact that certain books have had on my life.

Open book, lit up with fairy lights.
Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

I would like to clarify that my desire to have my own book published isn’t a narcissistic dream to become successful, living in LA and directing the movies to my stories. My motivation has always been to help other parents in our situation and to destroy the stigma around mental illness, i.e. to increase education.

And likewise, to learn about something new remains my main reason for reading.

In hindsight, I suppose I could have written a non-fiction account of what to expect from our situation – which, I imagine, would have been slightly easier to get published. However, I wanted to create a fictionalised account because 1) There are few fictions out there about ADHD, and 2) I believe that a good story resonates so much more. To tell my story in a non-fictionalised account, I would have to mask parts of the truth, to protect the privacy of others; in a fictionalised account, I can make my readers privy to the true feelings of the protagonists’ experience.

The power to change a mindset is crucial to me, because I am used to being on the other side of the reading process, and so many books have influenced my path.

I’ve missed books. And sadly, as a result of too many house moves, a shortage of space, my husband’s obsession with clutter, and our recent attempt at a minimalist lifestyle, we don’t own many any more.

That’s something I intend to change in the future: Firstly, because the living rooms I am always drawn to on Pinterest are the ones with metres of bookshelves; secondly, as much as I love its versatility, I’ve decided that the Kindle is a poor imitation of a book – God! I miss book covers – albeit that the screen version is much cheaper here in Australia; and thirdly, now I’ve seen how much pain the authors go through, I understand what a sacrilege it is to chuck them out.

We’ve kept certain books that mean something to us on a personal level. The old man has a dog-eared copy of some guide to golf by Nick Faldo, and a copy of Sapiens – a recent read that he believes changed his life, although not his ability to wipe down a bench top. And I have a copy of Little Women – which gave me so much pleasure as a child for the simple reason that the author had the same name as me. And The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion’s story of a neurodivergent mind – that resonated with me so much it inspired me to write my own interpretation of life as a kid with ADHD.

In fact, I loved “The Rosie Project” so much, I sent Graeme a fan-girl tweet about it that made it onto the inside cover of the UK version.

Then there’s Schindler’s Ark, a book the old man recommended to me when we started dating. The story of Schindler was undoubtedly my awakening to the imbalances in the world and the start of my crusade /against them. It was also kind of a freaky choice, because several years later when I was three months pregnant with NC – a very ill-thought-out plan in the first trimester of a pregnancy when you are permanently tired and cannot drink – we found ourselves watching the movie in a theatre in New York.

Clearly, I was very hormonal at the time, but the memory of that experience at the movies will always haunt me.

The story is obviously highly emotive, but when you watch the movie in the company of a mainly Jewish audience, their reaction stays with you. For that reason, I couldn’t watch it again, although I do believe that stories such as Schindler’s Ark have their place on the high school curriculum.

There’s a finale to this story. You see, a few years ago, I persuaded the old man to accompany me to a talk at the Sydney Writer’s festival where Thomas Keneally (the author) was interviewing another author. I wanted to put a face to the words of a book that had been so influential on me in my younger years. Back in my twenties in the UK, little did I know that the author was Australian, and lived a stone’s throw from where we live now.

And I would like to add that the man is a true character in every sense of the word, fully befitting of his reputation as a national treasure. He is one of those writers who sits passionately and publicly left of centre and is as compassionate and funny as you would hope.

You can imagine how appalled the old man was that I had (inadvertently) booked front row seats to the event, and yet during that hour in Thomas’ company, I didn’t even notice his awkward wriggles in the seat next to me as I hung onto every word that came out of the author’s mouth. It was one of those rare “moments” in life where everything felt like it had come together – literally from London, to New York, and finally, to Sydney.

Imagine if I had known as a child that one day I would find myself at a writers festival, sitting metres away from my icon. Le destin, as the French call it.

I do have one terrible admission when it comes to books, however. I am one of those awful people who can never remember authors’ names or the titles of their books – which, as you can imagine, has worsened in menopause. I couldn’t even tell you who wrote the book I’m currently reading, or its title, even though I am thoroughly enjoying it. And often, I will start a book, only to realise a third of the way through that I’ve read it before.

And yet, there’s something quite wonderful about that, as well. It’s like bumping into an old friend, who gently dislodges those precious memories that I filed away in another era, and takes me back to a place I wouldn’t ordinarily choose or have the opportunity to visit again otherwise.

The power of a good book to change the way we think is why I will continue to read and live vicariously through the lives of the many fascinating characters out there. It’s why I will always buy books. Minimalism is about spending money on experiences, and books fit that idea for me. They can be expensive, however, their ability to change the way we think in a healthier, organic way than social media, for example, is why they will be at the top of my Christmas shopping list this year.

5 Wardrobe Essentials Every Middle-Aged Women Should Own

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

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

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

And needless to say, she looked back at me blankly

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

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

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

So, what can we wear, ladies?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Surprising Things I Haven’t Missed In Isolation

What’s surprised me most about this virus and its impact on my life is WHAT I HAVEN’T MISSED in isolation.

Whilst the 5 O’clock shadow above my lip is evidence of how much my body is missing its minimal beauty regime, there are still many things I thought my happiness depended upon that I haven’t missed at all since COVID struck our shores.

Photo by Mental Health America (MHA) on Pexels.com

Obviously, I’ve missed going to restaurants, weekends away, and movie trips, but there’s no denying that this virus has gifted me a window of opportunity to put into perspective what’s truly important in my life.

Removed from that relentless pressure to succeed in every aspect of my life, my brain is taking a long-overdue holiday from the overwhelming expectations society places on women our age.

Here are 5 surprising things I haven’t missed in isolation:

1. People

FRIENDS, before you rush to Facebook and unfriend me, hear me out. Because I’m not talking about people per se, I’m talking about people I don’t really know that I’m forced to mix with at large social events or work. One of the chronic sides to my anxiety is my social anxiety, which may not be that obvious to most people – because I’m a professional at disguising it, aka an alcoholic. Nevertheless, it’s a problem that explains why a big part of me is loving this excuse not to leave the house right now.

The work required to socialise kills me, i.e. the diplomacy required to fit everyone in without offending anyone. So while I’ve kept myself busy during this time, I’ve not missed being socially busy and I’ve embraced the extra time and energy to pour into projects I WANT TO DO that I’ve been forced to put on the back burner in the past.

2. Shopping

There’s not much point in clothes shopping when there’s nowhere to go, and on the rare occasions I’ve visited the mall for “essentials”, I’ve discovered that my desire to shop has all but disappeared – cue fist pump from hubby. Materialism really does feel unessential right now.

That change in mindset has nothing to do with not having the cash to splash, it’s about the change in my priorities. In the past, I wasted hours at the mall, trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that now seen ridiculous. Like many women, treating myself and spending compulsively used to make me feel better about myself. Now, I wonder why.

3. My Anxiety

This is a strange one to admit to when governments around the world are preparing for a mental health emergency, and yet it makes complete sense to me. Aside from the ramifications of certain domestic triggers (hmmm…), my anxiety hasn’t been exacerbated by COVID-19. If anything, it has reduced, and recent research in Japan confirms that I’m not alone. It makes sense when one of the triggers of my anxiety is stress at work, and did I mention people?

The threat of the virus trumps most of the fears anxious people like me ruminate about on a daily basis. COVID-19 is the disaster of epic proportions we over-thinkers have been waiting for our whole lives, and now it’s finally here and more tangible, it’s rather like looking the enemy in the eye.

And health anxiety is hardly an option right now. NO-ONE in their right mind wants to end up in the ER at the moment, right? And on a more personal front, whilst having our grown up son back at home has added some tension, it has also removed the fear caused by those calls in the middle of the night. Enabling or not, it is much easier to support him during this pandemic while he’s under our own roof.

4. “The Treadmill”

Again, the treadmill issue tie in with people and my anxiety. While I like my routine, I don’t necessarily enjoy all of the functions on my personal treadmill and at fifty-four, I’m still trying to shape my life into one I want, that works for me, i.e. working for myself, and doing something I feel passionately about. This break from certain outside pressures has paused the tension that usually mounts. It has provided me with the opportunity to step back and do exactly what I want for a short space of time, when I want to.

5. The Weight Of Expectation

I am aware that it is my personal responsibility to control the weight of expectation I feel – or so my therapist says. Everyone wants to succeed, but to balance pressures (many of which I put on myself) with my mental health is an ongoing battle. With the release of some of that pressure, my head has bobbed back to the surface of the water again.

I won’t deny that I’ve had an innate desire to find more inner peace for some time, and for those of us lucky enough to come through this virus unscathed, one positive of this COVID-19 experience has been to highlight the areas of our lives we need to re-evaluate. It has pushed nature, family relationships, and my health back to the top of my priority list. I may be missing the opportunity to explore countries I’ve never visited and family I haven’t seen in a while, but I am not missing the anxiety that used to accompany me on those trips.

Is there anything you haven’t missed in isolation that has come as a surprise?

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COVID-19 Is All Fun And Games Until You Start To Look Like Your Grandmother

I’m sitting at home, dressed to the nines with nowhere to go.

Dressed to the nines during COVID-19 (?), I hear you ask.

Image of old woman with grey hair and moustache.
Thanks to Far Kew for this wonderfully appropriate image

Well…yes. But I do have two very good reasons for such crazy behaviour: The first is that like many of you, I imagine, the highlight of my week since social-distancing started has become my trip to the supermarket – and… standards. The second is because in recent days more than a handful of old people have allowed ME TO PASS BY THEM in aforementioned supermarket raids or during my “essential” exercise.

I may be paranoid, but I thought it was the over-seventies we were trying to protect (and I’m 54). So…looks like I’m not winning any “how to look great without make-up” competitions anytime soon.

COVID-19 is all fun and games until you start looking like your grandmother.

Admittedly, I’ve looked better. I’ve probably taken this short-term permission to live like a slob that step too far. Added to which, I’ve been suffering from a nasty attack of Rosacea that I’m praying hasn’t been triggered by the vast quantities of pink Gin I’m drinking for my anxiety.

But I suppose there was a certain inevitability about ageing prematurely during this pandemic, when you’re locked up in the house with your husband 24/7. After all, there’s only so much ice-chewing, golf-swinging, and farting you can witness before your body starts to revolt – as I alluded to at the bottom of my last post here.

I’m fortunate to have a son who consistently reminds me that anyone over thirty-five is ANCIENT, but I’ll be honest with you, I thought I looked okay for my age – hence my decision to drop any sort of beauty regime at the first opportunity which turned out to be this virus.

It’s not like I truly believed I was a walking advertisement for how to look good with no make-up, but I thought this new “surviving a pandemic” natural look gave me a Byron vibe. That was until the old man commented on how nice I looked the other day – the day I wore mascara for my last trip to Woollies.

‘What do you mean,’ I turned on him defensively.

‘I don’t know,’ he replied nervously. ‘You’ve got some nice colour to your cheeks.”

‘That would be my Rosacea,” I confirmed with a death stare.

Of course, NC would laugh out loud at my suggestion that I have any sort of beauty regime. If you call putting body lotion on your face at night a BEAUTY REGIME, I can hear her say. My daughter has always been appalled by my complete disregard for “products” and she still hasn’t stopped laughing about the time I used a brow pen as an eyeliner.

I miss my girl.

And in my defence, it doesn’t help that I can’t actually see the massive whiskers hanging from the corners of my mouth, the overgrown hedges over my eyes, and those orange blotches of rogue foundation that I can normally rely on her to wipe away in shame.

I won’t deny that my beauty standards have slipped to “Kathy Bates in Misery” level of late, which is why I’ve called Kurt in to my rescue. He keeps moaning about how we never do anything, so I thought I’d ramp up his Friday night and book him in for a plucking session in the bathroom tonight. I’m ignoring the fact that his latest experiment with his own mop is a Mohican that he’s threatening to dye platinum – mainly because it’s hard to care about anything very much right now other than the path of this bloody virus.

But if I do turn out looking like Lady Gaga in that scene from A Star Is Born when Bradley pulls off her stick-on brows, I promise to post a photo.

Losing Weight: Who Knew Salmon Was So Calorific?

I was listening to a podcast with Clare Bowditch on Conversations this morning (about her book Your Own Kind Of Girl) and it made me question exactly why I’ve started another diet. Like her, I came to the conclusion a while ago that weight is unimportant (as long as it is within a healthy range and not affecting your health); that it’s what’s on the inside that counts; and that society needs to bloody well grow up and accept that most healthy women do not fit the skinny model stereotype promoted by magazines – hence the popularity of Celeste Barber.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash.com

In general, I manage to maintain my Reubenesque figure by compensating for my food and alcohol over-indulgences by working my butt off on walks and runs. However, the toll from Christmas this year has been grim and I’ve been sucked into a diet by the vanity of the old man who says he feels uncomfortable being overweight.

Imagine that?

Neither of us wants to get down to the sort of unrealistic weight that means that you start rocking in a corner when you think about a Magnum, but we’d like to lose the weight we’ve gained over the last two years – to avoid the slippery slope of unfair weight distribution that happens to so many people in middle age.

I blame our Christmas visitors for the last few kilos I’ve gained – skinny visitors who ate as much as us, exercised less, and still manage to remain thin. Also, any host knows how impossible it is to eat mindfully when you have guests in the house and you have to show off the enviable lifestyle of Australia (bushfires excluded). And in Sydney the food is as spectacular as the beaches. The day only starts after one of THE BEST BREAKFASTS in the world, followed by – as a result of our wonderfully diverse population – a veritable smorgasbord of international feasting to choose from over the rest of the day.

Worse, when you have guests (particularly at Christmas), any rules around drinking fly out the window. – so even though we weren’t officially on holiday, we were happy to use the rellies as an excuse for extra bevvies.

Hence, I find myself fitting a little too snugly into my size 14 clothes, and albeit that left to my own devices I would probably have continued to ignore the extra tire around my middle and hoped for the best once I get back into some sort of routine – When? – I am sadly married to a man obsessed with his weight.

So we’ve hooked up to an app called Easy diet diary which is basically a calorie counting tool that works like this: You put in your weight, height etc and tell it how much weight you want to lose and in how much time, and then it suggests a daily calorie intake to achieve your goal. Each day, you add in every morsel you eat, every drop of liquid you drink, and every kilometre you sweat – although I’m not counting calories burnt during exercise as that me permission to drink more.

It is unhealthily competitive and we are learning to be cunningly strategic – which is the only fun aspect of a diet – but it has given us something to talk about over the past few days i.e. like how f…ing hungry we are. And on a more serious note, we have started to think about what we put in my mouths, particularly when it comes to portion sizes. You can imagine my pain one morning when I had to put a large slice of watermelon back in the fridge because it meant I would have to forego a glass of wine that night.

And talking of wine, basically what feels like a mouthful of wine (100mls) equates to around 80cals, so on drinking days you really have to be careful about how many food calories you consume or switch to spirits which are generally kinder.

It’s amazing what you discover. I won’t bore you with the calorific content of every food faux-ami – i.e. foods we thought were healthy that are actually wickedly calorific – That’s right SALMON, I’m talking about you – but who knew that trail mix, coffee, chocolate and Cointreau were so bloody fattening?

Where the fun really comes in is seeing how much yoghurt or muesli you can squeeze into a quarter of a cup; or how many units of alcohol you can fit in without starving; and what you can eat with those precious six calories left at the end of the day – suffice it to say, I’m still trying to work out the value of a single M&M.

The experience has certainly been an education – one I won’t be repeating as soon as I get down to a svelte size 12 over the next week or so.

The Only Guarantee In Life Is That Everything Changes

Some people are resistant to change – particularly from middle age onwards – while others embrace it. Some of us want to cram as many crazy, new experiences into our twilight years, while others take comfort from what they know.

On a personal level, I have always embraced change. That need explains my itchy feet, the numerous house moves, and the embarrassingly full resume, but for others unnecessary change threatens their safety. I believe that explains (not justifies) the reaction of some people to immigrants or women who hold powerful positions in the workplace.

I stole the idea for the title of this post from a piece written by Zach J.Payne on Medium. It seemed appropriate to discuss the meaning of the words as we race towards Christmas and its overindulgence while bush fires rage around us and the blatant foresight of tv series such as Years and Years keep us awake at night.

However, it is not only Australia’s archaic approach to climate change or problem with overspending that has taken the bang out of the crackers this Christmas. That exhaustion has also been caused by the never-ending cycle of murders and abuse of women at the hands of men. In the last few weeks alone, another woman was burnt to death on the way to her rape trial whilst another died in a menstruation hut. The tiredness is also caused by the worrying increase in mental illness in our children – that no one seems to be tackling with any seriousness – and tragedies such as the White Island eruption.

Perhaps, the biggest cause of my fear at the moment is what is happening on the world political stage right now, with the terrifying rise of the right, the possible impeachment of Trump, and the British election. The scariest truth to come out of this year for me is that we are voting in self-serving narcissists.

And the tinsel and fairy lights have done little to assuage those fears this year. It is increasingly difficult to feel positive about the overall state of the world – even from my position of privilege. And so, the only thing that keeps us going is hope. That things will change – however far-flung that feels right now. That, in general, good beats evil.

We need to remember that the Berlin Wall did come down, fascism was beaten in two world wars, women in Ireland now have the right to abortions, and improvements continue in terms of the eradication of serious illness – which means that in the west our longevity improves all of the time.

That is, if we still have a world to live in, of course.

On a micro level, we experienced one of those changes last Sunday, when our son joined us at our Christmas party.

As many of you know, Christmas is a special time for me. It represents everything I aspire to in terms of family, togetherness and belonging – even if our reality isn’t always that chocolate box version.

His arrival was a surprise. Why? Because we have organised many family events over the past few years that he has promised to attend and then been a no-show. He is, after all, a young man in his early twenties who is not comfortable with large groups – especially large groups of Boomers and Gen Xers who know about his struggles. So much so, it was only a few years ago that I truly believed that one day we might become estranged, only to be reconciled in twenty years time on one of those cheesy programmes on tv, or (worst case) at visitors time in prison.

That’s a lie, because my worst case scenario has always been the fear he might not be here at all.

And yet, if anyone asked me twenty-two years ago if I thought I would find myself in this position, I would have laughed. I mean…I’m far from perfect parent material, but I am a middle-class woman with privilege who tried (desperately) to tick off most points on Dr Spock’s perfect parent checklist.

However, I had a child who was and is very much his own person. One who is only now growing happier in his own skin – even though, I will be very surprised if he ever embraces the “system” wholeheartedly. Being neurodiverse makes life that bit harder for him. And while I may be a tad prone to catastrophizing, those fears about his future have felt very real for a very long time. And so, even now, (and we’re far from out of the woods), I grab at any scrap of love he throws at me with gratitude and relief – to my daughter’s disgust.

Shit happens to everyone. That’s life. The good news is that (in general) we learn how to cope with the holes in the road that try to fuck up the suspension on the car. And as the journalist Jan Fran said when she was a guest on the Wilosophy podcast and Wil asked her what she is most proud of in her life, the importance of how we REACT to situations and change is a pretty big thing to learn.

It never ceases to amaze me how capable we human beings are in the face of pain and tragedy. Right now, in Queensland and New South Wales, homeowners are risking their lives to save their properties alongside volunteer fire fighters who will have to give up their own Christmas to help them. Those homeowners don’t know if their houses will still be standing tomorrow – all they have is hope. But they are coping, because they have to. Today, the families of those killed on White Island will feel utter hopelessness as the bodies of their loved ones are retrieved to be laid to rest, but one day they will find some meaning to their loss – because what else is there?

Everything changes and not always for the better, but we are more resilient than we think. 2020 is another year that will bring change and challenge. That lunatic Boris looks like he will get back in, no doubt Trump will find some corrupt way to out-manoeuvre the US judicial system, and Scomo will continue to pray to his god to put out the fires. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.

So all the rest of us can hope is that other changes emerge from next year for the better of mankind, and that more activists like Greta Thunberg and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez stay angry enough to lead them.

The Brain Fog Caused By Menopause

Increased forgetfulness or fogginess in the brain has to be one of the most debilitating symptoms of menopause, and it comes at a time when dementia is already a terrifying prospect, particularly for those who have lost parents or older relatives to the degenerative condition.

Two or three years ago, when we were deep in the trenches of Kurt’s troubles, I rushed out of the house one day to get into my car and for some reason my attention was drawn to the little storage area in the door where I there was a lighter and some cigarettes. My immediate reaction was one of anger, because I thought that (on top of everything else) Kurt had not only used my car but smoked in it as well, and it was only after I had snapped my seat belt into its lock and was searching for the ignition that I noticed that the car’s dashboard was a different colour to mine.

I was in someone else’s car!

In a menopausal brain fog, many of us will have walked up to a car the same colour and shape to our own in the street, tried to open the door, and then made a hasty, red-faced retreat. But it’s another level of humiliation to have to get out of a car, praying that no one witnessed your (potential) theft of the vehicle.

Fortunately, I haven’t committed anything quite as embarrassing as that incident of late – and I still blame my poor brain function on the stress I was going through at the time – but pouring juice in my coffee, wearing clothes inside out, forgetting names, losing my keys and walking into rooms with no idea why I’d done so, have become regular occurrences.

Issues with memory loss, lapses and “brain freeze” associated with menopause are often attributed to hormonal imbalance, but did you know that those symptoms can equally be caused by poor sleep, certain medications, stress, and too much alcohol? Hmmm. So there were likely several very good reasons I got into the wrong car that day.

Forgetfulness is a topic that comes up regularly when the girls and I get together to discuss which of us has the most embarrassing dementia story that week. So when one of them told me that she uses the Lumosity App to keep her brain healthy, I decided to give it a go.

The aim of the app is to “challenge your memory and attention” and to improve your mental reflexes in terms of problem-solving and processing in a fun, want-to-cry kind of way, and it offers three free games per day to keep you on your toes.

Since I started using it, I’ve discovered that I am crap at games that involve cars, circuits, and especially parking – but funnily enough, I have demonstrated quite a talent for the coffee-making game and remembering ocean creatures. I can already see the benefit of the tool. I’m not grown up or boring enough to want to tackle crosswords or Sudoku yet, but I can now see how our brains need a workout in much the same way that the rest of our bodies do, particularly when our muscle starts to waste away in menopause.

The only problem with the app is remembering to do it.

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

Photo from Damir Spanic on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

Anyway, everyone knows the first sip is the best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle Age Is About Making Important Choices

I knocked back some paid work last week. Not that we’re rolling in money and I can pick and choose the hours I want, but this time my choice was based on my health. I knew that working five days a week in three different fields would have undone all of the good I got from my holiday.

I know how lucky I am to have that option, but that’s because we have made choices about the way we live. We sold the family home and rent an apartment now, and the old man is we’re careful about what we spend. In the past, both of us have struggled with stress and anxiety – which have been exacerbated by our problems with Kurt – and so we are well aware of our limitations.

I believe fervently in the importance of recognising those when it comes to your mental health, particularly in middle age when menopause can trigger anxiety and reduce our tolerance for working with dickheads for someone else. Sometimes, when I listen to friends who constantly moan about their jobs – and who are fortunate to have those options – I want to shake them and ask them exactly what they’re waiting for?

I am aware that there are people out there – mostly self-employed – who love their work, and that perhaps my view sounds somewhat narrow-minded. But I learnt about the fragility of human life very early on, and I’m also fortunate that I can do some of my paid work from home.

Instead of working on those days I was asked to, I took my first dip in the ocean since the end of winter. I lay in the water like a pig in shit, looking up at the blue sky, and acknowledged how lucky I am. The water in Sydney doesn’t get higher than 24 degrees and it was predictably icy, i.e. enough to shock my body into questioning what the fuck I was doing. Nevertheless, it was clear, bathed in sunshine, and personally I can’t think of any better experience.

So I won’t be getting that new dining set to replace the one we’ve had for over twenty years, which is now so old it has come back into fashion – much to the old man’s delight. But I did experience another of life’s precious moments, and without being maudlin, who knows how many opportunities I’ve got left to do that.