I didn’t exactly hit my fifties with a bang.
I kind of cruised in neutral into my fiftieth birthday, having picked up plenty of bad habits along the way (hello, Sauvignon Blanc and shocking eating patterns), letting out the odd habitual whine about how rubbish ‘getting older’ was.
What I didn’t realise at the time – because it doesn’t announce itself – is that I was in the middle of peri-menopause.
Now it’s hard to say whether my constant lack of a decent nights sleep was down to the changes taking place, or the regular half-bottle of wine I’d knock back most evenings.
And I couldn’t pinpoint if my all-consuming lethargy was because my diet was dreadful or due to my zero commitment to exercising regularly. Or it could have been the peri-menopause, who knows? Possibly it was a combination of all the above.
One thing is for sure, if I returned today to my old habits of ten years ago, I now know I’d feel as bad today as I did then, if not worse.
When life gets in the way
Why don’t they teach kids at school about how challenging life can be at times? Forewarned is forearmed, and all that.
In my case most of those challenges came within a three-year period, when:
- Both my parents became frail, ill and needed supporting,
- Covid hit,
- My son didn’t take his GCSEs,
- We had quickly to find another school for him to complete sixth form,
- I had to find another nursing home that would take my Dad (who had advanced dementia) as his initial care home said he couldn’t stay,
- Mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was also admitted to a care home,
- We had to re-home their beloved dog,
- My brother and I were thrown into the maelstrom of social care, funding and trying to administer their affairs,
- Dad died of Covid in December 2020 after I hadn’t been able to sit with him for ten months until the end, due to the restrictions,
- My husband was hospitalised two weeks later with Covid and was on life support over Christmas as I sat at home typing my Dad’s eulogy.
When I say it all quickly, it doesn’t sound so bad.
But in December 2020 I was traumatised.
Many of these events are faced by most people at some point, but it was the speed and the ferocity with which they hit me that was the issue. As soon as I’d got my breath back from one the next one hit me between the eyes.
Thankfully my husband made a remarkable recovery, due in no small part to his unyielding commitment to get physically fit again. That was a much-needed one glimmer of hope in a series of shit-storms.
I absolutely adored my Dad.
When he was diagnosed with dementia I vowed that I’d make sure that he faced the end of his life in comfort with us all around him, and that when the day of his funeral came, he’d have every one of his family and friends there to celebrate his life.
Of course none of that happened because of Covid, and,
I was able to sit with him on three separate occasions as he neared the end, to hold his hand and to tell him everything that was in my heart. He couldn’t do anything apart from squeeze my hand really tightly and move his eyes, still twinkling blue, to look at me.
Once he had passed we couldn’t see him at the funeral home as his primary cause of death was Covid, and the casket had to be sealed because,
I drove myself and my son to his funeral on 4 January 2021. My husband had been discharged from hospital only three days before.
The twelve of us who attended the service were all socially distanced. Unable to hug each other, because,
I drove home immediately afterwards, in a daze. There was no wake for Dad because,
When I got home and sat drinking my second gin and tonic, a bleak realisation washed over me.
“You’ve got two choices now, Deborah.
You can either continue to wallow in alcohol, or you can do something positive and sort your shit out.“
Thankfully I chose the latter option on that miserable January afternoon in 2021.
It wasn’t a difficult decision, if I’m honest. Maybe Dad was giving me some fatherly advice from ‘upstairs’.
So I hit the gym. I ruthlessly cut out all the crap I’d been eating. I stopped drinking altogether for six months.
Finally, I was looking after myself.
I won’t lie, it was a huge distraction tactic that helped take my mind off losing my Dad for a few hours a week, but it worked like a dream.
Since then I’ve lost 10kgs, changed my body shape by losing all the wobbly, annoying bits, practically given up alcohol, changed my eating habits to the point I opt for healthy food without thinking, reduced my stress levels, learned how to get better quality sleep, and the net result is:
I feel better than I’ve ever felt in my life.
But hey, the purpose of this post isn’t to crow from a newly-erected, self-righteous pedestal about how perfect I am.
As I mentioned earlier, I used to be Olympic-level at coming up with excuses as to why I didn’t need to go to the gym the next morning as I uncorked another bottle of Chenin Blanc and ripped open a jumbo bag of Cheetos.
But seeing what happened to my parents frightened me.
My goal now is simply this:
To wake every morning feeling refreshed, energetic and enthusiastic about life, and to be able to move easily throughout my day, free from discomfort and prescription medications for as long as I possibly can.
In February this year (2023) I turned 60. Life will never be perfect, but mine became so much better when I committed to better choices.
Anyone can do the same. Honestly, there’s nothing special about me, I can be horribly weak-willed at times. But it’s actually not that hard, it just takes the desire and staying power to want better for yourself.
Life can be very tough at times, and you deserve to enjoy your later years, free from the curse of physical, mental, or emotional discomfort.
You will never regret making better, healthier choices for yourself. Ever.