We need to do better work in this culture on aging. We put so much emphasis on the developmental years, baby to teenager. There are entire books written on periods of less than 12 months. Which, of course, makes sense. A baby learns more in the first three months of life than most adults learn in a decade. The development of children is monumental.
Still, getting older, hitting middle age and beyond is harrowing (at least for overachieving perfectionists like me). I’ve heard so often from friends that once you hit 50 things get better. Your confidence increases. You’re comfortable in your body. You’re grounded.
Well, I don’t know what happened for these women. They are my friends, so I trust them to be telling their own truths. But none of this stuff has happened for me. Instead I feel like the Big Bad came along and just pulled the rug out from under me.
It’s been a huge learning curve. Since turning 50, I’ve been in physical therapy for my shoulder and my knee, had surgery, and been diagnosed with and treated of cancer. In the midst of all of this, anxiety and depression have worsened and I’ve had to go through medication adjustments. Icing on the cake, I’m going through menopause.
Today I woke up early from a bad dream with my head pounding. I blame hot flashes. They sound innocent enough. Several years ago the actress Emma Thompson joked that they kept her warm during a particularly bitter winter. But for me, they’ve been brutal. They disrupt my sleep, and when that’s disrupted my whole life is topsy turvy.
My head has been pounding like this, on and off, for three days. I just can’t shake this headache. As people who’ve been diagnosed with cancer know, every ache and pain, especially the ones that stand out a little bit, seem like warnings of the worst.
Maybe it sounds neurotic and pessimistic to you who haven’t had cancer, but for many of us it was just such an odd and persistent symptom that got us diagnosed in the first place.
But, today is my birthday, and I’m not going to dwell on these hard to fathom changes. Or, I’m not going to dwell on the confusing and discouraging parts anyway. I’m going to snap out of it.
I’m going to remember that since turning 50 and since being diagnosed with cancer, I’ve discovered that my professional life is more meaningful. The work I do matters to me. I enjoy my work. I love my students. I make a difference in their lives.
I’m going to celebrate my friends, women and men from across the age spectrum who’ve involved their lives in mine.
- Former students, former coworkers, and a former roommate
- Fellow moms, fellow bloggers, and fellow cancer survivors
- Family from near and far, especially my nieces
And though Facebook is much maligned, it is in part because of this platform that these relationships have developed.
And, I’m going to be respectful to those who are very ill and to the survivors of those who’ve died by being grateful that I get to struggle through these life changes.
I do so without grace in awkward, combative ways. But I never do it in half measures. I’m all in because I think life is best lived in an “all in” sort of way.
And, I’m going to savor my family and closest friends, the people who make my life a privilege.
My college roommate, a woman who has been through hell and back over the past few years, called and left a message on my voice mail earlier. She has one of those true and uncluttered voices, sweet and lovely. She sang “Happy Birthday.” I think I’ll listen to that over and over and feel grateful to be loved.
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