It is obligatory to moan about getting older for most of us. We like to ward off the ageing demons with our arsenal of wrinkle cream, Ibuprofen for the aches, and a vat of hair dye as soon as one stray grey hair pops out.
The thing is I like getting older. I don’t want to be a young woman again. There was so much angst back then.
Getting older means that I am finally learning who I am and how that is just fine. Are you accepting who you are? It’s a long road to walk.
I Am an Introvert and Not a Wild Social Animal
When I was younger I partied pretty hard. I discovered the rave scene when I was 16. From there I did all the clubbing and pubbing business. I enjoyed it on the whole but as I went further into my 20s I felt like I was doing it because it was expected of me.
I remember being in nightclubs, miles from home and desperately not wanting to be there. I knew I was trapped for the night as there was no way to go home on my own. I feel a slight panic and a lot of empathy for my younger self who would wait the night out, either trying to get drunk to dull the worry or putting on a show of having a great time.
Don’t get me wrong, particularly the friends I went out with back then. I did have some wonderfully crazy times too. I have great memories. However, I am sad that I couldn’t say ‘no’ on those days when I just didn’t want to go. I didn’t have the confidence in my 20s to be who I am.
I have found myself from a young age apologising for being an introvert. As a kid I wasn’t huge on joining clubs. Some I did under duress because my friends were doing it.
I was happiest when I was either with my small chosen tribe of friends or alone with my book. Kids don’t let you be alone by choice though, at least not back in my day. You either got bullied for being a loner or coerced into doing all the things with the in crowd. There was so much pressure.
Now I’m in my 40s I accept that I am an introvert and I embrace it. This doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be social sometimes. Once I get to know people I can be the life and soul of the (small) party if I feel like it.
I am more comfortable now with saying that I don’t want to go out, go to a big event where I won’t know anyone, or even choose to spend the evening reading. If people don’t like it then they are not my people.
I Am Someone Who Gets Depression
I first got depression at the age of 20. Since then I’ve had episodes of varying severity on and off.
When I was in my 20s I covered it up a lot. Back then depression wasn’t talked about so much. It wasn’t part of campaigns to break stigmas. That was when stigmas were being even further perpetuated. I was perpetuating it to my friends and some of them didn’t like it or understand it. I bear them no malice. I admit it took me years to get over the hurt of feeling like I was misunderstood. I now see that mental illness can be hard for people to comprehend.
My 20s and some of my 30s were spent either pretending nothing was wrong and forcing myself out there, or hiding away for long periods and becoming a recluse. Neither did me many favours. I either burnt myself out by putting on a mask whilst I was out and then collapsing in an emotional heap when I got home, or felt so isolated that I wondered what another person’s voice sounded like.
I did myself a massive disservice back then. I wasn’t ready to admit that depression is part of me. I still hate to acknowledge that but I have to if I am to get through it each time. If I could have never had it then I’d choose not to of course. It has lost me friends through their actions and mine. It has lost me jobs, opportunities and fulfilling dreams. But to accept it is gain.
I now know my enemy pretty well. I accept that it returns. I accept that it is a part of my biology. I guard myself against it but know I cannot always win. I work to inform others about it and shatter stigmas. Empathy and understanding are the dubious gifts I have gained from depression.
I Do Not Look Like I Did When I Was 20
I am not blessed with the genes that keep me looking the same over the decades. My weight has gone up and down like shenanigans in a brothel. My hair seems to sprout more grey with every life disaster. When I run, my back and knees tell me to stop this nonsense. The crow’s feet are starting to etch their way into my face.
I have been told since my 30s that I look younger than my age. I prided myself on that. I liked people guessing my age and always getting it below the true number. It was vanity on my part.
At the age of 41 I tend not to ask people anymore to guess my age. I’m not that vain or stupid. I don’t want to play those games anymore. I have to accept that I am ageing.
I spent most of my teenage years and 20s thinking I was fat. This was probably due to having puppy fat when I was a child. I grew up obsessed that I had a fat stomach.
I look at pictures of me as a teenager and in my twenties and cannot believe that I thought I was fat. It just goes to show that what we see in the mirror is so often distorted by our perfectionist expectations.
Back then I would lament finding a tiny roll of fat on my tummy. I remember getting Cindy Crawford’s workout DVD as a 16 year old and religiously working out to it every day. I wanted to look like her. This was the dawning of supermodels and I wanted to look like them or the women I saw in the magazines. I never felt like my body or face was enough.
I laugh now at how much I tried to alter what was already a good body and face. Since then I have put on lots of weight on occasions where I comfort ate. Never has a word meant its opposite as much as ‘comfort’ in ‘comfort eating’. There is no comfort found after you’ve eaten a whole packet of biscuits and you cry when you see you have contributed to your triple chins or you cannot bear to look at yourself in the bathroom mirror when you get into the shower.
I have lost and put on weight ever since. I am not usually a depressive who stops eating. I go the other way and then some. I have put on massive amounts of weight and slowly lost it, only to put it back on again.
When I got married at 40 I decided it was time to stop hating my body so much. I vowed that I would not go on the obligatory bridal starvation diet. I wanted to get married looking like the woman my husband loved when he proposed to me. That meant being a rather overweight bride.
I hated the thought of going wedding dress shopping though. I felt sick at the thought. The experience wasn’t helped by the first shop I went to making me feel like I was a heifer. I have never felt so ashamed to be larger in my life.
The shop knew via email that I was looking for specific sized dresses. Instead they made me try on incredibly unflattering, far too small dresses I didn’t want to. They humiliated me by pulling a dress over me that I said was not my size and allowing me to get stuck in it, making comments about how my stomach was too big for the dress. They told me I was too big for their shop’s dress sizes. I went out of that shop with my best friend and cried. I wanted to give up.
My friend convinced me to try another shop. I tentatively chose some dresses and felt so ashamed standing there in front of a thin woman in my underwear as she helped me into a dress. I thought she was going to mock me too. Instead she told me what great hips and waist I had. She cooed over how well the dress suited me. I knew that dress was the one in my head but I didn’t dare say it. I thought larger women didn’t deserve nice dresses because of that last shop experience.
I dared to look at that dress through the shop assistant and my friend’s eyes. I saw a bigger woman who looked, dare I say it, potentially beautiful in this dress.
I wore that dress with pride on my wedding day. I didn’t even think about whether my tummy looked big in it. I felt for the first time in my life like I was beautiful.
I can see in my wedding photos that I was bigger than I am now but I see a woman who felt amazing. I also see a man who was overwhelmed by how gorgeous his wife looked.
Since then I have started running and eating better. It was never about losing weight although that has been a nice side effect. I decided that my body has done me a good service over the years and I should reward it by taking better care of it. So that’s what I am trying to do.
Acceptance Is Difficult but Necessary
I don’t buy magazines anymore. I used to devour them until I realised that I was being fed a lot of bullshit about how I am supposed to look. I am never going to look like the women in the perfume and fashion adverts that seem to take up 2/3 of the glossy magazines.
I refuse to have the trashier magazines dictating to me that I must eat and look a certain way to be socially acceptable. I am me, not a cut out shape that fits a mould I was never meant to be placed in.
I am also pissed off with celebrity women being shamed for not looking the same at 60 as they did at 25. What the hell is that about?
I ignore the tabloids that seem to think women are only news-worthy if they are in a bikini, flashing their boobs, or naked.
I will stay in on a Saturday night and watch trashy TV or read a book if I want to. I don’t need to apologise for that. I am feeding my soul and not harming anyone else.
I will not be able to write on a CV all the various groups, societies and clubs I am part of because I am still not the joiner of all the things. I know I need to work more on getting involved in things due to my self-confidence, but equally I don’t have to be popular to be an acceptable member of the human race.
I am learning to accept myself more each day. I fight against the feelings of being a failure. Life events have often made me feel like that but if I am honest I did not cause those things to happen, they happened to me. I am not cursed, bad, weak or ineffectual.
I am a fighter and a woman who keeps on keeping on in the skin she was put in, with the mind she has cultivated, and the body that is still going strong, despite the occasional aches, pains, sags and wrinkles.
I am me and that is more than enough. I need to teach myself this every day but one day I hope it will stick.