The Big 4-0
I am forty years old today. 4-0. Four zero. Four decades. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it.
The reaction of people, upon hearing this news, depends on a couple factors: if they're older than me they tend to laugh and roll their eyes and say something to the effect of, "Pfft. Forty is nothing." My mother-in-law cracked me up last night by pronouncing, "Forty is not death." Bless her, I've been repeating that to myself on a loop today. If I tell people younger than me that I'm turning forty, there is a look of mixed pity, horror, and genuine good-will. After all, we have an expectation of celebrating birthdays in our culture. If people who don't already know what my age is find out I'm forty, they're usually impressed because, "oh you look much younger."
While my family has wretched auto-immune disease genes, we have fantastic youth-appearance genes, making us look considerably younger while we're falling apart.
This milestone birthday is part of the impetus for my Growing Well journey. I'm assessing where I've been, where I'm at and where I hope to be going. This feels significant. I'm reasonably at the mid point of my life, and given how frighteningly fast the first half of my life has passed, I'm pretty freaked out.
It's always been important to me to not just live, but live with meaning. I've decided to take this coming year and delve more into my sense of purpose and my concept of spirituality. I want to see what more I can give to my family, my community and myself. I also know that to make the most of my life I need to forge a new and better relationship with my body and my physical health. As a naturally pessimistic person whose optimism is wholly learned, this is pretty scary stuff.
Still, I'm persisting. If my personal and professional experiences in mental health have taught me anything, it's that our minds, attitudes and beliefs are incredibly powerful. This article from The Lancet in 2007 describes a study done by the World Health Organization that analyzed the effect of depression on outcomes for people with diabetes, heart-disease, asthma and arthritis. As in many studies done since then, they found that even when controlling for variables, people with untreated depression and co-occuring physical diseases had the worst health scores at the end of the study. I recently also read a paper on the effects of depression on liver transplant patients, and in line with similar studies, they found that people without depression or who treated their depression had significantly better outcomes than people with depression.
I love getting my nerd on with mental health research studies!
I'm so passionate about good mental health because it affects our physical health, our relationships, our success, our quality of life, and future generations in real, palpable ways. I know that how we think and what we think touches every facet of our lives, and I believe that all people are entitled to that sense of wellness and contentment that I'm seeking for myself.
So what am I doing today, on this momentous birthday, to look after my health? In true introvert form I am celebrating quietly. At home. I've done yoga and meditated. I had a cathartic cry. I did some laundry, had a lunch of eggs baked in my husband's homemade from-the-garden spaghetti sauce and I've consumed an entire pot of chai tea. I've looked at seed catalogs and daydreamed about spring. I've thoroughly enjoyed the antics of the birds and squirrels stocking up on seed from the feeders and watched fat, fluffy snowflakes falling in advance of the next big storm headed our way. I've done a lot of smooshing on the furbabies and streamed some excellent British TV. Hubbs has plans to make me dinner later and, at my request, is looking for cheesecake to top it off.
I know that my struggles are not over, and that growing well is going to mean making conscious decisions, every day, to do the next right thing. As much as I want there to be a finish line where everything is perfect, I acknowledge that that isn't how life works. So, I'll just keep doing my best.
And on that note, I think it's time for a therapeutic birthday nap under a pile of dogs and cats. May you also make a little time to take care of you today, whether it's your birthday or not.