Sunday, 14 February 2016

The Invisible Woman

I have been reading The Invisible Woman: How to Navigate the Vintage Years by Helen Walmsley-Johnson which I picked up in the Kindle sale. As I am 55 and therefore have to admit to being inescapably middle-aged, I thought it might be an interesting read. It was, in many ways, but my experience of mid-life (so far!) has been so very different to the author's that I found it difficult to identify with her. Helen Walmsley-Johnson's 50s have been a rough ride, with a traumatic post-surgical menopause, depression, other health problems, the death of her father, the discovery that it was virtually impossible to find employment as a woman in her late 50s and consequent financial crises. Her life experience has been very different to mine in many ways, with a difficult divorce, life as a single mother, adult children, and now grandchildren. After reading her story I was rooting for a happy ending - or should I say beginning of a new phase of her life - so was delighted to find that the book ended very positively as she approaches her 60s with a new career as a freelance writer and a new home in the country.

In comparison I have been lucky in many ways. The worst the menopause / perimenopause flung at me was occasional failure of my personal thermostat, which never greatly bothered me. I normally feel cold so kind of enjoyed the novelty of occasionally being hot. I have felt younger and fitter in my 50s than I did in my 40s. Pregnancy and extending breastfeeding in the second half of my 40s left me feeling as though I had been run over by a bus; discovering that the exhaustion, aches and pains were temporary was a very pleasant surprise as I had imagined much of it was age related and that I would carry on going downhill for the next however-many decades. I don't think I have ever felt particularly visible, but neither have I been aware of any loss of visibility or (for lack of a better word) status as I have got older. I have never been someone who thought of myself as attractive or good looking, so I have never associated losing youth with losing beauty. As it happens, through no effort of my own I look younger than my age, but I am not worried about the inevitability of whatever genetic protective effect I possess wearing off. Apart from being more prone to asthma and chest infections if I get a cold, my health is good. I changed careers at 50, learned to play the trombone, lost weight, and took up yoga. All in all, if you take middle age as lasting from age 50 to 65, as Helen Walmsley-Johnson does, the first third of my middle years has been very positive. There have been stresses, some quite extreme, but they have not in any way been a function of my age.

Reading Helen Walmsley-Johnson's experiences has left me feeling more appreciative than before of my own good fortune, and more aware that I tend to take it for granted. It has also left me a little apprehensive. Am I now at an age where I would find it difficult if not impossible to find alternative employment if I needed to do so? Am I living on borrowed time with my relative good health? Am I not so much ageing gracefully as simply pretending that I am stuck in a perpetual mid-40s? I wonder. I suppose there is no point worrying about what may not happen - or may not happen yet - but I am glad of the reminder to count my blessings.

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