Dear Forty-Something-Year-Old Woman…

Dear Forty-something-year-old woman,

Who didn’t see it coming…who thought it would never happen. Who once looked at other ‘middle-aged’ ladies and couldn’t believe that would ever be you. Because it seemed so impossible and you felt so invincible. In your teens, and twenties, ready to take on the world, believing you could ‘have it all’, even your thirties were a breeze compared to this.

I see you, forty-something-year old woman, I pass you every day on the school run. Your car passes mine, and as we make way for each other, we briefly wave a harassed thank you. We pass in the playground, trying to remember to smile whilst realising we have toothpaste on our top and our child should be dressed in mufti…

I see you driving your car, letting me go, just like I let you go, as if there is this silent, unspoken agreement among forty-something mums, that we will help each other out where we can. You smile in exhausted thanks and I smile back. No problem. I know the feeling.

Dear forty-something-year old woman, I see you tapping into your phone while waiting for your child to finish their club and I see the disapproving glares you get from grandmothers and grandfathers. They don’t know what I know. That you are receiving text messages from your teenager, who might miss their bus and might also need picking up, even though that means driving across the other side of town, right into rush hour traffic. That you are answering emails from work as they pop up endlessly on your screen, because you might as well deal with them now so that later you can give yourself to your kids. That you are paying bills with a tap and a swipe, or answering messages to keep your business going.

I see you in the supermarket looking lost as you naviagate the ailsles, torn as always between pleasing everyone, keeping them healthy and balancing the bank account. Someone phones you wanting something from you. Texts bing and vibrate. You don’t want to be there, or anywhere. You want to run and hide.

But you do it all anyway, as if getting married and giving birth automatically allocated the most mundane jobs your way. Choosing the meals, planning the menu, writing the list, driving everywhere, finding a parking space, traipsing the aisles and secretly wanting to ram your trolley into every inconsiderate person who gets in your way. Packing the shopping into the bags for life as fast as the checkout lady can throw it at you. Trying not to displease anyone, and all the time, wishing you could just scream.

I see you when you go jogging, fitting it in when you can, which is never as often as you think you should…I see the guilt on your face that you are doing something just for you, to make you feel better, something that takes you away from your family. And I see your face when you pass your reflection and wonder what happened to the old you, why it’s so hard to lose weight these days, why no matter how much you run, or diet, it’s still just the same, like your body is determined to turn you into a frump.

I see you at the doctor’s surgery, wondering whether you are wasting their time and yours, but worried all the same, about bulging veins, or hot flushes or misbehaving periods. I see you following health advice on social media, noting supplements that might help, whilst all the time knowing deep inside that nothing will help apart from screaming.

Dear forty-something-year-old woman, hot and tired and red-faced, your teenage hormones are back to haunt you. A second adolescence, a rerun of puberty, from bad skin and weight gain, to rollercoaster emotions. One minute you are as high as the sky, without any wine, high on life, smiling to yourself, content and in a perfect dream, everything makes you happy, everything is to hope for and dream for. The next moment you are exploding from the inside, red rage billowing in your guts and spewing like fire up to your flame-red chest. You are gritting your teeth, afraid to let go, afraid to do anything more than sigh or roll your eyes, because if you do, if you open your mouth, if you let it out, give voice to every little thing that has ever pissed you off…it might never end, you might never stop. And then you are crashing, falling, spiralling violently down to earth and after that, just sadness. Almost a comfortable friend. Someone you remember from the past. Tears in your eyes at almost everything. You want to be alone with this. You need to be alone.

Insecurity, self-doubt, urges to self-destruct. What you really need is time alone, or with a friend, with another self-depracating forty-something-year-old woman, who feels the same, who knows what you know and can help put names to the feelings. You want to explode, you want to be seen but also invisible.

But you can’t. Not when there are children to pick up, and playground etiquette to observe, emails to read and answer, lists to tick off, money to save, beds to make, washing to hang out and bring back in and place on the stairs for everyone but you to ignore, toilets to clean, gardens to tend, dogs to walk, homework to supervise, bills to pay, shopping to do, Christmas to plan and in the middle of it all stands you, swimming, while the world spins around you.

I know you sometimes think that you are not good enough. That you will never win, never do it all or have it all, never feel thin enough, that the to-do list will never end, that you’ll always be lacking, torn between kids and work and relationships. I know you fear so much. That your mind turns and your stomach churns with the great unknown, with climate change and Brexit, with plastic pollution and school funding, with things you have no control over, things you want to protect your children from. It keeps you awake at night and hits you cold at the strangest of times. What are we doing here? What is this all about? Is this what I thought life would be?

Forty-something years old…but still you. Still young. Tougher than you know. Shining brighter than you realise. So much would fall apart without you at the centre. Forty-something, but still something…still someone.

Dear forty-something-year-old woman, let’s be friends. Let’s see each other. Let’s smile and wave and meet for coffee and wine. Let’s name our grievances and laugh about them. Let’s swap horror stories and feel less alone. Let’s remind each other that though so much is behind us, including our youth, there is still so much more ahead. That it can only get easier, that the best way through is to laugh and scream and cry and sing. That we are still us and that sometimes we need help and that sometimes we just need each other.

Getting Out of The Dumps

Last week I posted very excitedly about my writing goals for 2017 and I was feeling very vibrant and energetic with the start of a new year, full of possibility. I was just brimming over with exuberance and ambition. Annoyingly so, I feel.

This week? Not so much.

Call it the post Christmas and New Year anti-climax. Maybe that’s what it is. A sort of slumping of the shoulders at the months of cold weather ahead. A general loss of enthusiasm, I guess.

Writing is a strange affliction, where you are constantly indulging your selfish dreams and passions, your desire to write, while at the same time, constantly battling self-doubt and reality checks. I know I am not alone when I ask myself on a regular basis, what the hell am I doing this for?

Well, the answer is still the same and always will be. I’m writing because I have to, because I’d go crazy if I didn’t, because I live in perpetual hope and aim to keep getting better.

That’s enough, believe me, it will always be enough. But when slumps like this hit, it can be hard to claw your way back up again. So I thought I would attempt to list the things I am feeling down about, and then try to counteract that with a list of things to feel hopeful about, possibly with the result of cheering myself up. We’ll see!

Down

  1. Doing my tax return. Yep, it’s that time of year again where I am smacked right in the face with how little I earn at what I do. This then leads to building guilt and panic telling me that I need to stop it all now and get a real job fast!
  2. Lack of interest/support from loved ones. This is not uncommon, in fact pretty much every indie writer I know has experienced this. I even wrote an article about it for Author’s Publish which went down rather well. Like I said in that piece, it’s not always what you think it is, it works both ways, there are so many reasons why, blah blah blah, but just for a moment let’s acknowledge that it does actually hurt. Which leads to further self-doubt and guilt and telling yourself to just stop it.
  3. Lack of reviews. It’s nice to get sales but what authors really really want are more reviews. This is so we can find out what we are getting right and wrong! Even bad reviews are helpful as they add to the overall amount. With no new reviews, writers feel totally alone. It’s nice to get the odd pat on the back or helpful suggestion. New reviews pick you up when you feel close to quitting. They keep you going and make everything worthwhile.
  4. Never ending guilt. Yes, the guilt again. Guilt about not earning enough money, guilt about being almost constantly in another world of my own construction, guilt about wishing the kids bedtime would hurry up so I can get on the laptop and get writing. Ugh! So much guilt!
  5. Feeling like a fraud. Oh, this one is bad at the moment. It rears its head from time to time! I think it’s because I’m running an adult workshop in March and although I enjoy this and have done this before, this is the first time on my own, not with Dorset Writers Network, and every time I stand up and talk to other writers I feel like a massive fraud. I feel like I should say, Google me! Then decide if I’m worth listening to!  Same goes with writing my books. Some days I feel like a writer. I am a writer. Other days, not so much.

Up

  1. Face reality. I can’t realistically look for any other work that is not in some way self-employed or done from home as I have a two-year-old to care for. When he starts nursery in September, I will be looking at my options, and again when he starts school the year after that. So maybe I should stop worrying so much that I am not contributing. I’m raising him! And he’s awesome
  2. Some friends and family are with me all the way, so I need to appreciate and concentrate on these. Remind myself that no one shows a lack of interest deliberately to hurt me and that there are many, many reasons why this happens. Move on, head held high and remember to always, always, prove them wrong.
  3. Reviews are wonderful. They will brighten an entire week! They remind you that people are reading, digesting and reacting to what you have written, so yes, they are worth their weight in gold. I need to concentrate on making sure readers realise how important they are and I need to continue to approach book bloggers in order to secure more reviews.
  4. Well, the guilt will always be there. From when I was a child nick-named ‘cloth-ears’ to now when my husband accuses me of constantly thinking about characters and plots…It’s just who I am and I don’t think I would want to change anyway. I generally only write once the youngest is in bed, so it doesn’t steal too much time from the family. Maybe I should remind myself how artistic and creative all of my older children are. They’ve followed me in my love of books and reading, and if they’re not writing their own stories, they are making music and art.
  5. I think unless I truly ‘make it’ one day (whatever making it means!) I will always feel a bit like a fraud but I will try to remind myself that I have achieved a lot, and if I can offer words of advice or just talk about the mistakes I made in the beginning, with a writer at the start of their journey, then I am doing a good thing. I love running my writing group. The writers are unbelievably talented individuals, who also all happen to be bloody fun to be around. We talk a lot and laugh a lot. The same goes for the outstanding children who come to the kids workshops. As long as people keep turning up, then I guess I am doing something right!

Right, now I think I have talked myself out of that miserable little slump, how are you all doing post Christmas and New Year? It is a really weird time of year, to be honest. We’ve all eaten too much, drank too much, and watched too much telly. We’re struggling to get back to normal life, and January just feels so bleak at times. It’s cold and dark and Summer feels like it is never going to return. How do you cope with this time of year? What are the sort of things that get you down in the dumps, and how do you manage to cheer yourself up again? Please feel free to comment and share!