From a Young Woman Turning 40

Tomorrow I am turning 40. It’s not the big deal that it’s made out to be. At least not for me. It’s not even the big deal I thought it would be when I turned 39. I just can’t buy into the age thing. I am so tired of hearing about how everything is just part of “getting old” when 90% (or more) of the things that I have problems with now (joint pain, insomnia, fatigue) are the same things I started having problems with as a teenager or younger!

But it does seem like a good time to change some things. Like my approach to work and stress. I have work to do tomorrow and I intend to get it out of the way early. That’s the stuff I’ve committed to, made a commitment to someone else. But I have other work to do, too. The work that sets me free. The work that puts me on the path to doing what I want to do for a living, enjoying what I do, and exciting.

There’s a line in the song “Hurry Up Harry” by Sham 69, that I just love – “If I tried to act my age I wouldn’t be me.” The reason I love it is simple and complicated. What the Hell is “acting your age” anyway? Don’t get me started about clothing. But really, act your age by following the miserable stereotypes that make you want to never grow up? Act your age by giving up on finding any joy in life, on giving up on living a full and healthy life because with age comes infirmity? By pretending that you no longer like the things you’ve always liked?

And then there are all those people who say that the key to happiness is learning to see the world through a child’s eyes again, getting in touch with your inner child, playing with children, enjoying child’s games and all of that. As if all adults are miserable because they have mysteriously forgotten what it was like to be a child and as if being a child meant that life was wonderful and joyful and great and a life of unlimited possibilities and freedom.

But I remember being a child and it was constant frustration at the restrictions and limitations and pressures. As a child I couldn’t wait to be free! Free of the restrictions my parents placed on me. Free of the restrictions that the law paced on me. Free of the limitations of being small and short and unpracticed in fine motor skills. Free of the reliance of others to read to me and the slowness of my hand as I tried to write. Free of my inability to do things – because I hadn’t learned how. I wanted freedom to live where I chose to live, to help those I wanted to help by taking action, to say and do what I wanted to on my own schedule go where I wanted to go because I didn’t need permission OR a ride. Eat the foods I wanted because I could learn to cook them for myself. Wear what I wanted to wear because I could buy my own clothes and no one could tell me where I could shop or what I could spend my own money on, not to mention telling me how I could look.

And that brings me to this B.S. about age-appropriate clothing. First you’re too young to “dress that way” but as soon as you’re old enough, it’s inappropriate and you should be “dressing your age”, and you’re trying to look younger than you are.

When I was in my early 30’s I was bombarded by one set of people claiming that every health complaint, most of them the same ones I’d had for 20 years or more, were “that’s what happens when you get old” and from the other side - “Oh, you’re still a baby!”

No. At 32/33 you’re no longer a “baby” nor are you “getting old”. You’re about as dead square in the middle of being neither of those as humanly possible. You’re in hover mode. And getting slammed by perimenopause at 33 is not a “normal part of aging,” it’s a sign that something’s going terribly wrong. Something that can and should be addressed and corrected, not accepted so that I can live with the health problems and disabilities of an 80-year-old by the time I’m 60.

So what does turning 40 really mean? Essentially it means nothing to me. In fact, I’m blessed by people who are astonished because they thought I was in my 20’s, in a good way. There is no sudden and crushing age thing to it. It’s more of a confirmation of how I felt about turning 36. When I turned 36 I said, “This is my second 18th birthday,” because I felt like my life really began when I turned 18 and was free to be my own person. That would mean I’m turning 22 again, and in many ways, I feel like I’m turning 22, and that life has all of the promise of turning that age, which it did not feel like it had the first time around. I felt so much older then.

But in reality it also means having a harder time finding doctors who take my health issues seriously, instead of dismissing them as age-related (something I’m already dealing with). It means that some people will respect my “wisdom” far more than they did yesterday while others will think I’m lying about my age for credibility. Some will be even more disgusted than they were yesterday, that I don’t dress and act “my age”. And for a few I’ll be reaching the age that it’s cute and eccentric and cool that I am doing my own thing and being myself.