At thirty-eight I experienced a bit of a midlife crisis. Well, hardly midlife, but still a crisis nonetheless. Forty loomed on the horizon, and I felt a kind of aimless terror at that number.
Some of it was kind of silly. What did a mature woman wear? Would I be forced by some secret fashion police to give up my band and anime t-shirts? Would I have to turn in my Chucks and my Docs? Would being seen at shows make me look too desperate? What about dying my hair various colors?
Some of it was a bit more complicated. Would I have a “real” job? Why was I still thinking of college at this late date? Shouldn’t I own a house at this stage? Have a new car? Where was my life going?
It was a panicky feeling. I remember a wise friend told me, “Don’t worry about it. When you hit 40 you just won’t care anymore.” She was right. I turned forty and I felt… well, liberated. So I did the following liberating (for me) things.
1. I stopped dieting.
I’ve been dieting since I was ten. That was thirty years of dieting by the time I got to my fortieth birthday.
It’s not been a straight non-diet for the last four years, but each year pushed me closer to just not caring about being thin. I wasted so much energy on trying to shape my body to fit a standard totally unrealistic for me.
At forty, I realized I didn’t want to spend another thirty years worrying about being something I was not. No more going to restaurants dreading eating because of calories. Now I enjoy a slice of chocolate cake with no shame, just pleasure.
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And the funny thing is that food stopped taking such importance in my life. There are many reasons to enjoy life and yes, some of those reasons are food, but there are other pleasures out there. I just couldn’t see them because food and body shame clouded the picture.
2. I got a tattoo. And then another tattoo.
When I was twenty-two, I got a tiny tattoo just to see what it would feel like. I thought I’d get more but I never did. There were so many things to worry about. Would it look unprofessional? What would I get?
Then when I was thirty, tattoos became trendy, and I resisted fearing that I’d look like another mom jumping on the tattoo bandwagon.
And then the day happened when I was forty-three, when I let go of my ideas about what looked like proper religion. I wanted to commemorate that moment with a three-fold moon/goddess symbol on my forearm. So I did.
Going in to meet the tattoo artist, I felt self-conscious, but after the consult I realized that I could do what I wanted with my body. I didn’t care about being seen as just hopping on a trend. I didn’t care if it looked professional. It was my body and I wanted to decorate it. I’m going in for my second tattoo next week just shy of forty-four.
3. I lost my religion — and found another one soon thereafter.
I’ve lost my religion a few times over the years. But the last time I lost it was more from shame than from an actual choice. I loved being a neopagan, but in the new intellectual set in which I moved, it was seen as a silly choice. Being newly indoctrinated into academia, I didn’t want to be seen as silly. So I let go of something that added a lot of meaning to my life. I missed it, though. I tried other more “respectable” forms of religion, but my heart always yearned towards paganism.
At forty-one, I converted to Catholicism in, upon reflection, a deeply depressive state. What attracted me to it were the pagan roots that showed so vibrantly in the Catholicism practiced by my Mexican mother-in-law.
Over time, I realized I wasn’t satisfied. There was too much internal conflict with the church’s policies and my own moral center. So I left.
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It was hard. I felt like I was letting people down. But I was also getting older and I wanted my religious experience to be something that nourished me. I turned back to neopaganism and found what I’d been looking for all along.
4. I stopped caring about how my decisions looked to others.
This doesn’t mean that I made decisions without caring about others or about how my decisions would affect those I loved. Rather, I made decisions based on what I needed and didn’t worry about the judgment of others.
I went back on antidepressants and ignored the judgmental voices and memes telling me it was a bad decision. I chose the religion that fed me spiritually as opposed to the one that looked respectable. I decided to pursue my writing in spite of the voices telling me I needed a responsible job. And more importantly, I learned to embrace my neurodiversity instead of trying to act “normal”.
5. I tried new things.
Last year, I made a decision to push myself outside my comfort zone. Nothing drastic, because I’m a big fan of comfort zones, so not as much of a push as a gentle nudge.
There were so many things I wanted to do, but I let fear of failure, fear of being “too” old, and fear of being too fat hold me back. In some ways it wasn’t so much being pushed out of my comfort zone, but my fear zone.
I did a creative journaling workshop. I went to readings. I joined a women’s writing group. I sent query letters to agents. I started trapeze classes. I started running again, and I’m about to sign up for a half-marathon.
I realized that I was too old! Too old to let these desires wait any longer. Being free of the self-consciousness I found myself mired in during my thirties was a heady feeling and I embraced it.
And it was okay that not all of these things have led to success. (I still don’t have an agent, but hey, I’ve written three novels in the last two years.) Some of them have been a mixed success. But what matters is that I am doing things I love just for the love of doing them.
And finally, one thing that I didn’t do? I didn’t listen to all the voices telling me what I was supposed to do at forty. You’ve likely seen the lists telling women over forty what not to wear. I don’t read them anymore, or if I do, it’s more to see how many rules I need to break.
I don’t listen to the voice telling me the measures that mark success at my age. I didn’t throw away my Chucks or my Docs. I still shave my head and dye it funky colors. I own big sunglasses and I sometimes wear big hoop earrings. I also wear sundresses and tank tops. I wear leggings like they’re pants. I still go to shows and dance into the wee hours of the morning. I don’t do these things to try to act young.
I do these things for the sheer joy of being alive.
Of being me.
[Feature image: A white person with sunglasses and long black hair pulled back smiles while standing outdoors on a path lined by trees. wearing a black t-shirt. Source: Pexels]