So I’m pretty used to talking about my life and how its going. Over the past few years I’ve become quite adept at opening up and using my story to ensure that others don’t feel alone. But writing this blog – even though it is less sensitive than most of my writing about mental health – feels different.
I’m getting older.
There. I said it.
Now, for those of you who have been on this planet longer than me – please don’t go! I know that I’m still “young” and not yet eligible for my Saga membership card. Nevertheless, time is marching on. This year I was *whispers* 30. As of a few days ago it is now over a decade since I began University.
Alongside these symbolic milestones, there are other ways that age is catching up with me. Sure, I “ran” a Marathon this year and am training to cycle across America next year, but my body is beginning to show the signs of ageing. Science (remember when we used to listen to science?) shows that by the time we reach 30 most of our bodily functions begin to decline. I feel this. The floor is further away. If I’m particularly energetic one day then the next I’ll be hobbling around in gentle agony. I also no longer bounce when I fall – a few years ago I slipped on the way to work and went down like a sack of soggy potatoes.
My memory too – never my strongest asset – is starting to decline. Just last week I was in a meeting with someone I’ve known over a year but I completely forgot their name. In some ways this is great (I can re-watch boxsets every 6 months) but in other ways its a real pain in the tush. I have to take exacting notes at work, and can often forget I’ve met someone before. At home, Lizzie has learnt to fill in the gaps as I say “When are we heading to see that film we were talking about” (often not helped by my regular use of spoonerisms.
And then… there’s my hair. Now, I’m proud of my hair. It took me a fair to few years to embrace the pride I now feel as a fiery redhead (a special thanks to everyone who used their own insecurities as a reason to pick on those who were different to them). I think we could go so far as to say that my hair defines me – to the extent that I’m keeping my beard long so that you can still tell I’m ginger when I’ve got a helmet on. When I shaved my hair off for charity I truly felt like I had lost something. And so it pains me greatly to know that – slowly but surely – I’m going bald.
I’m not the first, and nor will I be the last, person to lose their hair. Right now it’s subtle. Indeed, from the front you probably can’t tell (part of the reason I keep the same hair style). The first time I properly noticed was after the Wigan 10k, when I saw a picture Lizzie had posted of me getting a post run massage. Honestly, even now I cringe at this.
This was about a year ago. Since then, my follicaly-gifted area has continued to decline. My barber has gone from saying I’ve got nothing to worry about to encouraging me to keep shorter hair to avoid highlighting my “solar panel” (essentially ensuring I don’t have accidentally end up with a tonsure). And honestly – I’m embarrassed by this physical representation of my ageing.
In some ways I feel guilty about how much I dislike ageing – both the notion of gently moving forwards through time in a one way direction, and the physical effects that ageing has on my body. I know that I’m lucky – that I’m here, that I’ve got my health, and that one of my biggest issues is having to put suncream on my head. It’s something I need to come to peace with – and let’s be honest, my hair isn’t going to magically grow back.
I know that I’m not the only person who feels like this. Ageing is something that happens to us, whether we like it or not. When I speak to my parents, who both join me in celebrating a landmark birthday that ends with a zero this year, they talk of their disdain for how age is afflicting them. When I talk to my colleagues (who quite rightly mock my concern) they reminisce about being 30 in the same way I reminisce about being 20.
Can you honestly say that you embrace how time has changed your body and that you are happy with the onwards (and ultimately terminal) march of time?
And yet, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a conversation about how I feel about getting older that wasn’t rooted in irony. We all joke about how we’re feeling creaky, but I guess the point of this post is to apply the same openness and honesty I apply to mental health to other parts of my life. We’re not going to get any younger, and not talking about it is not a magical elixir of youth – so we might as well be open.
P.S. – there are, I should add, lots of great things about ageing that I could mention, even if I do so with reluctance. The extra experience, the wider social networks – even the willingness to take pride in my achievements and the positive impact I like to think I make. Perhaps on another day I could be persuaded that I actively enjoy ageing. But today – as I reflect on developing life responsibilities, on the unbelievably youthful faces of our new students – my main feeling is one of gentle sadness.