Mixed Metaphors and Muddling Through

I’ve been having a bit of a post-menopausal crisis of identity lately in that I feel I’m no longer completely who I was, but find I’m not yet quite fully formed into who I will be, either. I’m lost in limbo, held hesitant in a strange transitional place, a liminal space on the threshold between yesterday’s me and tomorrow’s me, waiting for the way out to become clear so I can move forward with confidence once more.

It feels as if the worn fabric of my old life has been torn, leaving precariously frayed edges and a yawning gap of vulnerability and weakness that initially left me holding my breath for fear of causing further damage. My first thought was to try to mend the rupture immediately, stitch it up tight, put a patch over it to provide reinforcement, remain in denial of my long-lost youth. But then with the tension already released I started to wonder what bits and pieces might be hidden away deep down and sheer curiosity caused me to forego my fears and rummage about a bit beneath the surface.

Inside myself I found not only all those parts of me I ever was, but also multiple bulky boxes of Wishful-Thinkings and Maybe-One-Days, Roads-Not-Taken and Ideal-Imaginings, never unpacked and simply kept stored away for potential future use. And at 58 years old I realised that the contents of many of these unopened boxes were no longer dormant dreams to be taken out and aired at some point, but over the years had somehow become stagnant in stifled obsolescence. They were filled with myriad Things I Will Never Do and People I Will Never Be, some by choice and some by circumstance.

And I also realised that it was long past time to let many of these musty old boxes go. I need to lay them to rest peacefully and deliberately so the ghostly disappointments of so many discarded dreams do not haunt my identity into my future. Because thankfully I have found no real major regrets in there – it seems the things I wanted to do most in life I have actually done. I may not always have succeeded in all things I have attempted, but I have tried and sometimes failed or have changed my mind about them, and having had that experience is enough for me.

Life is always about prioritising, making choices between one thing and another, adapting and assimilating and becoming anew, time after time. In the past I may have dreamed that one day I would write a book, but I know now I never will because I simply don’t want it enough. In the same vein I will never have a proper career, because having a family first mattered more to me and I preferred to work around their needs. I have to accept that I never will grow up to be tall and slim, the lithe leggy athletic blonde of my youthful dreams because my genes have determined otherwise and I simple cannot be what I am not so why upset myself wishing for the physically impossible?

Better by far to make the most of what I have rather than yearn for an imagined ideal that I can never attain. I am a middle-aged post-menopausal grandmother with ongoing health problems and at times a heavy heart. Depression and anxiety have always played a huge part in my life to date and with the best will in the world they will not be going anywhere soon, so inevitably all of those weighed-down dusty boxes of hopes and dreams belonging to someone more emotionally robust who has not experienced a lifetime of mental health issues also need to be placed gently but firmly in the growing pile marked ‘Leave Behind’.

I feel like I have enough experiential emotional baggage to carry around with me without bulking it out with all these outdated optional extras whose statute of limitations has effectively long run out. I feel like in order to know myself into the future I first need to be sure who I am not, who I will never be, draw a clear line in the sand and step beyond all those potential dead ends that belong firmly in the past. I know I will find a way through this and feel whole once more, but right now I’m not quite there yet.

And I know in my heart of hearts that however lost and confused I may feel right now, as I start on my later-life journey towards becoming an old woman I’ll also be moving more freely towards becoming a new woman, too…

April A-Z: A is for Ageing

I have a fridge magnet that reads ‘Do not regret growing older, it’s a privilege denied to many.’ So whenever I’m feeling fed up with focusing too much on all the irritating little health niggles and aches and pains that accompany my ageing body, I remind myself just how lucky I am to still be here to have seen my three children grow up, and in turn spend time with my six grandchildren as they grow up. I’ve never had great health, ever since my earliest childhood, so ageing may be bringing me different problems to deal with but in a way it’s just more of the same frustrations as ever but in a different format. And personally I find having been around the block more than a few times brings me a different perspective than I had in my youth, an understanding and a deeper level of patience that comes from having had that much more life experience than before… 🙂

Life events have conspired to pull me away from blogging over the last couple of months, and the idea of taking part in this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge seems like a good way to try to get back into the habit of reading and posting regularly. Originally I thought of just using any old random words to go with the particular letter of the day, but realistically without a clear theme to work towards I’m not sure I’d be able to keep my focus for a full month… So instead I’ve opted for a relatively simple, if slightly self-indulgent work-around: This year I’ll be posting 26 things about me, nothing too taxing to write about yet still fulfilling the brief!

Being There…

Today’s one hour visiting slot at the hospital was taken up by me sitting quietly, watching my 85-year-old dad sleep.

Dad’s usually up and dressed and sitting in the chair next to his bed, but apparently he was feeling really tired this morning so after his breakfast, instead of getting him washed and dressed as usual the nursing staff let him go back to sleep. And sleep he did… in fact he slept, and he slept, and for the full hour I was with him (between 11am and 12pm) he didn’t wake once. Not when I carefully placed a metal-legged hard plastic chair next to his bed and sat down, not when a friendly nurse spoke to me and we discussed how surprisingly deeply dad was asleep today rather than his usual on-and-off dozing (resting his eyes, he used to call it). Dad didn’t even stir when the domestic assistant inadvertently knocked his bed while mopping the floor underneath, or again when dusting the top of the curtain rails around his bed.

So rather than disturb dad’s rest I just sat with him, next to his bed, and watched him sleep. I watched his ageing face, eyes tight shut, not a flicker of movement to suggest he might be about to wake. I watched his lower jaw lying slack within his weathered skin, his top denture sitting too loose in his slightly open mouth as he gave a soft snore every now and again. I watched his chest and stomach rise and fall gently and rhythmically with every inhale and exhale, so peaceful in his repose. I leaned over and held his hand for a while, and although he didn’t stir from his slumber dad’s fingers intuitively folded around mine too. I felt such a surge of protection towards him, this vulnerable old man with dementia and minimal mobility. Because underneath this confused old man exterior, he’s still my lovely, loving dad.

So for a full hour I just sat in a hospital ward and watched my dad sleep, watched him with the same loving scrutiny as when I watched my children and grandchildren sleep when they were babies. He may not have known I was there, but I knew, and the precious time we spend together with dad asleep matters just as much to me as when he is wide awake… ❤

Ragtag Daily Prompt: Watched

A Place Full of Strangers

I haven’t written about visiting my 85-year-old dad for a while because sadly, due to Covid restrictions coming into force at the hospital for three weeks, I simply wasn’t allowed to visit for the duration.

We kept in touch with the ward by phone, so we knew he was doing fine… but still, it was a difficult time not to be able to see dad in person. He has vascular dementia and doesn’t remember about the Covid pandemic, or understand why ordinarily he is only allowed two designated visitors never mind none at all for weeks on end.

So as soon as hospital visiting recommenced at the end of last week I booked a slot to see dad again, and it was such a relief on that first visit to find that we simply picked up pretty much exactly where we had left off – he seemed to have no recollection of the fact that we hadn’t seen him for a few weeks, he was settled and chatty and he looked well.

I noticed that dad has had his hair cut since I saw him last, and with a puzzled look he brushed his hand over his head and said in surprise – oh yes, so I have! So I asked him who had cut his hair, but all he could offer (with a wry smile) was – I’m buggered if I know!

But as soon as I saw dad this morning I realised he was having a ‘lost’ day – where he finds himself neither easily in the here-and-now, nor happily living in the past, but stuck somewhere in between. He said hello and gave a brief smile as I hugged him and sat down, but he kept looking around, distracted and agitated, seemingly trying to pick up visual and aural clues to work out where he was.

I asked him if he was OK, and with sad eyes he said he was in a place full of strangers where he didn’t recognise anyone… A friendly nurse came in and spoke to him by name, and he was surprised that she knew him – he was so sure he didn’t know her. Poor dad, he was so aware that everyone else seemed to know with confidence where they were, so he concluded he must be the one who is confused.

While I was visiting we called mum at home with my mobile phone, and then afterwards my brother called us with the on-screen video function so both he and dad were able to see each other in real time, but dad really struggled to keep his attention on the screen with so many distractions in the background and soon handed the phone back to me, disappointed he was unable to follow the conversation.

I reassured him that it was still good to be able to see my brother via the phone, and dad agreed but wondered why he hadn’t spoken to his mum and dad for a while – he hoped they were still doing fine? I smiled and quietly admitted I didn’t know – what’s the point of reminding him his parents have been dead for a good 30 years…

Dad often lives in this nightmare psychological no-man’s-land these days, alone and lost in a mental landscape ravaged by dementia, increasingly burdened by his inability to make sense of his surroundings. He tries so hard to make his brain work the way he wants it to. He thinks and he thinks and he thinks; puts in so much effort to try to understand it all but somehow nothing makes sense any more.

It hurts us to see him hurting and struggling so much, but with the best will in the world there’s nothing any of us can do to ease that burden for him. There’s no easy-to-read how-to handbook to help with all of this, no instruction manual for coping with the disintegration of mental capacity caused by dementia. All we can do is be there for him and guide him and continue to love him for a long as we can…  

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Handbook  

Holding On…

When I walked into the hospital ward this afternoon to visit my 85-year-old dad, he looked astonished. ‘How did you know where to find me?’, he asked, before frowning and adding a little forlornly – ‘I’m just baffled, I don’t know where I am…’

Dad has been in hospital for almost four weeks now, and sadly does not seem to be getting any better. If anything, he seems to be deteriorating visibly. His level of confusion gusts and lulls with the wind but his mobility is consistently a lot worse and to cap it all he’s now not eating and drinking properly. This is in spite the best endeavours of all the wonderful staff at the hospital who try so hard to coax him and cajole him to eat and drink and stand up and walk. But dad is having none of it, so today he was put on a saline drip to bring his fluid levels up.

Dad has vascular dementia, the result of several past strokes, and was admitted to hospital at the end of October after a bad fall at home resulting in a bash on the head, which has now healed beautifully. With the help of home carers coming in four times a day and additional weekly respite, my 79-year-old mum has been caring for dad at home over the last five years but it is clear to all of us (except dad) that this arrangement simply cannot continue any longer. Dad needs proper 24-hour nursing care now, and so we are working behind the scenes with dad’s Social Work team to find an appropriate Care Home for him.

And in the meantime dad has better days and worse days, sometimes knowing where he is and others not, sometimes chatty (though confused) and sometimes all too quiet and uncommunicative. When I visited dad this afternoon my mum had already been in earlier in the day, so I knew dad had been up sitting in his chair when she first arrived but was sound asleep safely tucked up in bed when she left. So I asked him – Have you had a wee sleep today? And he answered quite animatedly ‘No I haven’t had the time, I’ve been too busy trying to get my brain to work!’. Poor dad…

And so I continue to visit him for my allotted hour as often as I can, and just be with him. Sometimes he looks sad, or fed-up, or puzzled, or tired, but I just let him be in whatever frame of mind he is in, and sit with it. I sit with him as he sleeps, or talks about things that confuse him, or most recently as he just looks at me, holding his gaze for ages. I too keep eye contact and see him looking deep into my eyes for answers to unasked questions he can’t even begin to fathom, and I know I can’t help him find what he’s looking for.

But I can be there with him and for him and hold his hand and hopefully let my being there bring him some little comfort to his lost word, however momentary. Because I am still his daughter, his first-born, and he is still my lovely dad. Thankfully for now he still knows me and I will always know him. Within me I carry his genes and have inherited his high cheek bones and blue eyes, and amongst other traits his quiet nature, his love of the outdoors, his brick-wall stubbornness and dry sense of humour.

So I sit with him and I treasure every moment because I know I am so lucky still to have him here. He is still very much part of the fabric of my life, however unravelled and frayed and worn his memory threads may be these days. Right now I feel as protective of my dad as I do of my children, as if in his vulnerability I love him even more than I did before. Dementia brings such an urgency to love, a need to make the most of what you have while you have it because you never know when, in the blink of a vacant eye, it will suddenly be gone.

I do realise that one day dad will no longer know me, no longer know any of his family, but until that day comes I’m holding on with all my heart to letting him know quietly and constantly how much he means to us. It’s not much but in the circumstances it’s all I can do, and so I try to do it with as much patience and understanding and comfort and love as I can… ❤

Finding My Feet…

To be honest I’ve never really found it easy to find shoes that fit comfortably but I’ve usually had fun trying on plenty of potentially promising contenders over the years, even though our perfunctory podiatric interactions regularly result in discarded dreams and disappointments all round.

I’m like a bare-foot Cinderella in reverse in the sense that it’s me going round every shoe store in the kingdom asking ‘Does this shoe fit? Nope’… Does this shoe fit? Nope’… Even shoes in my ‘correct’ size are often too tight or too unforgivingly stiff or in some other way just too wrongly shaped for my feet… Without the benefit of finding a magical store called ‘Glass Slippers R Us’, shoe-shopping for me has often been an insurmountable quest with questionable success.

My UK size 4 feet are technically short enough to fit into the bigger sizes of kids’ shoes, and when I was younger this sometimes proved to be a far better option for me than shopping in the women’s section. But nowadays although my heels are still narrow I have rather a high instep and a steadily-broadening middle-aged midfoot, and when I’m walking my toes far prefer to splay out comfortably rather than be crumpled into a too-tight ill-fitting toe-box, so sadly the days of me finding kids’ shoes that meet my specific criteria are long gone.

Mind you nowadays as even the smaller sizes of adult women’s shoes can be far too narrow for me I often find myself either searching out so-called ‘wide-fit’ designs or alternatively buying a whole size bigger in an attempt to accommodate the specific spatial needs of my fussy feet. And on top of all of the frustration of slim-line form-over-function design derailing the whole process for me, the painful pull of plantar fasciitis has created additional restrictive requirements in my futile search for the perfectly fitting shoe – namely good insole cushioning, proper arch support, and neither too high nor too low a heel.

And now it seems I also have to start to accommodate the needs of an increasingly arthritic hip when considering my footwear choices on into the future, although to be fair what works best for my plantar fasciitis also works best for my dodgy hip as long as the resulting shoe is reasonably lightweight too. Fashionable trends – not that I’ve ever been a dedicated follower of fashion in footwear or any other wear for that matter – have necessarily taken a complete back seat in my recent deliberations and decision-making.

Nowadays I simply wear whatever fits that I can walk in comfortably that doesn’t offend the eye. Still, I might not be in the slightest young and trendy any more but I don’t necessarily want all my shoes to be boringly bland – where’s the fun in that? Maintaining mobility may matter more than anything else but I’d still prefer funky over frumpy footwear any day. So I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that all things considered, finding my feet when it comes to choosing comfortable footwear that looks good too might take me even longer than before to get right… Sigh… Good job I like a challenge!

From Buxom Blonde to Menopausal Matron

For years I was a natural buxom blonde. Natural in that my boobs are big without any intervention and my hair is blonde at source. In the past I suppose I had a reasonably nice curvy figure (although having three kids by 21 left their mark) and as I got older I used to dye my dulling dark blonde hair lighter to try to re-capture that youthful brightness. For the longest time I looked young for my age, too, so people would see me and judge accordingly. In many people’s eyes big boobs plus blonde hair equals bimbo – vacuous, dumb, shallow, whatever the particular stereotype du jour.

It used to be quite fun to see the look on people’s faces when I surprised them with the reality that I’m actually quite smart – I gained a first class honours degree at 40. Or parents would say to me in a patronising, parental tone ‘Wait til you have kids, then you’ll see!’ and I’d point out I already had kids, I’d been a mum since I was 18. My voluptuous soft curves often belied my underlying physical strength – beneath my layer of fatty tissue I also have well-built muscle. On initial acquaintance for various reasons I often simply wasn’t the person people assumed I was, and for many years that social dissonance almost became part of my identity – I was often able to use the stereotype to my advantage.

But as time passed it bothered me more and more to so easily be dismissed by others as irrelevant in a snap judgement just because of how I looked. It stopped being fun and instead I found it increasingly frustrating. In my late forties I stopped dying my hair and deliberately lost that ‘blonde bombshell’ look I’d kept for so long. And now I’m in my late fifties my once-shapely figure is more menopausal matronly than sexy hourglass, my dark blonde hair is greying and it seems the old stereotype no longer applies. So am I taken more seriously now? Nope, not a bit of it – it seems I’m still routinely dismissed as an irrelevance in society at large, but now it’s because of my advancing age rather than being a buxom blonde! 🙂

Weekly Prompt: Advantages

PS After publishing this post, it was brought to my attention that it would be a suitable answer for this week’s Fandango’s Provocative Question, which asks:

What impression do you think you give when you first meet someone?

So I’m cheating and using my post to answer this challenge, too! 🙂

Bare Faced Beauty

As I pluck my old lady moustache
All this tweezing burns hot like a rash
Each hair follicle brings
Sharp eye watering stings
Yank it quick and it’s gone in a flash

Now I’m sporting bright pink upper lip
Nicely hairless but painful to strip
And each delicate pore
Smarts all angry and sore
In my quest to feel trendy and hip

Next my eyebrows need brought into line
Errant stragglers plucked one at a time
This close up I can’t see
Shaping’s not clear to me
Do my best and just hope they look fine

Ow, these tweezers keep nipping like hell
Cause more redness and soft tissue swell
Vision blurs as I pluck
Each small hair – WTF
Eyes all blotchy and puffy as well

Think I’ll give up on trying to look nice
Ragged eyebrows will have to suffice
No-one cares anyway
Past my best, had my day
At my age no one looks at me twice 🙂

Fifty Seven and Counting

 My fifty-seventh birthday is today
 I just can’t help but ponder growing old
 Retirement is one short decade away
 I picture what my future life might hold
 Imagining myself in years to come
 No longer working for my daily crust
 I’ll potter in my garden just for fun
 And spare some time for housework if I must
 But hopefully my hobbies will expand
 To fill my days with things I love to do
 Creatively I’ll find my promised land
 Artistically I’ll flourish through and through
 I look ahead to far horizons clear
 A distant ageing world that holds no fear… 

Growing Old…

Do not regret growing older, it is a privilege denied to many’

Fandango has asked us to reflect on something that brings us joy, and considering I’ve struggled so much with ongoing depression over the years, even off the top of my head the list is surprisingly long. Family, friends, music, creativity, hobbies, homemaking, learning, loving… and it made me realise that there is so much in life to bring me joy that the longer I live, the happier I seem to feel.

So for me, the thing that brings me most joy is probably the gift of growing older. I have a fridge magnet that says ‘Do not regret growing older, it is a privilege denied to many’. It is a sobering thought, and every time I see it I am reminded of my best friend’s husband, who died in his early fifties of kidney cancer. Only six months after diagnosis he was gone, but he will never be forgotten…

Fandango’s Dog Days

One Liner Wednesday