I just turned 45!
I have mixed emotions about it. On the one hand, I’m happy that I’m healthy (both physically and mentally), stable (bipolar disorder-wise), and I have a wonderful life. I have a fantastic, sensitive, caring boyfriend who I just celebrated my 5-year anniversary with in December. My mom is alive, healthy, and lives nearby (we’re even getting coffee tomorrow). I have amazing friends who are supportive. And I not only have a career I love, but I’m also writing a memoir that I think I’ll be very proud of once it gets published (or even if it doesn’t, because just writing it is meaningful to me).
But of course, 45 is also a scary sounding age to me. I’m getting older.
In the picture above, I’m wearing some sweet new glasses. You may notice that I don’t wear glasses in any of my other pictures. Well, I had to get glasses, ladies and gentlemen. Not just glasses, but progressive lenses. That’s the fancy, not-so-old-person-sounding way to say bifocals. It’s not a big deal, but still. I’m wearing progressives. I actually wore glasses pretty much my entire life until 2005, when I took the plunge and got lasik. It changed my life. Other than an education and traveling, it’s the best money I ever spent on myself. I was able to finally see things I never saw before, details became crisper, and of course, I was freed from the headache of wearing plastic on my face every waking hour of every day. I never could wear contacts. I was freaked out by something on my eyeballs, floating around and getting stuck in icky places that made me squeamish. I didn’t like that I could feel them in my eyes, and I kept putting them on inside-out (which is not fun) so I really was stuck with glasses until I got the eye surgery. And I’ve made it almost fifteen years with perfect vision. Until recently. I noticed things up-close, like my phone, a book, a menu, my laptop, were starting to appear blurry. I started doing the thing you see older people doing when they try to look at something right in front of their face and they squint and hold the book, phone or whatever further away in an attempt to read it. And then even some far away stuff (like street signs in the distance when I’m driving) was beginning to look fuzzy. Trust me, I know this is nothing, and I am grateful that I can afford to get progressive lenses and cute frames, but it’s still a bit disheartening. It’s just a physical reminder that my body is breaking down.
And then there’s menopause. Oh yes, did I mention? I’ve been “in” menopause for three years now. I have horrible hot flashes every few hours, and they’ve morphed into anxiety-causing attacks that make me feel unwell in my body and brain for a minute or two. I get boiling hot, drenched in sweat, and feel like I’m going to jump out of my skin when they hit me. And they happen 24/7, so yes, they sometimes even wake me up. That’s fun. And super healthy for someone with bipolar disorder. The physical part of hot flashes is best described this way. If you’ve ever been in front of a bonfire and you’re standing a bit too close, and at some point you get this internal feeling, like an alarm in your brain, that says “Stop everything, get away, back the F up!” or even “Call 9-1-1!” Well, imagine that feeling coming from inside you. Starting at the back of your neck, running all the way down your spine, and then flooding your whole body. And when it emanates from inside your own cells, you can’t back away from the bonfire. But your brain is still screaming “Call an ambulance!” even though you know it’s normal, nothing bad is happening. I try to breathe, tell myself it will pass, it’s okay. But that primal urgent fear that the reptilian brain experiences is hard to override or reason with. It causes me anxiety for a few seconds. Again, not great for someone with a mood disorder. It’s a little bout of incredible physical and mental instability, at an extreme level but in small bursts, through the day and night, every day and night. And it’s another reminder my body is aging.
On a more serious note, I had a breast cancer scare recently. I’ve been having regular annual mammograms like a good girl, but this last one was followed by a letter in the mail that I needed to return for another look. Apparently the Dr. saw something concerning in the results. I had to wait two weeks for my follow-up appointment, and that was a scary time for me. I tried not to think about it, because I knew that wouldn’t do me any good (in fact, it did me some harm by causing some anxiety) but when someone tells you not to think about an apple, all you can see in your mind’s eye is a Granny Smith or a Honeycrisp. I went back and got the results the same day and thank GOODNESS – everything looks benign. That’s a big “whew!” for me. I have to return in six more months for another check, but the doctor felt confident that there was no need to worry. For a few weeks there, I actually worried I might die. I recently lost a very close family friend to breast cancer. She was like a mother to me, and it was extremely hard for me to lose her. I watched her battle with it off and on, going into and coming out of remission several times over several decades, until it finally cruelly took her away in her early 70’s. I thought about her in those two weeks while I waited to go back to the hospital. I remembered her losing her hair, then it growing back as curly as a poodle’s. I recalled her wonderful style, how she always wore purple and fun, funky jewelry, age or occasion be damned. I thought about how much she did for me and how she contributed so powerfully and meaningfully not just to my and my family and friends’ lives, but how she made a real difference in society by helping others in a selfless, altruistic way. The scare I had was a big wake-up call. I realized I’m going to have more of these types of issues in the future. It’s just what happens to us all.
Until recently, I’ve lived much of my life in a semi-hypomanic state. I’ve been confident and felt invincible. And now I’m realizing I am vincible.
This post is not about me complaining, though. Regardless of these (and other) signs that I’m a mere mortal, these reminders that I’m going to die someday, I’m still happy I’ve made it to this age. I attempted suicide several years ago. I almost didn’t get to experience these things. And yes, I know they’re not good experiences, but they are experiences, and they’re part of life. They’re part of MY life. I’m happy to be alive. I’m grateful that I was lucky enough to not only survive a suicide attempt, but to learn from it, and realize how special and valuable my life is to me. And I do understand that now that I’ve lived through the experience of my life almost ending very abruptly by suicide.
So, although I’m annoyed to see physical proof that my body is aging, I’m overjoyed that I have a body to live life with, and one that will be here for a long time to come, hopefully. It will if I have anything to do with it. I’m so happy to say that I’ve truly earned 45.