If you’re 40 and you know it, run like hell… to the nearest spa!
I always assumed I would somehow remain young. It is the folly of youth that makes one delusional, but I did not know this then. With time, I began to realise that growing old was fait accompli for everybody that was ever born, unless you were Cher, and since I wasn’t her, I too would one day yield to the systematic onslaughts of aging.
Gayatri Devi, where are you?
At first the prospect of being an old lady did not seem terribly daunting to me, perhaps because of how distant it seemed. In my mind, old age was grace and beauty and calm sunsets (think Maharani Gayatri Devi, think Waheeda Rehman). And given that the only thing worse than being old was dying, and death was always a very likely possibility for the elderly, it all seemed like a decent deal as long as one wasn’t infirm.
So here I was, thinking of life as something where you went from being young for a reasonably long period to being like Dame Judi Dench overnight, blithely oblivious of the transitional, somewhat hideous, and protracted interval of mid-life in between.
And then one day early middle age began to reveal itself to me. It started with gentler signs such as sciatica pain, under-eye hollows, aching shoulders and skin pigmentation, but soon progressed to other more severe manifestations. My body started rejecting alcohol, a hangover felt like a small death, and not in the way the French mean it, and my PMS looked like a scene out of The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005).
You grow, girl!
I started to accept that the half marathon of life was a thing.
Watching yourself slide into middle age is like looking at the bouquets of lilies and hydrangeas received on your birthday slowly wilt in the days that follow. Entropy is never good to look at, be it a beautiful flower or the marvellous human body. There is nothing poetic whatsoever about slow decline even if it comes with the side order of wisdom and grace.
There are many perks to growing older. You stop being stupid, learn to stand up for yourself and say ‘no’!
Of course, it isn’t all woe and dismay. There are many perks to growing older. You stop being stupid, for instance; you learn to stand up for yourself and hopefully cultivate the ability to say ‘no’; you like yourself better and care less for other people’s opinion, and you realise the importance of a good night’s sleep.
But there are other, not so salubrious things that happen to you that cannot be glorified even by the most obstinate optimist. Instagram was no help in lifting my spirits, I had to quickly unfollow Sophia Vergara and Jennifer Lopez who were only looking fitter and better with age. I followed 50-something Cindy Crawford and 80-something Joan Collins instead.
Climb every mountain
On Facebook however, I began to notice that I wasn’t the only one getting maudlin over mid-life. Going by the evidence being presented on my timeline, many people from my age group were dealing with their own mid-life nadir, although in more spirited ways than I was.
That friend who looked like the wind could blow him over was suddenly posting videos of himself from the gym doing 99 push-ups. And that frail girl I grew up playing hopscotch with, at 40, she was kickboxing her way to some nebulous fitness heaven.
Then there were all these people I knew who had discovered an overnight passion for climbing mountains and running. Those who weren’t posting photos from the summits of Fuji and Kilimanjaro were sharing sweat-soaked selfies from intercontinental marathons and gymnasiums.
Nobody I knew was buying Ferraris or running off with their secretaries or gym instructors anymore – my generation sadly was evidently dull and unimaginative. A sudden quest for extreme fitness then, I surmised, was the new mid-life crisis.
Nothing announced – I am not growing old and fiercely fighting it – but plenty of triathlons, marathons, and summit hikes.
I gave this option some thought and realised that even though owning an uber fit body at this age would be lovely, I did not have the cojones to put myself through the hardships of extreme physical exertion. And so, I continued to passively observe my friends and family document their athletic abilities online and when I felt sufficiently inspired I booked myself a spa appointment. Very few people realise that sleep and relaxation are anti-aging. Maybe for every photograph of a friend doing a head-stand with an #IDIDIT, I could post a photo of myself lying supine in bed with – eight hours #IDIDIT.
For every photo of a friend doing a headstand with an #IDIDIT, I could post a photo of myself lying supine in bed with “eight hours #IDIDIT”
Each to their own really, but in my opinion, if middle age was going to leave its claw marks on you anyway, you might as well give up all resistance and go down without a fight, overstrained muscles or pigmentation marks from high altitude sun exposure.
That way when you finally get to be Judi Dench, at least you would have an even skin tone and an aura of calm about you from all the years of abundant sleep and reflexology massages.
Shunali is a writer, an avid traveller and the author of the bestselling book Battle Hymn of a Bewildered Mother. (It is, however, her strong opinion on Twitter that often gets her the most attention.)