I cannot say for certain, but I think the aging of a woman progresses from excitement and freedom, to bewilderment and horror, then acceptance and curiosity.
Lying in bed next to my now husband a few years ago was the first time. The morning sun had our room deliciously covered in sunlight and shadows and we were still dazed with sleep, enjoying a lazy Sunday. I lifted my arm to stretch and was shocked, dismayed, horrified. The skin on my upper arm hung like crepe paper that had been left hanging at a party for far too long. I hadn’t noticed that before.
The beginning part of older age, regardless of the number you attribute to it, is emotionally complex. My late 40’s were exciting, exhilarating. I was reborn. On the edge of a divorce after eighteen years of marriage felt like a dark curtain being lifted. The possibility of life was raw and bright. I competed in a triathlon, my first ever, learned how to ride a road bike and moved from Massachusetts to Colorado. I shed weight like water and bought new clothes, shopping in stylish boutiques. I purchased outfits that were ‘going out outfits,’ because I would now be going out. Expensive jeans, beautiful blouses and heeled boots.
Around the same time, menopause settled in, but aside from hot flashes that made my face flush and my body sweat, I paid her no mind. She was welcome to stay. I was enjoying my life, my time, the opportunity to begin again. If menopause was the price I had to pay, so be it.
This exuberance for life and new beginnings was a gift. My children were young adults, I had time to care for my body and mind, and while estrogen might be lacking, my vocal cords had strengthened. My energy was powerful and it did not revolve around caring for others. Saying no was beautiful and powerful. Saying yes to adventure was glorious, like I did when I traveled to Europe for the first time or when I enjoyed the sound of my high heels clicking across the airport floor as I made my way to Texas or Washington for business.
For me, the time period between 48 and 55 was rich. Life was fresh and new and for the first time since before my babies were born, the canvas was empty. The horizon was vast and bright. How would I paint my life now?
Around 58, I began to notice my body changing. Skin that once glowed and had been supple became dry. Dark circles, which I have always had, created raccoon eyes without under-eye concealer. There was no longer an option for squinting at a text message; glasses had to be handy at all times.
At first, I rebelled. Ran faster, lifted more, pushed myself in yoga, decided I would not succumb to age in the way I had seen others. My workouts increased in intensity, I racked up longer rides on my bike, hiked longer. But eventually, what had once been fun did not make me happy. I wanted to ride, but not 60 miles. I wanted to hike, but take more snack breaks.
If I cared for my body, I thought, I would have this aging thing beat. I would be different.
We are bombarded with messages that promise if we do this one thing, we will be better. There is little encouragement for women that says where you are right now is just fine.
My hips widened, my breasts swelled and sagged and for the first time in my life, my belly had an extra roll. It turns out my body remembered how it had stretched beyond 45 pounds with each pregnancy. I did not know this new body.
I was horrified.
But over time, right around 60, my body insisted she was fine. She was happy, she was alive.
And though these physical changes frightened and befuddled me and stopping them was like trying to rake leaves in the wind, I noticed something else. My body kept sending me messages that I had chosen to ignore. Messages that said, “Slow down, take a breath, look around you, be your own role model, love your knees and care for your feet.”
Today I find myself behaving like an inspector when I approach my body. I am curious. When I had an echocardiogram last year, I was enthralled. There was my heart! She was beating! Oh how lovely! I watched her work and I felt so much love it was embarrassing. My own heart moved me.
Yesterday I noticed two new age spots on my hand. I said “hello you.”
Next week I will have an endoscopy. Digestive issues.
I am not so worried about the results, but my physical detective is desperate for information. Why am I suffering? What is causing these symptoms? How can I take better care of my body?
I lost three pounds in four days, my under eye circles are dark and my skin is lacking in color. I tire easily. But after five desperate days of stomach disturbance, I finally ate ‘real’ food. My body has recovered. She is miraculous. Strong!
Older, yes, but I listen to her messages now.
Every morning we wake and take a breath is to be treasured.
That is what is different now. My capacity to say thank you, you aching bones, you gray hair, you silly skin, you tender stomach.