Too Young to Be So Damn Old

14 07 2017

 

 

The past couple of years, I’ve been struggling with midlife anxiety. Worrying about things that haven’t happened yet (and may never), fearing the future and whether I will have the wherewithal to survive comfortably, terrified that some amorphous but horrible tragedy will strike. I’ve sometimes felt like the busy thoroughfare of life I started down became a dead-end street when I was, somehow, not looking.

I’ve finally had enough of that.

I can’t stop bad things from happening through sheer force of preemptive fear. They will either happen or they won’t – and I’ve decided to be miserable when I have to be rather than volunteer for it in advance.

Here are a few other things I’ve decided:

  1. I will not watch depressing movies about early-onset alzheimers. I don’t care if they have beautiful cinematography, amazing scripts and finely wrought performances from an entire cast of academy award winners. Please reread the first paragraph above if you don’t immediately grasp the reason for my boycott.
  2. I will deviate from social norms if I feel so inclined. Really? You want to publish a list of things women my age should or shouldn’t wear/do/be/think? Go right ahead. But the minute you try to shame me into compliance if I choose otherwise, be prepared. Most of you have never been on the receiving end of the full force of my verbal wrath. Believe me, you will not like it.
  3. When I am feeling “stuck”, I will not write my own obituary or walk through a graveyard to contemplate the fleeting nature of time. I know there are workshops that use these activities to good purpose. But at this point in my life, writing my own obit is a little too real. Save these activities that “begin with the end in mind” for people who are actually at the beginning.
  4. I will not apologize for my gray hair…or my magenta, blue, or purple hair if I choose to go that way. If I color my hair, I do so for me – not because anyone else has an opinion. Who knows, there may be some wild colors coming. Gray hair makes me feel old, which in turn causes me to feel anxious. I hope that won’t always be the case, so I’m letting myself ease into it. I promise you, I’m not trying to recapture my youth. I’m aware that youth is not only fleeting, it has done fled.
  5. I will stop, throw in the towel, or give up any elective activity I so choose. There was a time I could not put down a book I had started reading until I had finished it. No more. I’ll never get that precious time back. So now, if the book isn’t doing something for me, I can quit it. Same for movies, card games, and seeing every booth at the farmer’s market. When I’m ready to be done, I’ll just stop. (The exception is Monopoly – I won’t even start playing that game so don’t ask.)
  6. I will follow my curiosity, even if it means I’m the oldest one in the room. I’m actually already used to being the oldest one in the room. I’ve been immature for my age basically my whole life. I thought that alone might protect me from midlife anxiety, but not so much, it turns out.
  7. I will sing the song in my head if the mood strikes me. This goes for whether the song is playing on Muzak or not. Since I was in about sixth grade, I’ve been self-conscious about singing in public. But recently, I’ve caught myself singing in the hallway at work or, once, while checking out the sales racks in Von Maur department store (they have a live pianist there). Sometimes you just have to belt out a Manilow tune.

Speaking of singing, I discovered a wonderful Swedish proverb earlier this week.“Those who wish to sing always find a song”. Fear and anxiety often encourage silence. The longer we are silent the greater the power our fears hold over us. I’m not entirely sure what reminded me that I am someone who wishes to sing. I’m just grateful to finally be finding a song again. I recommend taking my list of “decisions” with a grain of salt. But if you suddenly hear someone singing “Ready to Take a Chance Again”, you can bet your hard-earned money its me.

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…And…

11 08 2016

The genesis of this blog was a challenge to myself to make and keep in my mind and heart a connection between my own struggles with weight and the growing numbers of people in the US who were living with food insecurity, if not outright hunger. It began with a profound moment of humility – what right did I have to live a gluttonous life while others starved?

Over the first couple of years, Jenion became a repository of self-revelation: what I was learning about myself in the process of awakening to and changing my life. As I lost weight, I also shed many self-deceptions, delusions, limiting beliefs. In each post I tried to share as honestly and completely as I could what I was learning, discovering, or feeling. Sometimes, it was painful to share. Sometimes, it was joyful. Always, it was as honest as I could make it – what I was experiencing without glamor: shame, vulnerability, binges, loneliness, gassy bloating. (I also shared good and positive insights and experiences!) A number of people, you perhaps, resonated with those posts. I heard from people who felt I’d put their own experiences or feelings into words. Sometimes, people called me brave for sharing so openly and for uploading photos of myself on a scale each week, in order to hold myself accountable to the truth of my choices.

Eventually, my posts shifted again. I had made many changes in myself and my life – and I wanted to keep those changes going. My posts, at least to my mind, shifted toward positive self-talk and inspirational messages. If I look over the past several years of Jenion, key words like perspective, love, openness – pep talks and rainbows – show up quite a lot. There wasn’t less honesty, but there has been less personal sharing – which is a very fine distinction when one is writing a blog that purports to be about truthful self-discovery. I began shying away from the “warts and all” philosophy I originally brought to Jenion. I became less brave.

Why was this the case? In part, I didn’t want to let everyone down. I began to feel like I wasn’t living up to the promise of those early years of awakening. Shouldn’t I be happier? My life, my self, had changed for the better – wouldn’t it bum everyone out if I didn’t continue to express the inspirational joy those changes wrought? I had taken some risks -wouldn’t my friends and family worry more if I wrote directly about how I was struggling? How could I fully share my feelings of failure or depression or anxiety without offering an uplift in the end? That would depress everyone. It would depress me.

Yesterday, I came home after a day at work where every five minutes brought another crap-bomb detonation. I came home after a painful first visit to a physical therapist for shoulder pain. I came home after a disappointing workout at the gym, where I barely managed an elevated heart-rate (in part because I am taking medication which actively prevents an elevated heart-rate).

Who am I kidding? I’m already damn depressed.

I sat at my computer and typed into Google: menopause and…Even before I typed in the word I intended to use to complete that phrase, up came a list:

anxiety

depression

fatigue

hair loss

headaches

You get the idea, even without reading the entire alpha listing of symptoms. Throw in weight gain, fear of death, existential anger, and an incredibly divisive political climate tearing families and friends apart…and you have the picture of my life right now. The difficulty is in parsing out which of these symptoms is physiological in its genesis, which emotional or psychological. This distinction is probably only academic – the real question being: what can I change and what do I just have to find a way to manage?

I never intended Jenion to become a blog about life as a middle-aged woman coming to terms with what that means. As an “elevator speech”, that sentence sucks. Perhaps that’s why I’ve contorted so many posts to end with some kind of hopeful upturn, even when it felt falsely peppy. What I did intend Jenion to be – an unflinchingly honest account of my own quest to be a better person, life a fuller life, make some kind of difference in my world (and if that helped anyone else in their quest in any way, that would be great) – got a little off track. I love Jenion; I love posting once a week – in some ways, it has taken the place of a journal. But I love it most when I speak from my heart, not from my self-delusions. If that doesn’t feel peppy and uplifting enough for anyone else to read, so be it. For those prone to worry about me: I’m ok, just struggling with this ordinary thing called life. Just like everyone does.

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

–from “The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz