I am in the last few days of my 40's and from what I have heard, read and witnessed, many people begin to reflect on how their life has turned out as they are about to turn 50. It raises a lot of questions; Have I spent the last 30 years in the right job? Am I with the right partner? Do I like where I live? Have I traveled enough? Have I loved enough? Am I happy? It seems to trigger something that can propel some into making rather drastic life changes.
I think it is quite natural to look in the mirror when you reach middle age (for 50 is becoming middle age for more and more of our healthier ageing population) and look in horror at the expanding map of lines on your face, notice more and more grey hairs, pinch bigger rolls of flesh around your expanding waistline and realise that much of your wardrobe simply isn't suitable anymore. You begin to rub aching joints and make noises of effort when you get up from a chair. You realise you could do more exercise and eat better, you could change careers and seek out more adventures... that maybe this is the last chance to really change things for the better.
You only have to google "My life changed at 50" to see just how many thousands of people have done just that. It could simply be a new hobby, a new car or a new haircut, but others out there have done way more drastic things at 50. A growing number of people on the internet vow to become fitter at 50, and sign up for marathons and triathlons, get personal trainers and take up yoga. Others decide to go on adventures of a lifetime and take year-long sabbaticals and travel to far flung places that would normally never be on their radar. Millions decide to volunteer or become more involved in their communities, realising it's time to give something back after half a decade. For many of my friends, their own children have now reached an age where they have either left home, are at university, or are very much independent beings that no longer need their parents as much, and with that comes the question of what their spare time can be filled with. Other friends who had children in their forties realise how bloody knackered they are!!
For me, of course, many of these questions I have tackled already or been forced to face by early on-set illnesses. At 21, I had life-saving surgery when a tumour was discovered in my throat. By my late 30's I knew I wasn't able to have children so I was already in a position where my life would be different from most of my peers. I had time on my hands that others wouldn't have so I knew I should make the most of it. Major surgeries on both my knees forced me to leave London and make considerable changes to how I was living and how much I could work. And being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis last year made me slow things down even more and really take a good look at my life and what made me happy.
So turning 50 is not worrying me at all because the last 2 years have already been the toughest of my life so far. The titanium knee implants meant I could no longer do the sports I enjoyed... playing tennis, skiing, or doing any yoga poses that involved kneeling or twisting. I even had to teach myself how to swim again as breaststroke (the only stroke I have done for the last 30 years) was strictly forbidden by my orthopaedic surgeon, who calls the frog-like kick the "devil's stroke"! And just when things seemed to begetting back to normal, and my knee recovery was almost complete, I was diagnosed with RA. The RA floored me completely and left me physically unable to do so many of the other things I enjoyed. I couldn't use my hands for 4 months and I was knocked down by a chronic fatigue I didn't think possible. And all this whilst being in a new Somerset town with very few friends, no place to live and unable to work.
Turning 50 is a bloody breeze compared to all that. I have no regrets at all and nothing that I would really want to change. Of course, I would rather have not gone through all the pain and obstacles but I think that I have come out the other side of it ok, possibly stronger because of it. I am now on the right drugs and have such great physio that I can work 2-3 days a week again. My hands are feeling quite strong so I can type and write again, and I am starting to discover this wonderful town that I have moved to. My house is at a point of renovation where I can invite friends to stay (even if there is no upstairs floor or shower in the bathroom), my garden is all planted and I have bees and butterflies and friendly robins and blackbirds eyeing my daily progress. But the most important thing about turning 50 is that I have no list of things I wish I'd done.
Twenty or so years ago, when I was still living in America, I had to make the decision to return to England to pursue my acting career or remain in the States and carry on doing freelance design. To pursue acting was risky having just spent 3 years at a very prestigious and expensive art college, and I would be throwing that all away (and my parent's tuition money to boot) to pursue a dream! I remember being at a party, thrown by my Uncle and Aunt, and I began asking their friends if they had any regrets or if they wish they'd taken a different path in their lives if the opportunity had arisen. Had they chosen the safest path? Many said yes. I decided I didn't want to regret not having tried. I also knew that even if I did fail, I would still have a career in design so I had nothing to lose. Long story short, I went for the dream but I didn't get in to the drama school I really wanted, I couldn't get enough acting work doing small plays and the occasional advert, so I had to do freelance design work to survive. But I tried.
I told myself every single morning for years, Carpe Diem, Seize the Day. I wasn't sensible like many of my friends who had full time jobs, pensions and property (probably to the angst of my lovely parents). I didn't settle down and have a family not because I didn't want to but purely because I didn't meet the right man. And probably because of that I have led a very different life to most of my friends. I now think that having that major surgery at such a young age maybe did trigger something in me, push me to a way of living and thinking that life really is too short to put off things til later because anything might happen. I have traveled the world and done some amazing things and if I had waited until now, I doubt very much I would have been able to do them.
So to all my friends who are turning 50, have no regrets and don't put off those dreams. We are old enough to know what we want, and young enough to make them happen. xx