Me and my pals and most of the other mid-aged women I know, have officially (according to statistics and the Oxford English Dictionary) entered the silver era of our lives. I’d like to tell whoever thought that little (golden) nugget up that I’ve been dying my hair since my early thirties, so white whispers through my roots are nothing new.
But silver hairs can be covered up, and my generation of women are free – for perhaps the first time – to reject wholeheartedly the middle-aged manipulation that wants to put us on a silver plinth. Maybe it’s the Olympics, but I have no intention of settling for second place. I want the GOLD plinth and nothing less.
I am just back from a week in Iceland, trekking up, and camping in, the shadows of volcanoes and glaciers. The sky is so vast it takes your breath away more than the cold, or the rotten egg smell of sulphur. I was there with my brother and my dad, to celebrate the latter’s 80th birthday (stick THAT old-age definition up your pipe and smoke it.)
On the first day, I went for an early morning run in the stunning light of an Icelandic sky. I had woken early and enchanted by the might of the horizon, I put on my runners and ran. I ran, and I sang. I jumped like an eejit. I waved my arms around like a teenager at a Taylor Swift concert. Something about the light. Something about the spectacular view of volcanoes and mother nature’s creativity at it’s best as I ran past tranquil water hiding a turbulent underbelly (the ground is so hot here in places the water is constantly at boiling point). Something, anyway. I felt alive. I didn’t feel defined by age, or circumstances, or labels or all the crap that has pelted me for the last few years. I felt young (and this is before I had swum in Iceland’s hot natural springs).
And because in my new-found mid-aged don’t give a fuck mentality, I ran down the coastal path not caring who saw me singing at the top of my voice as Spandeau Ballet pumped that life-affirming mantra into my ears:
Gold.. always believe in your soul!
You’ve got the power to know you’re indestructible.
Always believe in, because you are Gold. Always believing.
(All the natural hot waters in the world can’t make you feel as good as singing Gold at the top of your voice, and you know it!)
Like this land, bubbling with boiling water from the earth, scarred and pockmarked with the layers of angry lava, wrenched apart by teutonic planes beneath the surface, smothered in miles of glacial ice… beauty in the wake of chaos, calm in the light of frenzy, it is indestructible. It can spew hot lava, it can freeze inhospitable areas, it can blow torrents of weather and then be as peaceful and more beautiful than is imaginable. A bit like life. And that is why mid-age is the golden age. It is the calm from the turbulence, but the caution to know things can still rumble ahead. It is the result of being marinaded in all the life events and feelings that have got us to today, slow cooked and now we are tender and tasty. BUT. It’s also time to pick out the bay leaves and other spices that may have helped make you what you are, but you don’t want to eat them. Time to take them out of your tasty dish. They’ve done their work. They helped make you, but you need to ditch them now.
Sometimes you have to remind yourself how indestructible you are. I remember once, in probably the first time I had my heart really broken, collapsed on my kitchen floor (it’s always dramatic in your 20’s) crying, thinking I would never be able to get up again. How many times have I been back there since? A few. For various reasons. And I have always been able to get up. Eventually. The difference then, and the difference now, is I know I will get up, even if my knees creak a little, and while I’m down there I scrub at a stain I have spotted.
Have I forgotten more than I know? Will I learn more than I knew? Do I know more than I thought? Do I think less than I did? Do I care anymore? There is lots of disparaging talk about losing one’s mental faculties once a certain again kicks in. All those rip-roaring birthday cards about blowing out your brain cells with the number of candles you have to blow out. All those moments of you know, what’s his name, in that thingy, the film, what was it called? You know there are certainly days when I can barely remember my children’s names. But I’m reluctant to put that all down to hormones and happy hour indulgences. You know, getting to mid-life is like reaching the eye of the tornado – it’s one of the busiest times of your life. Sandwiched between parent-care and child-care, frenetic responsibilities of keeping children from falling off the straight and narrow and keeping parents from just plain falling, career is usually hectic, the word ‘balance’ a laughing joke me and my gal pals all hysterically giggle down with a bottle of wine.
On-going research into the effects of age on brains and memory are starting to show that the slippery slope of mental disintegration from middle age is actually not such a slope, or so slippery. In fact, research is proving that the middle-aged brain is one of the most flexible, accurate and intelligent machines going. New research has discovered that middle agers are actually the most flexible of thinkers…. we can use an accumulation of knowledge and crucially, experience, to come up with solutions.
One of the reasons I was able to run and shout with such abandon this morning in Iceland, was that I had recently been freed of some of the poisonous plagues that had pockmarked my self-esteem for many years – the disease of distain that I had taken into myself from others. Two in particular. Funny how you never hold onto the good stuff that people tell you? You only continue to wear the bad like cheap jewellery that tarnishes your skin.
So I let go of two things that tarnished me.
My marriage ended because it wasn’t what I thought it was. Not in a ‘I can’t believe he doesn’t know how to hoover’ way, but in a fundamental it wasn’t what I thought it was. I spent many years doubting my sanity. I sent many nights crying because I MUST be a bad person that this other person can’t see me and love me the way I would expect a normal partner to see and love their wife. I literally thought I was going mad. And I was certainly gaslighted to believe that too. And then the truth came out and I found out I wasn’t mad. My gut had been telling me for years something was wrong. But I had put it down to indigestion.
Years ago I went out with a lethario who I thought loved me. He did. He also loved a few other women at the same time. But again, for some reason – oh perhaps because he told me – I thought I was bad (I did spectacularly throw all his clothes out of the bedroom window during one magnificent row. God that felt good.) I found out recently from a mutual friend I haven’t seen in a long time that in fact HE is bad, and has treated every women since in exactly the same way to the point he had to leave town.
In both cases I had allowed myself so easily to think I was bad, and I allowed myself so easily to think I was mad.. But no more. That was my mad, bad sad fad. It wasn’t me, it was them. One is bad and one is mad…. and I survived!
Being indestructible is not about covering yourself in armour to protect yourself. Being indestructible is about realising you can get yourself off the floor, over and over again. But it’s also about not taking on the damage from bad or mad people.
Being mid-aged is about a long New Year’s Eve. A time to reflect, but shed. A time to make plans but celebrate the moment. A time to take charge, take a deep breath, and in many ways, start afresh. It’s like we know what we want for a long time but we get to Mid-age and we know we really want it now, and now is our moment. It is now or never. It’s live well, or die slow.
I don’t want to come out of a damaging marriage and say I never want to love again.
I want to say I can’t wait to love again! And be loved. Properly.
I don’t want to come out of my torturous sandwich years and the loss of my mum and say I feel bruised.
I want to say death is shit, I really want to live. Properly.
I don’t want to cry into my gin after a gruelling day of juggling single parenting, work, house, writing and DIY and say I’m too overwhelmed to go on.
I want to say Phew! Survived that, and aren’t I lucky that my life is so full, but let’s take a moment to breath. Tomorrow is another day. And I will try to live it. Properly, overwhelmed and all.
Life is like those Icelandic glaciers and lava that keep creeping forward, changing the landscape, alive, progressing, the earth adapting, but always, always moving forward.
I always saw my life as a series of adventures. The last adventure of marriage had it’s ups and it’s down. Admittedly I might not keep the souvineer tee-shirt but it’s over and I have 3 amazing little people to take on new adventures with me.
This next phase of my life – as a mid-ager- is a whole new adventure. I have absolutely no idea what my life will look like in the years ahead, but I know enough to know that it will be great if I chose to, and tough because that’s life, but I know now I can always get up off the floor.
No time for self-sabotage. No time for guilt. No time for thinking I’m bad or mad because someone else gaslighted me, or I just plain let them. No, the golden ere is about owning my own badness and madness should I decide to be that occasionally. If I’m going to be mad, let it be me that decides to be mad (and let it involve a random act so mad it changes my life, and maybe involves a tropical island?)
I’m throwing away the cheap tarnished accessories and I’m wearing the gold I have taken through my life – my mum, my family, my friends, my daughters. I’m gold. Singing loud and proud.