Updated: Sep 12
I've written a lot of late about mental health and social media, and about the need for more honesty about us not 'having it all together' all the time. A lot of other voices are currently adding to the discussion too... Famous voices, influential voices... voices that get heard. It's important. It's a great thing. Let's keep those discussions coming!
I've actually been having a great time lately... Its my 50th birthday this month and I'm getting spoiled rotten in a melee of activities and celebrations. Its ace! It makes me truly appreciate the special people I have around me and where I am right now in life.
With a half century of living behind me, I actually don't feel in too bad a place, on balance! I've had a rocky few years to get where I am right now, but I'm actually doing just fine! (for the definition of 'just fine' see later in this post!!!)
But it comes after turbulent times! My mental health has, for the last 4 or 5 years, probably been an awful lot worse than even I had realised. A lot of angst from my younger years had been carried unknowingly through to middle age and had caused me all sorts of issues. I was obsessive, anxious, neurotic and a nightmare to live with. These issues were being continually compounded by contact I was having with a certain member of my (birth) family, who was always hyper-critical, ever ready to point the finger and tell me what a bad wife, bad mother and bad daughter I was and continued to be, and how average and un-impressive most aspects of my life were. I was made to feel guilty about my running, made to feel guilty about working (part time) whilst I had a young child, made to feel guilty about wanting to prioritise my time according to my wishes, rather than their expectations, or societal norms. I was told I was being selfish by "putting my own needs first", when the reality was I was forever trying to accomodate everyone else's needs to the detriment of my own. The constant criticism and guilt-tripping broke me down massively, and destroyed what little self-confidence I had left. A former lawyer, with the confidence to stand up in court and represent my clients, I became so meek and disenfranchised that I could barely represent myself, or even identify who I was or what I stood for any more...
With my life feeling way out of control, running became my safe place, and my work a safe haven. I threw myself into them as best I could, whilst trying to juggle all the plates of home life, family life, finances etc. I had to be busy... Busy busy busy! Not having something to do left me anxious and adrift and so I ensured that I was constantly occupied. But I was also prone to feeling overwhelmed. I was heading for a crash but was blind to the warning signs.
It seems trite to say it, but I think Covid did me a massive favour. It made me slow down (and eventually pretty much come to a standstill). I was denied the majority of the distractions with which I had endlessly filled my time. I was given time to think, and time to act on the results of my ruminations.
Whilst the resultant emotional roller-coaster made things very ugly for a while, it brought to light a lot of stuff I needed to work through in order to move on with my life... It made me address the toxicity of my relationship with certain people. And conversely, it made me realise the things that really matter to me, and the people who really were on my team - those core few individuals who are always there for me, and I for them.
Painstakingly, over a period of months, I sifted my life into mental piles - 'good for me' and 'bad for me' piles - and started the process of shedding the second pile.
In the process of sifting and shedding, I embarked on a massive, and oftentimes very uncomfortable, journey of self-discovery. I went to some very dark places and learnt a lot about myself in the process. I also realised that not everyone or everything was quite the way I believed in my life. I saw a few things with freshly opened eyes. A few people who I thought would be there forever, turned out to be toxic hangers-on, and a few people, who I hadn't really appreciated before, came through as my knights in shining armour. It was a tough and emotional journey and I am forever grateful for all of those who held my hand through that time and guided me through the darkness.
Suffice to say, I have done a lot of work on myself over the last 18 months. I have delved into the realms of psychology and psychiatry, explored numerous avenues of self-care and analysis, and cut ties with anyone who wasn't in some way nourishing for my soul. The process has been hard, and guilt-ridden, but ultimately, incredibly rewarding.
I'm still not sure exactly where I am going, or even who I am going to be, but I am pretty sure of who I am right now, and I'm doing just fine and that is OK.
But what does 'just fine' look like? Probably nothing like I would have envisaged 20 or 30 years ago, that's for sure! I'm not exactly 'living the dream', but I'm really OK with that too!
Honestly... I am out about 14lb overweight from where I normally sit, which means that half of my wardrobe doesn't fit me at the moment. I have a muffin top at best, which balloons to make me look 6 months pregnant when I eat just about anything (goddammit middle age, you suck!!). I am exploring a low FODMAP diet to try to resolve this issue but for now I have to settle with looking chubby and wearing only my 'fat clothes'! Thankfully, the lycra I wear for work is stretchy so I don't feel it shows too badly most of the time at work but I'm constantly aware that it is there, and that doesn't help my self-esteem!
My anxiety levels have calmed massively. Approaching menopause definitely didn't help that, but a low dose of HRT has now smoothed things out in that regard, as well as alleviating the aching muscles, hot sweats and associated ailments! And having close friends and family around me who are totally understanding of my emotional messiness is priceless. They are my support crew, my cheerleaders and my safety valves. I love them dearly and am forever grateful for them.
Coupled with my anxiety has been low self-esteem. I have always struggled with feeling the outsider, feeling different to my peers and, in some way, left out. This escalated to full-on imposter syndrome when I switched careers almost 14 years ago. Despite having a reasonably successful career, I have never felt confident in my abilities and have retreated into introversion as a means of avoiding having to 'measure up'.
I have always suffered massively from social anxiety too, and rarely accept social invitations... And can trace this back way into my teens. Big gatherings, parties etc make me very uncomfortable and anxious (I feel judged by everyone.. Yeah, I know that sounds weird, it does even to me but I can't help it!). I have now, at long last, pretty much made peace with this part of my character, and realise that it is just how I am, and that there is nothing actually wrong with not wanting to go to parties! I am a home-loving, cosy-pyjama-wearing introvert and proud of it! I am horrified to admit it has taken me almost 50 years to get to this point!!
I think probably the best thing about getting older is being more confident of just being myself, and being comfortable letting people judge accordingly, if that's their thing. It has taken me a long time, but I now feel reasonably comfortable that some people just won't like me. I get it... The planet is full of many different personalities, and we weren't all destined to be great friends. That's OK. Just gravitate towards those who are the right ones for you, and leave the rest alone... And accept that haters are always gonna hate, they will always find a reason, and that that too is OK.
So am I fabulous at 50? I guess that is probably over-egging the (birthday) cake! But I am doing OK and feel safe, secure and loved (which is a truly precious feeling). And I just want to give a shout out to everyone who is out there doing their best to get through the craziness that is getting thrown at them right now, whatever shape that is taking...
I thought long and hard about writing this blog, as I've watched a lot of people go through an awful lot worse than my last 18 months, and felt a bit dramatic describing how I've been feeling when I really haven't got much to complain about. But the truth is, so many of us go through these mini-dramas feeling the same ("I'm OK really, there are many who have got it worse..."). I just want to say yes, but your struggles are still real... And I too really don't have my sxxt together... And I hear you x❤️x