The ‘M’ Words: Agony & Ecstasy – Part I

Rather obvious? Well, that’s me, straight to the point! You’ve guessed right (it isn’t rocket science people!), two words, ‘Middle-aged’ & Menopause…otherwise known in my book as ‘Agony’ & ‘Ecstasy’. You know, the agony of ageing combined with the sweet ecstasy of being ‘period-free’ for the rest of my life! Sorry if that’s too much information, but blogs are full of squeamish stuff aren’t they? Also, because I liked the title (it is my blog!), even thought the Part I added weight 😉 (I’m kidding, I only added that as an after thought when my ramblings threatened to turn this into a book rather than a blog 😛 Old habits and all that…;-)). What? You disagree? Uh huh. Use the comment section at the bottom of the page, people! I just noticed a ‘Like’ icon at the top of my blog page. Feel free to use it! Don’t be stingy now 😉

Alright, ‘Middle-aged’ first. Why? ‘Coz that usually comes first for women, in due course. Luckily, (and this is why I think if there is a God, he’s certainly male!!) men don’t have to worry about the other M. I don’t really have an issue with the word (although ‘mid-life’ just sounds so much cooler and hip!), just with certain associated connotations. I’ve never been obsessed with age of the numerical variety, believing instead in the time-tested cliché, ‘It’s all in the mind!’. Except for changes in legal status and perceived progression from one label to another, (babies to kids to teens to adults to middle-aged adults to senior citizens to old & doddering!) I don’t see how it has anything to do with anything! Please note the stress on perceived, ‘coz lets be honest, we’ve all known adult-kids and childish senior citizens 😛 If you haven’t (which rock were you under?) come home and I’ll introduce you to both 😉

Having said that, I readily admit, that throughout school, like all children, I was in a tearing hurry to ‘grow up’, thought my teachers very ‘old’ and imagined them dead by the time we did :P. Now, having crossed the age that most of my teachers were, and gaining a whole new perspective on life in general and age in particular, the only age-related issues that I consider seriously these days are health-related! For the rest, I like to think I’m the kind of person who’s comfortable with whatever age I am. (I’m 41 J). That’s not to say I’m looking forward to old-age and senility (not with the examples around me ;-)), but I’m certainly not hankering after my youthful twenties!

Turning 21 was fun (Can someone please explain why we make a huge deal about 21 and then suddenly revert back to 30, 40, 50, 60?)  – had my fellow classmates from medical school over and had a blast at home! Turning thirty is something I can no longer even remember 😛 We probably had a dinner out somewhere, hubby and I, and he might have given me a gift or not. (He’s good but peculiar about gifts, the hubby. Gives me great gifts at odd times of the year on no particular day, but rarely on birthdays and anniversaries. I don’t complain, so you know they’re pretty good gifts :)) I can hear some of you sighing with exasperation at how hopeless I am, but really, what is so special about turning thirty? So, it caught me unawares, when the thought of turning forty made me a touch nervous! Not nightmares you understand about the best part of my life being over, just a few butterflies in the stomach about how much I wanted to do and whether I would have enough time left in which to do it! Perhaps it was because it was ‘the’ topic of discussion amongst our peer group, that it made such an impact. Perhaps I’m not as immune as I think :). Perhaps it’s what prospective ‘Middle-agers’ do 😉 For whatever reasons, it certainly got me thinking.

Looking back, I think it dawned on me when I hit 35, how forty wasn’t just a faraway number anymore, but a definite reality provided I didn’t drop dead before then of course. What’s more, said reality was suddenly not ten but a mere five years away! (Wipe that smirk off your face. Now!) Suddenly it seemed all too ‘real’ and close to home until I began to feel like I was turning eighty not forty! Have those of you who turned forty ever felt that? If not, lucky you or maybe you have worse things to worry about – like turning 50! 😉 Thankfully, the feeling was short-lived, life intervened, and I went happily about my business ‘coz I’m a really good forgetter and I regained my admirable chutzpah 😛 (I’ve been wanting to use that word for a very long time :)). And so, said birthday arrived, was duly celebrated with a small group of people I love and that was that! The day after, when I was forty and a day old, life returned to routine, no inspirational realizations, no flashes of insight, no particularly heightened feelings of having achieved a milestone of some sort, just the normal daily grind. Maybe that’s the reason I have no clue why turning forty is such a big deal for some. I love a great party and a celebration for any reason is always welcome, but I don’t get the ‘themed extravaganzas’ and ‘wild blowouts’ and the spending of a fortune to mark the day like some rite of passage, when deep down inside, you know and I know – nothing’s really changed. Has it? But maybe that’s just me and maybe it’s coz I don’t have tons of cash to blow-up…sigh!

I think the butterflies were due to the realization that time was suddenly a ‘finite’ quantity. Remember how immortality felt so real, so possible in our twenties? Well growing older brings with it a sense of urgency I guess and around forty is when a lot of physical changes kick in that can throw a spanner in the works (think bifocals, botox, cholesterol medication, the other M in women, Viagra in men, diabetes, hypertension, back problems and weight, weight, weight among others.)! Even if we are in good health, our doctors advise yearly checkups so we can stay that way and warn us that our risk for every conceivable disease under the sun has now magically doubled. They caution us seriously on the vagaries of excess (food, alcohol, smoking, partying, all the fun stuff that was), and because of what we believe and society enforces, we listen, we cringe and are afraid, and ‘Middle-aged’ becomes a time of dread and worry…the beginning of a downward spiral and the inevitable end. It doesn’t help that by now, many of us are juggling growing children, aging parents, dead-end jobs and marriages along with numerous social obligations, that we feel define us, and that we feel compelled to hold on to, lest we lose our identity, that very precious sense of self that is defined by our achievements. Along the way, we have sacrificed once beloved dreams on the altar of ‘responsibility’, and feel in turns, stuck, frustrated, unloved and unvalued, which only worsens the feeling that life has slipped us by. Whew…not pretty huh?

Oh but of course, it’s not all bad! That was just me being me with the bad news first! Most of us, it’s true, do feel overwhelmed for a while, and retreat into ourselves, until eventually, we bounce back with support from friends, family, counselors and if you’re like me, alcohol 😉 We flounder about clueless for a while until someone throws us a lifeline (a book, a hobby, a conversation…) and haul ourselves up and for a while, we’re good to go, until the next crisis strikes. But seriously, there’s a lot to celebrate. The fact that parents are still around in times of crisis, even if they are increasingly the source and not the solution. The fact that kids while a constant source of worry and frustration are an equally constant source of joy, pride and unadulterated fun. The fact that having a job and/or a marriage to hang on to in these perilously uncertain times, is nothing short of a miracle. The fact that you are most certainly not alone, but part of an entire generation dealing with similar issues, which means you don’t have to look far to find an understanding friend. See, how am I doing so far? Not too bad? And it gets better…although I don’t think this next is age-related in any way; more to do with life-experience, and common sense,  if you get my meaning.

So here is my take on this whole ‘Middle-age’,‘Mid-life’ debate. It’s all about perspective and choice, like most things in life. One can moan about lost opportunities or be prepared for the new ones that come along (and they do, although we rarely recognize them for what they are, unless in retrospect). One can choose to live a healthy life or groan about the weight that is never lost, the body that sags, the joints that ache. One can choose quality over quantity and hold on to close friendships with true value. One can decide to learn a new skill, not with the intention of gaining mastery (although there’s nothing wrong with that) but in order to enjoy the process and renew the spirit…remember how doing things you love, never feels like work? These are all learnable skills (Oh stop complaining! Never said it was going to be easy, or original for that matter ;-)) that can make life at any age, easier and simpler. A healthy sense of humor combined with the ability to laugh at oneself helps enormously, in my experience 🙂

Yes indeed, ‘Middle-age’ can be all about discovering yourself, gaining fresh perspective and finding the confidence to dream again – maybe not the bold, youth-centric dreams of yesterday, but new ones that reflect the person you have become. So unless you are one of those clued in, self-assured people who knew from the moment they were born, what they want from life and how to get it (you know them – they’re the ones we all love to hate :P), my strategy is simple, “Enjoy the present, and Be prepared”. I think it’s one that should work through every age. Most of us, if we pay attention, can gain a better understanding of self with time and so become more confident about the world and our place in it. I’m not talking enlightenment a la Buddha people! Just a better understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses. All it takes is a little insight, the willingness to admit & learn from mistakes, the ability to ask for help when needed and accept it graciously when offered.

Alright, since this post has now officially crossed all blog readability limits and bored most of you to death with all the unsolicited ‘gyaan’ (knowledge just doesn’t have the same ring to it methinks ;-)), I’ll end with a Maya Angelou quote that I find simple, powerful & profound, “Do your best. And when you know better, do better.”

As for me, I’m resolved to use what time I have left here on earth, as wisely as I can, and hopefully stay young forever 🙂 How’s that for a life resolution?

Part II follows shortly for those still interested.

Stay happy people 🙂

This is a book I bought for myself when I turned forty, So You’re 40! by Mike Haskins & Clive Whichelow and keep going back to when in need of a good laugh! Highly recommended for fresh initiates into the ‘Middle-ages’!

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