I have a birthday soon, one I once imagined I’d never reach. I expected youth to last forever, but at around fifty, it finally became clear that it wouldn’t, it hadn’t, and it would never be mine again. That was a decade ago. Time now for a brief review.
In my fifties, I have, among other things:
- Deepened into sickness, and got better
- Made friends
- Lost friends
- Changed location, and changed again
- Explored my depths with shamans and sacred medicines
- Bidden farewell to all of them
- Seen my nest empty
- Become a widow
- Learned to grieve
- Questioned the nature and existence of happiness
- Proved myself wrong
- Seen my name on a book cover
- Met myself in other incarnations
At thirty, or forty, or fifty, these things were as unimaginable as being sixty was. Was youthful me so lacking in imagination?
‘So hang on, you say you have social anxiety, but you perform, sing and do spoken word, and go to events to make contacts?’
Well now. Here’s how I put my game face on.
- Have an aim. If I have to, once I’ve tried to achieve, or achieved it, I can leave.
- Get close to the beginning of the line up if possible. Once I’ve done my ‘bit’, I can relax.
- I don’t drink alcohol if it’s a work thing.
- I don’t eat garlic for three days before the event.
- I leave myself extra time to sort out my hair (I could conquer the world if I thought my hair looked good).
- I recognise and accept the presence of ‘anxiety sweat.’ It smells different from exercise sweat.
- I check my teeth in the mirror.
- I (never) have tissues.
- I floss.
Christmas anxiety. A wash of feelings, pulling and pushing in opposite directions. I’m a sociable person, I love my friends. Now it’s December and I’m all ‘hopefully we can catch up before Christmas?’
I invite, or accept invitations, with joy, and then approach the days themselves with dread. Will I spend hours on my return, mulling over a throwaway comment I made, seeking malevolence in words that were not meant to hurt? Deliberately sabotaging my own friendships, and my own fragile resilience?
So last year, I stopped saying ‘let’s meet up before Christmas’ and started saying ‘have a lovely Christmas! See you next year.’
To anyone reading this who feels anxious around Christmas, I just want to say: you don’t have to see anyone, if you don’t feel like it. Look after yourself, OK? And I’ll see you next year.
I had decided we were going for a nice walk. Got the map out and everything, planned a new route. As we drove out of the village, spatters of rain started to hit the car windscreen. Mr HB and I looked at each other. Maybe we should do a shorter walk, in a wood, or something?
The rain intensified.
OK, let’s go do an indoor activity instead.
The kids were delighted.
After the fun, but expensive, indoor activity, the sun was beating down. I was gritting my teeth as we drove home. The little ones had a water fight, but I still wanted my walk. So off I went on my usual round from the house. A nice circular 4k. You know the one, if you live here.
As I reached the furthest point from the house – the heavens opened.
‘I don’t do politics.’
‘I’m so bored of politics.’
We’ve all seen this on our newsfeeds, school run, or workplace.
Well, first off, I’m grateful that I have a choice.
For so many, talking about politics is dangerous, and I don’t mean they might lose a few friends for banging on about things that they think matter.
For others, a life without politics in it is harder, if it’s not safe for you to go home anymore…
Or if ever since you were born, the colour of your skin means more than anything else you might feel, know or have to offer.
I try to remember: from when I get up, switch on the kettle, eat, drink, send my kids to school, drive on our roads –
that’s just the first half of my morning!
It all relies on politics.
I’m rarely on the bypass at that time of night, stopping and starting, bumper to headlight. I always remember my sister’s advice. ‘There’s nothing you can do about it,’ she said, circa 1997, ‘just listen to the music, and chill.’
Suddenly, there was a blue light, flashing behind. How on earth would they get through all this? Thankful that I was passing a place to pull in, it managed past me.
As the car behind me pulled in too, I noticed that the car behind that had already done so.
These selfless acts reminded me. People are kind and thoughtful. Society does work. Most people – even people in a traffic jam – care.
Then the cars in front peeled off to each side, like a pulled thread, we were joined in a communal goal. And together, we let the ambulance through.
When I was about eighteen
lots of people starting talking
about a book they had read.
‘It’s totally about you, Stella!’
They would say.
And I would be like
What? A total fuck up
like I am?
I can’t remember
where I got my first copy
or where I read it
or what I was doing at the time.
But I have read it so often
that I know it all
off by heart.
Words and phrases
from the book
remain in my vocabulary
‘happiness is … the pursuit
of attainable goals.’
‘I am going to cancel
and spend the evening
in a cardigan
with egg on it.’
Sentences structured without all words.
One of my favourite reviews
of my own novel,
said it was like ‘a younger version
of Bridget Jones.’