THE SISTERS' SONG coming in January 2018 from Allen and Unwin. Sign up to be the first to know. x Louise

I’m about to turn fifty. Half a century, a milestone. An age I once thought of as ancient. 

Until this birthday, I’ve not worried about my age, not ever. The number of years I’d been alive had never made me feel old. When I was a child, I’d felt differently, of course—back then, 17 seemed old, let alone 30 or 40. But as I reached each number, even the figures that began with a four, it still felt young, or young-ish at least.

I didn’t mind the changes to my physical body either—I took the gradual appearance of wrinkles in my stride; I accepted the need to wear glasses in order to see anything; and I definitely didn’t mind the stretch marks on my abdomen—I was proud of those and how they got there. 


But as my body approaches this half-century milestone, I’m beginning to mind some of the changes:

I mind that the skin of my neck looks crepey, and I can pinch it into peaks that take a couple of minutes to flatten again.

I don’t like that even my knees are wrinkling and spider veins have begun to creep over my thighs.

I’m not crazy about the cellulite that’s developing on my arms and sunspots that are appearing on my hands.

I get annoyed that it takes me five minutes to straighten after I’ve been sitting cross-legged on the floor.

I’m mourning the loss of colour from my hair—the auburn colour I hated when I was growing up and swore I was going to dye brown with my first pay packet. Now, I’m grieving the loss of something that defined me so.

I resent that my metabolism is slowing so I can’t eat what I used to because my middle swells. My waist has become harder to find.

I don’t like that I’m slower than I used to be, physically and mentally, and I’m more tired but can sleep less. 

I even begrudge that I no longer have periods—I don’t miss them per se, but I miss what they signified: that I was still in my prime. I don’t want any more children—goodness no!—but I hate that the reproductive stage of my life—those incredibly happy and exciting years—have drawn to a close. If I needed a reminder that I’m getting older, that was it—nature shutting down my ovaries and uterus and putting me out to pasture.

I get the feeling, sometimes, that young people in the street or a shop might be looking at me with pity because my best years are behind me, when I still want to be thought of as strong and capable and intelligent, with something worthwhile to give. 

I worry, too, because I’ve reached the age where serious illnesses are more common. I was reminded of that when I received the letter from the government telling me how to do my faecal immunochemical test for bowel cancer. I’m awaiting my letter from BreastScreen.

To be honest, though, I can cope with all of the physical changes. I think about it but it doesn’t keep me awake at night.

What keeps me awake and worries me much more than it should, is when I forget something—a name, an appointment, what I just read—because my biggest fear is that my brain has the disease that took over my father’s and grandmother’s. When I forget the word for something or the name of the British Prime Minister or what I came into a room to fetch, I worry that the dementia has already started, that the disease is already forging its destructive way through my brain.

I could cope with anything but the loss of my brain. 

As far as I know, I’m healthy, but these things flit through my mind—grief at the loss of my youth and fear for a brain that might be wasting.

The past few years have been a time of reckoning. Of facing the fact I’m getting older. That more than half my life has already been lived, and the future, although still before me, isn’t endless. In fact, it’s much shorter than it used to be. I feel more of an urgency about what I do, that I have to prioritise because time might run out. Those plans and dreams I’ve put off until one day, can’t be put off anymore: one day has arrived.

I feel as if I’m on the threshold of a new and different era, about to close the doors on an old stage of life and enter a new one. I can see that I’ve spent the last couple of years preparing for it—fixing what needed to be fixed, tying up loose ends, making sure nothing is left undone and no baggage remains to carry forward. I want this next period to be happy, productive, and peaceful.  

I’m about to turn fifty. Half a century, a milestone. An age I once thought of as ancient. 

Yet, in my mind, I still feel young, younger than the mirror or the number my age tells me I am. I feel as if I’m the same person I’ve always been, even though I know I’m not. I’ve changed, inwardly as well as outwardly, but at my core, I haven’t changed one iota—I’m exactly the same person at 50 that I was at five, 15, 25, and 35. Same needs and desires, same interests and loves, same sense of humour and foibles.   

Sometimes, ageing frightens me, but I’m up for it. I have only one life and it’s not as long as I once thought it was. This birthday is reminding me of that.

 

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