The many functions of running

1.  Weight Management

I started running, age 31 or thereabouts, to help with weight loss.  I’d gained a couple of stone during three pregnancies, breastfeeding and several years of being a stay at home Mum.  I ate for comfort, to relieve boredom and to reward myself for the hours of cleaning, cooking, wiping up, tidying, entertaining, comforting, teaching and training.  When Billy was 3 I went to university to do an English degree and after that, to become a teacher.  It was then that I lost weight, through healthy eating and exercise, and began a regular jogging practice.  My love of the peace and quiet of a solitary run through fields and lanes developed during this time.  The calming sound of my footsteps, the steady breathing pattern, the gentle sounds of wildlife and the rustling of grass became necessary me-time.  This really helped me to tone up and maintain the weight loss, and I built up to half marathon distance and ran my first Leicester half in 2 hours and 4 minutes (I think).  But my speed didn’t really pick up until we moved to Stoneygate and I decided that some running buddies would be nice and joined the Leicester Roadhoggs (with Jackie and Clare below).

578060_10151744064160696_830225695_24284015_1592560616_n

2.  Friendly Competition

My first training run, on a Wednesday night, was with the now legendary Jackie Brown, who is a regular winner or in the top 5 in her age category in league races and other events across the country.  She is a brilliant runner now, but then, on our first Roadhoggs run, we were well matched.  She pushed me on, being slightly quicker and much more determined, and I came away feeling exhausted but happy.  Regular training runs with other people made me quicker.

I began running league races and my first Glooston 10k I did in around 48 minutes.   I was very competitive with others of similar ability, and really enjoyed xc.  My fastest time was on the Boxing Day handicap at Barrow-upon-Soar, where I achieved a 46 minute 10k with a slight hangover.  I began to experience a runner’s high, which I only got when I pushed myself to the max.  Like a drug, it made me feel exhilarated and, when it happened, I felt as though I was floating around the course, all pain gone, no effort, totally in this wonderful, bubble-like zone.  I’d be aware that I was overtaking other runners and was smiling as I glided along.  It was incredible.  I began to chase the high and relish it when it came.

Abis 18th 002.jpg

I started doing some speed work with Roadhoggs at Saffron Lane and built up to my first London marathon, which I ran for YMCA.  I trained up to 39 miles a week and achieved a sub 4 (just).  But a chest infection kicked in about a month before the marathon and my asthma flared up badly.  I had to take a couple of weeks off and began to consider that doing that mileage as well as being a full time teacher was a bit much.  I know people who run 100 miles a week and can only admire their incredible stamina and commitment.  My problem might have stemmed from the sudden increase, due to following a training plan, and a more consistent pattern would have been better.  I also became obsessive about maintaining a low body fat percentage, counted calories religiously and worked out every day, always worried about loss of performance or weight gain.

Deep Connection

Shortly after this, my daughter became ill and many troubles began at home.  She developed an eating disorder and ran to shed excess calories.  There were two awful years and I undertook the steepest learning curve of my life.  Supporting her through the ED was the most difficult thing for a parent to do, and I tried to do it well.  There were many failures and difficulties on my part but she persevered in her recovery and she taught me how to help her.  She got good help eventually and, in turn, I began to recognise my own problems with food and exercise.  During this time, albeit for negative reasons, she got very good at running and, as she recovered, she used this ability to set herself the goal of completing a half marathon.  Running over the finishing line with her was one of the proudest moments of my life.  She’d experienced rock bottom at such a young age, had achieved so much recovery, ran her half in just under 2 hours and, most importantly, raised several hundred pounds for BEAT, an eating disorders charity.

Kirstin and me

During these difficult years, several good friends forced me to go out running, and it served as a kind of therapy.  But three years after the marathon, my marriage was over and I was a single parent on anti-depressants.  I completely lost the urge to run beyond a jog.  The pills made me calm, relaxed and clear-headed.  They were definitely worth it for the benefit to my mental health, and helped me to benefit from counselling, but I gained over a stone in weight as I addressed my obsession with dieting and found ways to manage my now very different life.  My metabolism seemed to have slowed and I felt bloated every time I ate.  On the plus side, I went from crying for hours on the sofa every night to feeling normal.

Part of a Balanced Lifestyle

My full recovery to pill-free mental health took a year, and during that time I ran my second London marathon.  But it was a different animal this time.  My training consisted of one long run every Sunday, up to 20 miles, as I ambled along from Stoneygate to Billesden and back again, thoroughly enjoying the view and the experience.   My weeks were too busy to run.  I struggled to find time between working full time, running around as chauffeur to my youngest, and conducting a long distance relationship.  I ran the marathon in 4 hours and 16 minutes, with my partner cheering me on in his rugby coach voice that boomed out across the crowds and made me feel like a champion.

Since then, I’ve maintained a commitment to running but it’s very different.  The competitive streak has disappeared and I’m genuinely happy for other people to overtake me and improve beyond what I’m prepared to commit to.  I always aim to run for 2.5 hours a week and often manage 2.  My last half marathon took 2 hours and 4 minutes (back to the early days) and the only way I’d get quicker again would be to lose the stone and train more.  The thought of doing that fills me with gloom.  My latest health check revealed that I’m in excellent shape.  My diet is good and I’m happy and healthy.  I no longer count calories and I eat to nourish my body and mind.  Nowadays, it seems unnecessary to get all worked up about improving my speed.

So I run a few times a week, because it’s enjoyable to explore the lanes and fields, to hear my breathing, to feel the mind-body connection and to enjoy my physicality.  My long runs are slow ambles for 6-7 miles, more if there’s a half or a big event coming up.  I enjoy doing 5k fundraisers, like the Louth Run for Life, with Tim.  I do yoga most days, which would have bored me to tears previously.  Meditation has become part of my overall self-care, and I’m much better at acknowledging how I feel, what I need and where to find support as well as when to give it.  And when I occasionally feel energised enough to push myself, like I did at the Hungarton 7 2017, I still get the runner’s high.  It’s great when it happens, but I don’t chase it, because life is sweet enough to go without.

 

 

A teacher is, first, a person

Packing up my house contents for the second time in two years means re-visiting the memory box.  It’s more interesting than Ebaying vintage die cast cars.  In my memory box, I found things I’ve kept since the age of 10.  My school projects (that my Mum did), cards and letters, and my signed Clarendon House Grammar School for girls blouse, covered in scribbles containing advice such as ‘watch out for the boys’ from when I was 14 and about to move to Milton Keynes.  I did watch out for the boys.  I bloody loved them.

Some excerpts from my diary age 14-16.  I feel they show my development:

Maths – ah oh!  More algebra – I HATE the stuff!

Pete’s got his eyes bandaged ‘coz of welding with no wotsit.

I’ll write out the Greatest Love of All now OK?  (and did)

PS I’m badly in love.  I’m only 14 but I swear to heaven that this is love.  Sorry, I don’t swear, but I’m positive that I’m IN LOVE.  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

(in mirror writing) I’m going out with a boy called Jason.  He’s black. 

Last night Mum, Dad and I had a massive WAR over Shaun.

I love Wig more than I did Shaun, and if I love someone, I’m not just gonna give up.  It really isn’t so unreasonable at 16 to want a boyfriend.

In 10 mins I’m going!  Breaking out at long last – I can’t quite believe it but I think it’s gonna happen!  I’ll write back later.  I’ve written Mum a note.  She’s playing with Jonathan – I’ll slip out soon.  Man am I scared!!  Hi.  It’s 11.10pm and I’m back.  Wow I did it!!

Dad blah blah blah mum moan dad wants to meet Wig to tell him off dad don’t respect Wig cos he won’t finish with me no pocket money and they’re selling the piano.  Wow that did hurt.  The piano goes and my main life goes.  I’m not joking I’ll be depressed without that piano I need it it’s part of my life.

Hi.  All I’ve done today is talk to teachers.  First, Mrs Lawrence was persuading me to stay on the 6th form because she said I’m too intelligent HAHA and I’d be bored doing typing.  Thing is I really want to earn money and be independent.  I think in my situation that would be good.  Later on Mr Andrews said the same thing and we had a really long talk about Mum and Dad and Wig etc.  He said he’d come across very religious people in a Christian guest house who based their whole lives on the bible and so he could understand Mum and Dad.  I didn’t slag them down at all and Mr Andrews noticed that.  He said he’d heard me talking to Ceilidh and she’d said ‘Oh you just oughta tell them to ____ _______’ and I said ‘yeah but they mean a lot to me’.  So he said he wouldn’t know what to do. 

Every day I’m gonna say whether or not I stuck to my diet.  I did today.  Had 952 calories.  Exercise – walked in woods for ages and did some exercises to my fave songs for half an hour.  Cor Richard is nice.  I’m getting badly behind with the Bible and prayers and it is showing.  I am HARD and COLD again and at the mo I’ll fall in lust and be besotted and GIVE IN if anyone pays me any attention so I MUST pray hard and read the bible even when I don’t feel like it.  See I’m eyeing Richard up and I’m neglecting bible and those two factors make things very dangerous indeed. 

I’m in a bit of a mood.  Mr Mawer called me to this office in Maths.  Said about my denim jacket and I argued a bit and he arranged for us both to count how many people in leather or denim jackets.  He won the argument but he’s ok he was really nice and I like him now.  Then after that he asked me about the time Nicole offered me crack.  I didn’t know how he knew.  Paul takes drugs too and I say it’s up to him if he wants to. 

So it seems I liked my teachers and talked to them.  I don’t remember any of that.  I was kicked out of school half way through sixth form due to doing no work and spending most of the time skiving.  I hung out at people’s houses or on the field mainly.  I didn’t see the point of school any more and I started drug taking.  I think I was depressed.  I never knew it at the time, or for years later, or that I had a significant eating disorder.  It’s so obvious looking back.  I was troubled and anxious, eager to please and attention-seeking, upbeat and positive, and I wish I could talk to her, the girl in the diaries, whenever I read them.

I realise now that that’s what I do when I teach.

My latest set of cards, on leaving my current teaching job, will probably always move me.  I have so many cards from vulnerable kids.  This letter is a couple of years old and already getting tatty from being in my memory box.  So I’m going to write it out as for me it proves that my life has become meaningful and my early experiences have formed my understànding.

I’ve been seeing a counsellor for my diagnosis of what experts call “Being a miserable fucker” for going on 5 years.  When I finally mentioned it to Mr P, he was nothing but understanding and reassuring.  He told the rest of my teachers, and a few of them even went out of their way to awkwardly ask me if I was okay.  I appreciate their good intentions, but you were the only person who managed to say it and sound like a human being at the same time, and as you regrettably may know from your own experience, that goes an incredibly long way.  You were always a great teacher, but I can’t thank you enough for being able to show empathy to somebody that at the time, desperately needed it.  As it stands now, I’m both improving of my own accord and seeing a clinical psychologist, so fingers crossed for the future not being quite so grim.  If I told you that you made learning fun I’d be a liar, but you were and are still a real inspiration, if not in English or Critical Thinking, then as a person.  For a school that seems so full, it sometimes feels hard to find other human beings – for offering support, mercy and kindness when I needed it, you easily count for ten in my books.  I hope this letter can convey at least a fraction of my appreciation, and I wish you all the best in future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The inconsequential and the meaning of life

Little things over the years have included: my son jumping into my car to fetch his bag, accidentally sitting on the handbrake and rolling the car down the road, damaging the door badly (April 2014), me writing off a car because I drove it very quickly through a ford, for no logical reason (March 2003) and a car being stolen from outside our first house (1993).

These things were very stressful at the time, with phone calls galore, insurance claim wrangles and unexpected expenditure.

Bigger things have included negative equity (1995), moving to Japan for several months with two small kids (1997) and training as a secondary school teacher with three (2005).

The biggest things have been falling in love (1992 and 2015), having children (1994, 1996 and 1999), getting divorced (2015) and my daughter’s bulimia (dates are a blur).  The trouble is with Generalised Anxiety Disorder is that there is little difference in the stress levels between the levels of perceived threat like financial loss and practical inconveniences and the biggest, most life changing situations.

I had a moment today, though, when I got a blinding moment of clarity as I was driving home from Aldi.  I have these sometimes, pootling along through life, and BOOM there it is.  Sudden awareness and a spine tingling, tearful moment of pure joy and gratitude for the insight.

For the last four days I’ve been stressing (nothing new there) about my buyers suddenly announcing, last Tuesday, that they wanted me to complete decking as a condition of their offer.  They told me that the estate agent should have told me.  It wasn’t on the offer, nobody had mentioned it before, and the estate agent denied all knowledge.  I had promised ALL my house viewers, upon viewing, that if my buyer wanted decking I would do it, as the garden is half finished.  But she never said that she was going to offer, never mind that decking would be a condition of that.

I’ve got two weekends left in Leicester before going away to Scotland to get married and then, hopefully, completing and moving.  So it isn’t much time!  I told my solicitor that the buyer can have decking but will have to pay a further £1000 to cover the costs and the inconvenience.  She already got £13000 less than the asking price.  I haven’t heard back since last Thursday.  She texted me today to ask if everything is ok and it seems that her solicitors haven’t passed on any message.  I’m wondering if the sale’s going to fall through.  I need to move by September as my new job starts then, and blah and blah and yadda and yadda and the full screamo band of crappy nonsense was skadoodling around my poor, addled brain when I remembered, with a smile, an earlier phone call from my daughter, pictured above as a cute little babby.  She wanted to catch up about life and talked a while about her Summer job.

After completing her first two years of a degree course at the University of Durham, my girl has secured a Summer job prior to going to Germany then France for her year abroad.  She has just started work as a National Citizenship Service group leader, working with a group of 16 year olds.  She was tired and a bit frazzled after a weekend at an outdoor camp, and long working hours, but feeling engaged in the role, chattering enthusiastically about managing the youngsters and clearly enjoying their company, their talk, how they share their problems and how she might encourage the quieter ones to contribute more and be less dominated by the few noisy ones.  As a teacher, I knew how she felt and how rewarding she was finding it and I loved hearing about her experience so far.

When my baby was 15, she had anorexia.  She was brave and honest and told me just after Christmas how hard she was finding her obsession with dieting.  She went to the GP, got a diagnosis, and we waited hopefully for treatment.  Anyone who has a child with a mental illness, however, will know how naïve we were.  The CAMHS waiting list was long.  The most acute cases took priority.  The anorexia morphed into bulimia, accompanied by depression, anxiety and self-harm.  She got some interim CBT which didn’t help much.  I wrote letters monthly.  I quoted NICE guidelines.  My local MP, the wonderful Jon Ashworth, got involved and after a year, she received treatment and made a good recovery.

Any recovery from an ED takes time, patience, setbacks and triggers.  Going to university was difficult for her even after a year out.  Transitions are difficult times for people with mental health conditions.  I know that even more as I now realise that I have had similar mental health issues for years, although mine were more buried beneath layers of denial.

I’m not going to go into the hell of her ED.  It’s in the past and it’s private.  If you know, you know, and if you don’t, good.

All I’ll say is that my baby, my beautiful, innocent, precious child who I swore to protect and love forever, was hurting so badly that nobody and nothing could help her.  I felt guilt, frustration and deep, raw, gut-wrenching, soul-destroying pain.  Knowing that her pain was worse was only bearable because she needed me not to fall apart.  I learned so much from her.  Her courage and honesty led to mine.  She has become an advocate for the mentally ill and has promoted mental health in her role as president of Heads Up Durham.  She was determined, brave, even humorous about her illness.  She became my hero.

And as I drove home from Aldi, with my head full of decking, house sales, buyers, deadlines and completion dates, I suddenly remembered the phone call and I thought, ‘she is ok’.

And that – THAT – is a Big Thing.

 

Why I’m chegan and proud of it

People hate chegans more than vegans.  They say ‘you’re the worst vegan I ever met’.  They say ‘you can’t have that’.  They despise us.  They’d rather encounter a preachy, perfect, peachy skinned health blogger holding onto a kale smoothie and prophesying the doom of the planet.  But despite the hatred for my kind, this isn’t a grovelling, snivelling apology to the righteous among us, the ‘level 5 vegans’, those who ‘never eat anything that casts a shadow’.  For a start, veganism is like religion: you can never do it perfectly.  If you ride a bike, your tyres are probably made with some sort of animal derivative.  If you breathe the air, you’re breathing in the suffering of animals somewhere.  You’d have to dig a hole with your bare hands and hide in it if you weren’t going to contribute to animal agribusiness in any way, shape or form.

So it’s impossible to be a perfect vegan.  But a proper vegan, worthy of the title, does everything within their power not to contribute to the use of animals.  This is a worthy goal for the animals, the environment and the human psyche.  I was one for around 7 years (probably not consecutively) and now I’m officially a chegan.  The seven good years were pretty much down to my daughter, a fully fledged, paid up member of the proper vegan club, who is worthy of worship and adoration and doggedly persists in her vegan ways, converting the most entrenched meat eaters with her rare combination of intelligence, charm and irrefutable logic  However, she’s been away at university and without her, my angel, at my shoulder, I find myself falling into the hands of the devil.

I only contribute to animal suffering once or twice a week.  I only use the slave trade now and again.  I’m only responsible for the separation of calves from their mothers and their subsequent slaughter at the hands of the veal industry when I eat the occasional block of cheese.  I am aware of how vile the dairy industry is and yet I choose to eat cheese sometimes.  It often repels me and attracts me simultaneously.  It’s addictive yet revolting, tasty yet scummy, irresistible yet – there’s no alternative for this one.  It’s just irresistible.  To me.  Once or twice a week.

The transition from vegan to chegan only happened at Christmas 2015, when my fiancé and I hired a house for all of our families and there was a large cheeseboard.  Previous to meeting my fiancé, I often didn’t encounter cheeseboards and, when I did, I was sufficiently immune to their temptation, having gone years without.  But something about the presentation, the people around me nomming on it, the combination of relief that our first blended Christmas had gone well and the exhaustion of planning it all, led to me, alone, in the dining room, scarfing down pretty much the remainder of the cheese.  The next day I was ill.  But the damage was done.  I was re-hooked on the addictive, creamy, vile substance derived from the suffering of bovine mothers and their enslaved babies.

I’d love to substitute cheese for olives, or hummus, or whatever I did before, but ever since that first taste, I can’t.  Now I’m with Mr Lishman, cheese features in the fridge at least twice a week as he brings it with him to my house and he usually has four different varieties of it at his.  He has made the significant transition from a fully omnivorous Lincolnshire country gent to a happier and healthier pescatarian weighing three stones less and feeling great about the change.  So, given that relationships involve compromise, I suppose I have an obligation to go chegan.  No?

I tried some vegan cheese from Sainsburys and, in fact, made a yummy macaroni cheese dish with it.  But this initially positive experience coincided, later that night, with the worst sickness bug I’d had in ten years.  Twenty seven vomits later, the idea, image and smell of that coconut-derived hell has seared into my memory and ensured that I never touch a vegan cheese again.

So I do my best.  I eat vegan most of the time.  If somebody makes a cake and brings it to work and used an egg in the mixture, I didn’t buy it, I didn’t make it and I didn’t ask.  If I eat the occasional half pound of cheese (I don’t eat dainty slices), I’m not going to apologise to everybody in sight as they eat their chicken salad, pulled pork burger or steak and chips.  I do more than most people to reduce the land used for animal agribusiness.  Vegetarians use a quarter of the land that omnivores need and vegans an eighth.  That makes cheganism a few steps away from perfection, which of course would be non existence.

As humans we’re all bad for the planet and we all leave an eco footprint.  I’m done trying to be perfect.  So, chegan haters, stick your plate of ‘happy meat’ where the sun doesn’t shine, go to a quiet spot somewhere and deal with your own planet damning habits before you say another indignant word about mine.

 

 

 

 

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.

post

%d bloggers like this: