I turned 38. The fact that I type that is monumental. I have been turning 32 for years now, refusing to acknowledge any higher number. Now here I am, terrified a bit and baffled as to how I am, oh my god, here goes, almost 40. I remember years ago saying that I didn’t want to live past 40 because I just couldn’t take it. I feel different now, I’ll gladly live beyond 40, but shit, 40 still sucks. Two big questions: How did I get here? And what the fuck do I do?
I celebrated my birthday in Austin this year, and I hadn’t celebrated my birthday, really celebrated, for years. The last time I remember a real celebration is 1998. That doesn’t mean there might not have been things in other years. I just don’t remember (not so much a sign of aging but likely of mental health issues and medications; even more likely, though, probably because of how much I have spent my life is a completely dissociative state. If a celebration did occur, I wasn’t really there.)
So this year there is a sort of acceptance. Not necessarily a peaceful one, although there is some “peace” per se in the inability to change things and that all I can do is look at the situation with the most philosophical sentence ever uttered: It is what it is. But still, the last couple of years have physically kicked me hard. In Austin, where my mind expands and my thoughts and observations are purer and not as clouded, I saw myself in the mirror and REALLY saw myself. I knew I didn’t like what I see, but at the same time it was like I was looking at myself for the first time. I can feel weight gain and fat every time I can’t button pants properly, or I look longingly at clothes I still have from thin days, the pieces I still can’t get rid of (the size 2’s and 4’s, however, have gone – because, come on, really, that seems impossible ever again). But I looked in the mirror, fully dressed and really saw myself. Observed at first. like OK, here is the “love handle” fat that I feel every day but now I see it under my shirt. Here is my back, my thighs, bumps and pockets and parts that look so bloated, all clearly there. If I tried this naked I would dissociate. A bit of body dysmorphic issue. I can never see my body AS IT IS except in pictures, and then from those I must quickly look away.
My first observation wasn’t really judgmental. I mean, I know I didn’t like what I saw, but it was so weird to see it “in person” as I stood at the mirror in a plain black tshirt and a plain black skirt. Turning sideways, here’s the bump that I bet could pass for a young pregnancy. Facing forward, there’s the fat at the sides that has always been there, for at least 33 years of my life. I have not work a bikini since age 5. And unless I plastic-surgerize myself from head to toe, I never will. It’s a sight no one would want to see, ESPECIALLY me.
And then came Part 2. After the observation came the next observation. Not self-hatred, as I am used to. But a sort of truth. Looking at myself and what I have done to my body, what i have let happen to my body, and what aging has done to my body. I hate it, but it is different from hating myself for it. it’s like the few birthday pics the girls took of me. I look at them and see what I finally saw in the mirror, not just what I have only truly been able to completely see in pictures, that I am not just a bit overweight (as I often tell myself) but that I am grossly overweight. Part of it is genetics. Most of it is that I have not taken care of myself – it’s very very very difficult for me to take care of myself physically. There’s also the metabolism issue – not just that mine is totally fucked up from yo-yo dieting since age 7, but the undeniable fact that, in my late 30’s now, close to 40, my metabolism feels nonexistent. It’s more than just about willpower and eating well now – there’s an extra something there, an obstacle or what have you, that has to do with age. I am not (yet) one of those women who accepts or even relishes aging. I fuckin’ hate it.
I look at my poor skin. In my 20s I was constantly complimented on it, even by strangers. Now I look haggard and tired a lot of the time. The smoothness is gone, the glow, and where the fuck does a zit suddenly come from at this age? I NEVER had bad skin, never suffered teenage acne or anything like that. It is often said that wrinkles can be seen as representation of a lived life, things you earn, in a way. I don’t see myself wrinkly (yet) but I do look, many times I think, that I have been through hell. Unfortunately, for my 2 “LOST YEARS,” 2006 and 2007, I did go thru hell. i am out of hell, but my face and body show that place I was in, and show how extremely hard, how difficult the way was, to get out of that situation. I know I will never be the same again. Now I have to acknowledge, begrudgingly, that my body will never be the same either. I guess you don’t walk thru the darkness of Hades and come out unscathed.
I don’t want to look like this. In a weird way, not sure how to explain, looking in that mirror made me accept it. Not accept it in the sense of “ok, this is how it is, i see it now.” But in the sense of “ok, this is how it REALLY is, i ACTUALLY see it now.” Yeah, there’s a difference. One is a momentary aha that then goes back to dissociation and not looking anymore. The other is, basically, OH FUCK.
And what do I do with OH FUCK. I think the first thing to do is get a physical, something I haven’t done in at least 4 years (and only b/c i had insurance). A lifetime or 2 or 3 has occurred during that time – harsh ones like those of a person aging 10 years in 2 years because they do backbreaking work every day. I did my own form of daily backbreaking work.
Don’t get me started on my knees. I like jogging (something i surprisingly discovered one day in SF when I was really pissed off and decided to run to the park and back, up and down steep streets). I can’t do it here because it is fuckin’ 90 fuckin’ degrees outside. I’ve already been thru hell. I don’t need to jog thru it. (Plus I like taking my dog and if i do that, I will kill her b/c she will definitely get heat stroke. Came too close to comfort a couple of months ago and it was NOT 90). So I start jogging here before the weather changed and next thing I know my knee makes creaking sounds. WTF????
I guess maybe that whole thing in the mirror, and the thoughts I am having now, are making me acknowledge my age. I used to be embarrassed by, but now I LOVE and EMBRACE that I simply wasn’t where I “should” be at my age, didn’t “act my age.” I always go back to the Swell Season example. What then-37-yr-old takes off work, flies to Houston, rents a car, sees 3 shows in 3 days, flies back, and then goes back to work the next day? And what now-38-yr-old is doing a similar thing in 2 weeks – albeit in FL, but still a 4 hr drive for a sunday night show, a 4hr drive back monday morning with then a 1.5 hour drive to Orlando and back, that same day, for another show. Total driving time for 2 shows in 2 days: 11 hours, forth and back and forth and back again. And of course, back to work the next day. The person who does that is someone who is committed to music shows almost above all else. But she’s also the person without home ownership, moving to another city again, no husband (or boyfriend or even someone to casually date), no kids, no retirement savings, hoping for a smooth move in September when I start the trip all over again – the one where I hope to get a nice apt at a nice rent in spite of my horrible credit and where I hope to get a good job at a good salary – the job hunt all over again. Of course, this has purposely been scheduled for 2 weeks before the ACL Music Festival, so I can be there for the festival, for which I have my 3-day pass.
I want to lose weight. I want my skin to look better. I want to be physically fit so i can feel good and have energy. I’m not sure it is possible to be less motivated than I feel. This whole week I have felt old and tired and lazy. Like my senior citizen uncle, i have fallen asleep on the couch a couple of times while watching TV (so embarrassing). like my almost 65-yr-old mom, i have had headaches and a tummy ache and trouble sleeping. Again, WTF??????? Tough week in the sense of feeling old. Tough time in coming face to face with aging. i am not 32 for the nth year in a row. I really am 38. I really am almost 40. And this week, it feels like shit. This was not supposed to happen to me. I mostly don’t fully look my age (although I wonder, as of this week, if suddenly I do now). I certainly don’t act my age. I watch Gossip Girl and like Lady Gaga, for fuck’s sake. not only is it somewhat rare for someone my age to enjoy those things, but omg, I know people in my generation who do not know what those things are! (Something I shall never understand.) But I guess they are grown ups. I am not. I’m OK with that. I came to peace with the “shoulds” and the house and the settling down and the babies. My baby is my dog and I like it that way. But while others were growing up the “right way,” so to speak, I went through an almost-catastrophic breakdown (which, actually, thank god i did, b/c i finally found out what has been “wrong” with me all these years and how to “fix” it).
I don’t want to look 38. I don’t want my scars of aging to be because of trauma and not because of a full life with all the “shoulds.” I don’t want to feel 38 physically because I do not, most of the time, feel 38 in any other way. (Again, Swell Season exhibit A. Or how about flying to Dublin just for a weekend for a show and then doing it again the following year?) I feel pretty damn confident at my job, but I still am not 38 there either. I am serious about my work, but I am also about humor and camaraderie and sometimes being downright silly. It’s OK, i still get my work done (and done well).
I’m 38. And I have no idea what to do about it. I do know I need to figure it out. Because if this is my body at 38, ans stays as such and inevitably worsen I might go back to that thought that I certainly do not want to reach 40. I want to look and feel better. It’s NEVER been easy. For me, it has been just about the most difficult thing in the world and I have struggled with it every single day of my life since I was 6. And now, I’m really tired (old age!) and it’s extra hard to get motivated (old age!).
It’s not stupid. And it’s the farthest thing from vain. I’m not accepting something that I can’t accept with grace and understanding. To ‘accept” now feels like resignation and defeat. How not to accept? Well, become dissociative again! Refuse to look at pictures of self and never photograph self again (i used to take so many self portraits). How to accept with grace and dignity? That’s what I gotta focus on. Even as it feels like I’m getting such a late start. Even as the fear (and all too possible reality) is that I might just get sleepy and take a nap and give up. And that kind of ‘acceptance’ is, well, unacceptable.
Shit. 38. How the fuck did this happen? In all seriousness, I don’t know.