June 08, 2010

Thoughts on Turning 50... Besides: Holy Crap, How the Hell Did That Happen?

So this is the post that's supposed to go something like: "Oh gosh, I'm hitting a major milestone birthday today and... I'm just thrilled to pieces! I'm not growing older, I'm growing BETTER! And now readers, hold onto your hats: I'll reveal some surprising secrets to enjoying a deliriously happy middle age!"

That's what most health and fitness writers would do, right? Everyone else in this game seems to age gracefully and cheerfully. It's supposed to come with the territory: not only should a health blogger be physically healthy, but she should have frequent life-changing epiphanies and accumulate valuable wisdom. Looking deep within to find profound spiritual meaning in everyday moments, she accepts with gratefulness the inevitable life transitions, opening her heart fully to greet the wonder of each new day.

Yeah, well, screw that.

Like it or not, I'm turning 50, and I find my skeptical, introverted, semi-neurotic personality still pretty much intact. Which I'm fine with--but it means I'm probably not the best person to give others advice on handling this transition. So instead I'll just share some personal observations about what sucks for me and what doesn't suck so much about turning 50.

Things I Hate About Turning 50 And/Or Becoming Middle Aged

1. It came way too fast

Such a cliche, right? But I swear I just turned 30 about 2 years ago. Which means in another 4 years: poof! I'll be 90.

So hey, smarty-pants scientists, could you folks get on this? Surely there must be some practical application for your string theories and strange attractors and black holes and quarks and whatnot. Let's spend a little less time developing apocalyptic video games and surprising new flavors of vitamin water, and a little more time figuring out how to slow time the fuck down, okay?

2. Wait, whose face is that in the mirror?

Has this ever happened to you? You're out having a fun evening with friends, laughing and feeling all social and happy and carefree. Then you go to use the restroom, and as you finish washing your hands, you innocently look up in the mirror just to make sure you haven't got visible vegetable matter stuck in your teeth or a tomato sauce rorschach blot displayed on the front your blouse. But what's this? The lighting is coming from some weird, wrong direction, casting creepy shadows that reveal the reflection of a hundred year old woman with your hairstyle and clothing.

Hello? Who is that woman? Oh wait, that's YOU! Not the fresh-faced 30-year old version of you that lives only in your head and your old photo albums. No, it's the real you complete with crows feet, frown lines, jowls, and those oh-so-special "marionette" lines. Sigh.

I'm afraid my customary facial anti-aging techniques are no match against the steady march of time. They consist of: (1) wishing I hadn't spent my youth in the sun; (2) cursing my genetic predisposition to premature wrinkles; (3) wearing extra sunscreen now to retroactively undo the damage despite knowing it doesn't work that way; (4) thinking someday I should actually purchase and learn how to apply make-up like most female humans but never actually getting around to it because department store cosmetic saleswomen scare me; and (4) avoiding mirrors except for ones with extremely flattering light.

Many signs of aging you can fight with exercise, but despite some weird infomercials I've seen, I don't think wrinkles are one of 'em.

Scientists? Um, if it's gonna take too long to figure out how to slow time down, could you at least give us a pill that eliminates wrinkles? Even at 50 I'm way too immature to simply not give a crap that I look 10 years older than I am.

3. The whole ticking clock issue
Those of you who do the religion thing and believe there's a happy heavenly eternal afterlife where you get to be reunited with anyone you've ever loved? You probably don't have a huge problem with the whole limited-time-on-earth concept. The same for those of you who expect to be reincarnated. And those of you who don't think there's an afterlife but find the awareness of your impending mortality to be a life-affirming inspiration to enjoy every moment? Good for you!

Me? Knowing that 50 is more than halfway to Dead just creeps me the hell out.

4. Oh Yeah, and My Memory is Crap

As I may have mentioned before about a thousand times.

Things About Turning 50/ Middle Age I Have Mixed Feelings About:

1. Gray Hair

The strands of silver (or ok, white) that are appearing with increasing frequency serve to remind me that I'm not young anymore. That part I don't like at all.

But I've always had dark brown hair, and it would have looked fake and ridiculous had I tried to highlight it with anything other than slightly-less-dark brown hair. So for me, having little flecks and streaks of another color in my hair is kinda fun! Even if it's the color most often associated with using walkers and wearing Depends.

2. The "Change of Life"
I'm having my first hot flashes, and strangely enough, I'm kinda happy about that. I know, check back with me in a few months when I'm complaining mightily, but for right now, I'm kinda ready to get this whole "menopause" show on the road. I'm reaching the part of peri-menopause where some women (lucky us) are blessed with epic menstrual cycles of the "I can't stray more than 5 minutes away from a restroom or it will look like a Sam Peckinpah film in here" variety. I equate the start of hot flashes with, I hope, the beginning of the end of Periods from Hell.

3. Wear-and-Tear Injuries

Yeah, my knees, my feet, my back, yada yada yada. I hate when I can't do my most favorite sort of workout. It seems to happen a little more often now that I'm older, though I've had knee issues off and on since I was 17.

But here's the thing: I always find something I can do when injured, and after I've recovered, I'm really glad to have learned some new tricks. I'm too stubborn and lazy to change up my routines unless I absolutely have to. I figure occasional messed up knees and feet and back muscles are nature's way of saying "Take your head out of your ass and do something DIFFERENT, Crabby!"

Things That Actually Kinda Rock About Turning 50:

1. I feel great.

Seriously, I have more energy, more muscle strength, less anxiety, a stronger immune system, and less trouble maintaining a healthy weight than I ever had before. I sleep great, never get sick, have a ton of fun, a great marriage, awesome friends, and I'm pretty darn content with my life. (Now watch, I'll head into menopause and it will all go straight down the toilet--but for now at least, all is good). As a young adult looking ahead, it never would have occurred to me that being 50 could feel this good. So, dear young people: you know all that cheerleady crap you hear about how you should eat right and get exercise and plenty of sleep and not smoke or abuse drugs and how you should nurture your close relationships and be financially responsible, etc., etc. etc? It's annoying as hell to listen too--but weirdly enough, it's true. You'll thank yourself later.

2. "Wisdom" may be putting it too strongly, but...

There are lots of things you get smarter about as you get older. In fact, there's a book I've been meaning to read, "The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind," but, um, I keep forgetting to see if the library has it in yet.

Apparently memory isn't one of those surprising middle-aged talents.

But anyway, it does seem like what we lose in processing speed and recall, we gain in general smarts. At least, when I think back to some of the dumb-ass things I did as a young adult, I hope I'm getting smarter.

3. The Road Ahead Looks Less Crappy Than I Would Have Thought

So the major drawback to hitting my fifties seems to be the idea that I'm in my 50's--and the assumption that life will soon start to accelerate in a downhill direction. And yet, I hang out with folks in their 50's, 60's, and 70's who are still kicking ass and having a blast. (True, those I know in their 80's and 90's are slowing down a bit, but many are still hanging in there with pretty reasonable quality of life). And every day I seem to read about some promising new study or medical intervention or anti-aging strategy. So perhaps it's not inevitable that my body is going to disintegrate in to a rickety, malfunctioning, toxic pile of bitter complaints anytime in the near future. (And if I'm wrong, please stay tuned for my new blog, "Really, Really, REALLY Cranky Fitness.")

Anyone else facing a Big Birthday or life transition? Any helpful advice?