Anxiety

Even writing that title makes me feel anxious.  The word itself sucks and pulls at my brain like an annoying child demanding attention with a whine that becomes a foot drumming tantrum if unchecked.  I am anxious about being anxious and anxious about being anxious about being anxious.  I started to get anxious when I was seven and I ‘got saved’ because the alternative, according to my Mum, who I’d only asked about the meaning of the word ‘Christianity’, was to go to hell when I died.  I was told regularly that even little children can die and that God wants them to go to Heaven but that they have to trust in Jesus.  So of course I decided to ‘be converted’ but then agonised for the next two and a half decades about whether I’d done it right.  When I learned that Jesus would come again in the ‘twinkling of an eye’ and transport all the Christians straight up to Heaven while the rest of the earth awaited the terrifying reign of the antichrist, without whose mark on the forehead or the hand one would be beheaded or otherwise ended, I became fearful of being left behind at the Rapture.  I’d wake up in the night for the loo and traipse through to my parents’ room to see if they were still there.

So that’s where the anxiety began.  All well and good.  Counselling helped with that later on.  So I stopped being afraid of hell and the Rapture and got on with my life.  But a marital breakup and a daughter’s illness brought it back again with a vengeance.  From what I understand, neural pathways are hard to change.  I imagine a billion possible negative scenarios to every situation I’m in and then I obsess about how I will manage them if they happen.  So when I fell in love again aged 45 to the man I’m going to marry shortly, and realised that a house move was the only way to make us both happy in our settings (a house in between both our current locations), the anxiety flared up again.  And it went like this:

What if I never get another job?  What if I’m too old?  What if, because I’m on UPS3, I’m too expensive?  What if they think I’m pathetic because I’m only going for a teaching job and not a job with a TLR, which is where I’m at now?  What if I get a temporary contract and it isn’t renewed?

Then I went for an interview and got the job.  So the questions changed to:

What if I don’t get a permanent contract after a year?  What if I hate it?  What if I can’t manage the kids because they’re more challenging?  What if they’re all sexist and racist and I hate them (the kids)?  What if I don’t make friends?

I applied to port my fixed rate mortgage to a new house, which I’ll be buying for the time being as my partner’s house is proving difficult to sell.  It’s in Lincolnshire.  In a tiny village.  With a 1000 square foot workhouse.  It’s a period property.  It’s beautiful.  But nobody wants it.  My mortgage telephone conversation included so many questions that I was baffled –  already have a mortgage with them and am porting it.  But it’s a brand new application, apparently.  So the questions changed to:

What if they turn me down?  What if they refuse me because I have a temporary contract?  What if I don’t get a mortgage?  What if I am stuck forever with this house?  What if I can’t move?

Now, knowing that I have a new job starting, my youngest is leaving home, I am perimenopausal and often a bit hormonally unbalanced, I am moving house and moving in full time with Tim, that’s a lot of change.  Changes trigger anxiety.  So I’m wondering whether or not to take an anti-anxiety med again.  I took Sertraline for a year after my marital break up and it worked a treat.  I can’t have beta-blockers because of asthma.  But Sertraline, whilst primarily an antidepressant, can also treat anxiety and it certainly did before for that year.  But I’m doing the Calm app, daily yoga, running regularly and have learned to ask for help, not try to brave life alone, not be all super duper Miss Can Do Everything Thank You Very Much.  I’m open now about my anxiety where before I didn’t even know I had a Thing.  I thought I was just a stupid idiot for having panic attacks and found it all very embarrassing.

If I move away and the anxiety spirals out of control, I’m likely to have panic attacks, eat badly, sleep badly and be utterly miserable.  If I take the meds, however, I’ll never know whether I’ve made good progress with managing it with self-care strategies.  I also don’t really know how the meds work and don’t want to put on a load of weight like I did the last time.  They do make me pretty sluggish and about as keen on running as a large lump of pizza dough.  I don’t know – it’s a dilemma.  I don’t particularly want to start the second half of my life by getting so panicky I start punching myself in the head (that can happen), but I also don’t relish being on the zombie drugs for three weeks before I can even function without feeling like a space cadet.

So I’m thinking and wondering and trying to pre-empt problems.  But I don’t know whether being anxious about being anxious is just another symptom of anxiety or whether I can manage this year with my newly forming healthier neural pathways and with self-love and self-care and talking and now blogging.

I already feel less anxious having written all that!  Any other anxious people out there?  Do share ideas, tips, experiences.  I’ve love to know I’m not alone.

Older and newer: embracing the grey

When I met my current partner, who I’m shortly going to marry, I dared to hope that this would be a modern, interdependent relationship, where we lived with mutual respect and love and affection. So far, that has been the case, but when I tentatively told him the truth, on a cycle ride, that my hair is actually grey, I honestly expected him to be rather upset.

I have started this blog to document some of my thoughts and experiences relating to perimenopause, which is, for me, more than a bunch of hormones conspiring to age me beyond all recognition and turn me grey.  Far more than that.  And a million times better, too.  I feel as though I’ve been gearing up for this for years, starting at the age of 33 when I developed feelings for a man other than my husband.  That was the beginning of a process of reassessing my life, and it started with an infatuation.  I thought it was love, but it was really a glimpse into a multi-faceted world of opportunities: different people, places, conversations and friendships.  It turned out to be nothing; we were both married and he wanted an affair, nothing more.  I stopped seeing him and spent months agonising over what had become of my marriage.  When I told my husband that I thought it was over, we decided to go to counselling (Relate) and managed to negotiate some changes that suited us both and gave it another go for ten years.  But the unrest of that fling stayed with me.  It was the beginning of the end – or the end of the beginning.  And that’s what I think this midlife business is all about.  Whether we stay in a relationship for life or not, our relationships do change.  We change.  I started to want more for myself.

I was brought up brethren.  Plymouth brethren.  Strict parents, nothing worldly, long hair, a head covering in meetings and a skirt and never trousers.  No discos, no version of the Bible other than the good old King James with its ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ and ‘sayeths’.  The meeting was a solemn affair and women were under what was termed ‘the headship of men’.   I married under that and we didn’t really stray far from the tree until I went to university to study English Literature at the age of 32.  Suddenly I had options.  I was getting good grades and realised I had a brain and over the next years I graduated, took my PGCE and became a teacher.  I left the brethren, got fit, ran two marathons, raised my three kids, kept an eye on my ageing parents and got grey hair.  I coloured it religiously, obsessively, red, purple, blondey, streaked, dark, covering the roots increasingly often, sometimes every three weeks.  I couldn’t afford hairdressing fees and did it myself using L’Oreal products and then, scared of carcinogenic chemicals, Holland and Barrett brands.  The greys grew in abundance.

My marriage ended, finally, in a fizzled out mess of empty abandonment.  He moved to London with his job and I got to spend all week raising my two youngest whilst holding down a job and dealing with the middle daughter’s bulimia.  They were the most heartrending two years of my life and certainly the most difficult and painful of hers.  Whilst he was away pursuing his dream job, I wrote letters, chased the NHS, called my MP, shouted a lot about the CAMHS waiting list and funding problem and finally she got treatment.  During her time waiting for treatment, she went from mild anorexia to full blown bulimia, characterised not only by binge-purging but also regular panic attacks, self harm and, on one occasion, after a relationship breakup, an impulsive suicide attempt.  He told me I was exaggerating her illness and he continued to return home later and later on Friday nights, we returned to Relate, nothing changed and I ended it.

For the next year, I battled depression and anxiety, took a course of antidepressants, learned to look after myself, started dating again, had loads of fun, and developed more grey hairs.  When I met my current partner, who I’m shortly going to marry, I dared to hope that this would be a modern, interdependent relationship, where we lived with mutual respect and love and affection.  So far, that has been the case, but when I tentatively told him the truth, on a cycle ride, that my hair is actually grey, I honestly expected him to be rather upset.  His response, ‘Is that it?’ surprised me.  I still hung on to this idea that men do not fancy grey haired women.

Now, I’m a feminist.  Honestly.  A strong-minded, educated, mid-40s woman who believes in absolute equality, despises shallow frivolity and obsessions about perfection and considers our brains to be our biggest asset.  But I still want to be considered sexy and that, although I hate to admit it, equates with youthful.  I think we all do.  Men, too.  But lots of women I know struggle with the whole grey hair thing.  Although, I was talking about this with a colleague the other day and he said he reckons loads of men dye their hair secretly.  Loads.  Anyway, I toyed the the idea of going grey for some months and finally went to the hairdresser, asked them to chop out as much colour as they could, take it as short as they could without shaving my head, and went natural in one fell swoop  I bought a L’Oreal purple shampoo, which tones the remainder of the previous brassy overtones, and now I have silver streaks that are all mine.  People think it looks lovely.  I’ve had so many compliments.  My fiance loves it.  My kids think it’s cool.  My students have commented positively.  And I feel like my hair now matches the rest of me.  Older and newer.

My youngest is about to go to university, my house is on the market, I’m saying goodbye to the first half of my life: the day to day life of a working mother and the packets of hair dye.  I’m about to move away, buy a place with my fiance and say hello to the second half which is still brand new, with doors to be opened and memories to be made.

First blog post

This is the post excerpt.

I started this blog in my late 40s having gone through an enormous amount of change in the past few years, including a transforming head of hair, hence the name of the blog.  The silver hair seems fitting as it’s bright and shiny and I have come to embrace the older me and the prospects of a different future to the one I had planned.  So many of us come to this age (46 for me) and the family leave, the long-term relationship or marriage may end or at the very least undergo some dramatic changes, the body begins to undergo a pretty dramatic upheaval and we start to look to the second half of life.  I’ve read a bunch of stuff on perimenopause and will share some of it here, along with every day comments on life and the things I’ve found and done that make the anxieties and sadnesses easier to deal with.  I love life and relish so much of it: smiles, hugs, my loving fiance and a long run on a sunny day, but it comes with loss and trauma, too, and at midlife it seems to hit so hard, with ageing parents on one end and emerging adults at the other.  We’re in the middle in every way, batting off all their troubles and trying to support everyone.  We’re often the main caregiver in the home, the one trying to hold it all together, sometimes with some pretty big mental health issues of our own.  So this is a blog about challenge and change, about beauty and hope, about the reality of mess and fragmentation and downright ridiculousness at times.  About how, at the end of it all, chocolate, wine, panic attacks and some almighty emotional family dramas, the only thing that matters is love, for ourselves and others, and it’ll probably be ok.

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