Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On Turning 50: Longing to Relax

If our “second adulthood” had a jumping-off point, it seems to me it would be the year we turn 50. Up until that point, I think, we often carry on as a version of our younger selves, still bound to the ideals of a culture bent on youth. We get smarter about how we spend our time and have a stronger feel for who we are, but we’re not quite at the point where we’re counting the years we might have left. If we choose to, we can still deny the process at hand, and unless we have terrible genes, we can fare quite well.

But our 50s are a whole new era. It gets a lot harder to play make believe. Yet if our eyes are open, we gain access to a new pool of wisdom, and we can start to get our feet wet. Pretending loses its appeal. We begin to let go and enjoy the freedom that comes with aging.

At least, that is what many women have told me, and what I, in turn, believe, in the most visceral sense one can have. I am about to turn 50 in ten days; the beginning, as a friend of mine calls it, of my “second wind”.

I am aching for a revolution. More than that, I am aching to relax, in every conceivable way. And nothing brought that home more than my mother, just out of the hospital, set on a regimen, unwilling to consult a second opinion. Without going into details, let’s just say that what I saw in her scared the daylights out of me. Because it was a blown up version of something I’d been witness to my whole life: an unquestioning loyalty to an authority outside herself, and a “pulling in” – not the kind of pulling in we do in introspection, but a pulling in that involves tightening, holding in or holding on.

I know she is doing the best she can with what she has. I know she is fighting the only way she knows how – her “pulling in”, oddly, is also a form of protest. But it doesn’t help, because I want to see her happy, and because of what it triggers in me. I am deathly afraid of becoming rigid as I age. In my experience, one of the many challenges of getting older is a tendency to resist change, even when our sanity, or peace of mind, depend largely on the contrary. Living in a society where elders are so grossly undervalued, it’s easy to hold our emotions in as we tell ourselves, nobody wants to know anyway. If we become bitter about society’s disregard for us, we would often be wholly justified.

But do we want to sacrifice our quality of life to silent protest? I certainly don’t. Nor do I want to become set in my ways – yet I have already seen signs that this is where I am headed. And it’s chilling. I remind myself that my stress levels are high; that seizing up is all I’ve known, and that I am actively working to unlearn it. Then my mother re-enters my consciousness, and the haunting resumes.

In many ways, she and I are polar opposites in our personalities, priorities and character. We would never be friends if we weren’t related. We have worked hard to find common ground over the years, and to focus on the love we have for one another. And I do love her – fiercely, desperately, and without bounds. But her way of coping; of dealing with her emotions, really fucks me up. I can’t be around it. I need fluidity. I need to learn how to really relax into life, and to court change. And I hope as I enter my 50s, I can find the strength to do just that.


Anne Stormont (@writeanne) said...

First of all happy birthday, when it comes.
I'm half way through my fifties and at last I feel comfortable in my own skin. It didn't happen immediately on turning 50 but, just like you say, I did begin that relaxing process.
And yes, you do become a bit invisible - but I tell myself - that those who write me off are not worth the effort and it's their loss.
I am set in my ways about some things - but as long as you're aware of it and as long as those ways serve you well, then no need to worry.
I've done lots of new things as well since turning 50. Moved house and job. Ridden a motor bike for the first time and I'm off to the middle east on my own in July. I've also written and published a novel.
Embrace the changes, don't have any fixed expectations and do what makes you feel good. :)

Jessica Mendes said...

Anne, how good of you to write. And thanks for the birthday wishes!

Your comments are lovely. I must say, however, that I still feel the same way about becoming "set in my ways". This post speaks to this, of course, but more in the context of a certain kind of rigidity. I think you are talking more about routine, no? Because in my mind, being "set" in your ways implies an inflexibility, and that is never a healthy thing. I don't want to become so "set" that I cannot bend when I need to, or it becomes so automatic that I miss tiny openings or opportunities for growth. I want to be able to adapt and respond to whatever life throws at me.

I admire you terribly for moving from your house and changing jobs; not to mention riding a motor bike (!!!) and traveling to the Middle East. Good for you! Take advantage of the best years of your life, and I salute you for your bold spirit and sense of adventure. I would advise, though, that you do some reading up on women who have traveled independently in the Middle East, for insight on staying safe.

Dan Perez said...

Now THIS is what I'm talking about! You bring so much honesty to your writing - it's refreshing.
Hoping that the years to come bring you the peace you seek.
Sending a hug just in case...

Jessica Mendes said...

Wow, Dan, that means gobs coming from you. I hope readers will check out your blog as well -- original, and always interesting. Thanks for the hug.

Unknown said...

Lovely post my friend! We have a lot in common. I dreaded the turn. And the other side has turned out to be fine, mighty fine, even with age staring me in the face!

Liz Scherer said...

p.s unknown = me and who knows why it posted that way!

Jessica Mendes said...

Thanks, Liz! I'm looking forward to turning 50 -- I feel as if I will now be eligible to join the "over 50" club, so to speak! It feels important, turning 50. So glad it's turned out well for you, I am not surprised, given what I know of your spirit and hard work.