Have you felt really exhausted lately?
I know that excessive tiredness comes with the territory of menopause and living through a pandemic, but what I'm feeling at the moment is more like a heavy weight pushing down on me, squeezing every drop of energy from my body.
And I know exactly what it is - it's frustration. The frustration of not being able to do everything I want to do in the free time at my disposal.
You see, in the hours outside of the (vaguely) routine areas of my life I feel like I'm on a treadmill - running, and not actually getting anywhere
Coronavirus shone a brighter light on this problem which has been niggling under the surface for years. It triggered a renewed urgency within me to get on with the stuff that brings me joy (in the words of Marie Kondo), which for me involves doing more, cramming as much new learning into whatever time I've got left.
I respect other women my age who choose to sit back and relax for this last chapter of their lives, but
new learning empowers me, which has a positive knock-on effect on both my mental health and my relationships.
I'm simply not ready to slip quietly into the middle-aged woman box
When I moaned about my frustration with friends of mine, they suggested it might be linked to the pressure many of us feel about the need to achieve - that social media has intensified - to justify our right to equality in some way. But I don't think it's that. I'm old and ugly enough not to feel the pressure to have to impress anyone else and I'm also in the fortunate position where I don't need to keep on "achieving" for financial reasons.
So what's really stopping me from getting out there and kicking ass? Am I just a serial whinger or is it really harder for women our age to kick our goals?
Where do I start?
1. My Body. Whilst I'VE accepted (sort of) that I look older (funny, that!), that's not always the case when it comes to my work colleagues. And if the ageism that denies some middle-aged women their invitation to get jiggy at work social events isn't bad enough, there's the fact that some of us are treated like idiots. I'm certain that your average twenty-something isn't actually aware of the memory lapses caused by menopause, and yet they can't help talking to us like we're two-year olds, or making assumptions about what we can and cannot do (particularly when it comes to technology). Snubs like these are hurtful and do nothing to alleviate our problems with concentration.
2. Mood Swings. Anti-depressants for anxiety (which help combat hot flushes), and an endometrial ablation for very heavy periods convinced me that I'd sail through menopause. So I wasn't fully prepared for some of the other symptoms - in particular the mood swings, anger, and paranoia. Any idea how hard it is to get the creative juices flowing when you can't stop obsessing about why your husband still can't clean a bench top properly?
Men have no idea how exhausting it is to have to pretend you're human when you feel like an axe-murderer on the inside
3. Lack of confidence. I know there's no one else to blame but myself if I don't achieve what I want, but I do believe that society and the way it views women of a certain age should share some of the responsibility. So often, the "What if I fly?" excitement in my head about a new project turns into a "What's the point?" negativity when I'm confronted by discrimination. Added to which, some days, putting my goals first seems bloody impossible with the responsibilities of a day job, my home life and the emotional labour that goes with it. It feels like Imposter Syndrome to think that little me can do anything amazing.
4. Gratitude - I can't ignore the voice in my head that says I should be grateful for what I've got. I've read a lot and listened to a ton of podcasts on the subject of privilege and I know I should feel more grateful than I do. I'm white, I've had a good education, and I'm relatively financially secure. But I still want more. Whilst I am incredibly grateful for what I've been given, I can't be that sincere happy-clappy kind of grateful that some expect of people in my position. I still have dreams. And because being grateful is evidently not enough to make my happy, I'm starting to question if I'm just an inherently angry, selfish person.
5. That lack of me-time I keep mentioning, which is (I admit it) turning me into that middle-aged stereotype I hate so much - the crabby Olive Kitteridge version. Lack of time to do what I WANT makes me resent people who make unnecessary demands of my time or who take advantage of that small part of my nature that can be generous. I begrudge the expectation that I should be responsible for all of the emotional labour in the family. This constant push and pull I experience about WHAT I SHOULD BE versus WHAT I WANT TO BE is exhausting and I'm tired of saying "yes" to everything and then hating myself and others for putting me in that position.
So, there it is...
If you've ever wondered why our age-group is portrayed as cantankerous old bitches, you might want to look beneath the surface. Frustration at feeling like we're up against the clock all of the time is one cause of our sensitivity. The fear of not having enough time to complete everything we want to achieve is another.
Of course, I hope I'll be remembered as "a good, caring person", but is it so wrong to want more? Is it wrong to want something for me? To be ambitious? It''s not like my goals are unrealistic in any way - they are very highly achievable given the opportunity to prioritise them rather than have to fit them around everything else in my life.
When the virus first struck I put aside MY goals because I was worried about its impact on my mental health and the knock-on effect that might have on my ability to do my job, care for my family etc. I made a conscious decision not to take anything new on that might prove challenging... apart from crocheting - who was I kidding? - and removed myself from anything with the potential to trigger stress. In other words, I put everyone else first again and sacrificed my right to happiness. Being busy doing stuff I enjoy energises me; being busy making everyone else's life easier doesn't.
But perhaps my biggest problem is self-perception
Which brings me back, again, to that hurtful stereotype of the middle-aged woman, which contributes to the way we are discriminated by a society that, frankly, doesn't needs any help in that department.
Middle-aged celebrities like Cindy Crawford who have "aged well" (Yuck!) may think that they are empowering women our age by looking fantastic and fit - but are they really? To me, it's a bit like how porn educates young boys about sex, isn't it? The women who inspire me are the ones who are authentic - middle-aged women such as Frances McDormand and Helen Mirren, who haven't traded their looks for success. I have no problem with women who use their looks for their careers, but I do have a problem with women promoting the beauty of middle-age with surgical and financial help.
Brene Brown knows from personal experience how impossible it is to attain success and experience true happiness when we feel vulnerable. She believes that the people who are successful have to be totally confident in who they are, what they're doing, and what they want. These people remove toxic people from their lives and they say no.
The truth is that successful people have to be a little bit selfish
And by "success", I mean personal success, and achieving personal goals. And that's, sadly, the realization I've come to as well. I've resolved to be more selfish from now on and place boundaries around my time.
But first of all, I need to manage my time better, which means going back to the drawing board and making a list of all the things I can't give up (my day job and my family responsibilities), and the personal goals I want to add (new learning, publishing my manuscript, launching my writing business properly, exercise, travel and good food). And finally, I'll decide what to cut from my life - because those things no longer bring me pleasure (Thanks again! Marie Kondo), because they aren't value for money, or simply because they are a symptom of my weakness for taking on everyone else's problems as well as dealing with my own.
I know it may sound crazy to do a complete re-evaluation of your life in your fifties, but how lucky are those of us who still have choices that are denied to so many?
Anyone else feel selfish about putting themselves first at this stage of their lives?
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