Where do you learn from?
Do you find wisdom in the big life changing events or do you see life lessons in the tiny stuff, the everyday going about your business kind of things where something happens and you take a step back and notice a change in you or the world around you?
For me it’s usually the latter.
Stiff neck and achy joints.
Growing older inevitably means that your body starts to feel tired and strained. As of this moment, I have a stiff neck, sore shoulders, pains in my left arm leading to occasional pins and needles, swollen finger joints, especially the right little finger, a sore lower back, recurring pain in both ankles, the left one I broke last year, the right, I tore some ligaments of four years ago. To be honest, it’s a bit of a contest to know which of these minor ailments bothers me more.
Now to add to my woes I have an intermittent case of sciatica which I find very trying, a strange little pain which starts in my sciatic nerve and then travels down the back of my left leg. It mostly bothers me when I sit down which means working at the desk for long hours can be challenging.
All in all, I sound like an old lady, don’t I? Oh well, mustn’t complain …
Last week I went to have some treatment for my sciatica and my physiotherapist Ana decided to try some acupuncture. I don’t know if you’ve ever had acupuncture but initially it was quite painful as she inserted the needles but in the end I relaxed and we passed the time chatting about this and that.
At the end of the session she told me I might feel tired during the day and a little woozy. She added that I should drink lots of water and take it easy. I nodded feeling slightly drunk and went home where I had my smoked salmon salad watching Politics Live with Andrew Neill. I noted how clever he was and Out Loud in the way he doesn’t let those slippery politicians off the hook. Then I thought it was time to go meet my friend Catherine at the South Bank. We planned to meet at 3.30 and according to City Mapper I needed to set off at 2.40pm
An unpleasant realisation
I was sitting on the train pleasantly reading a novel on my Kindle (An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, really excellent and highly recommended) when I glanced at my watch. Why was it telling me that it was only 2pm? With furrowed brow and lurch in my stomach, it dawned on me that I had left the house an hour too early.
How could that be?
As any of you who know me well will attest, I am not a woman who gets in a muddle with her timings. I am a woman who is punctual and organised. In fact, people who are late or disorganised get on my nerves. Why don’t they plan better I ask myself, it’s just a question of thinking ahead. And of course manners and consideration for others.
So, given all of that, how on earth could this have happened?
And then I remembered; the acupuncture! Of course – Ana had warned me that I might feel a bit weird during the day and it made perfect sense that I got my timings muddled up.
I breathed a little sigh of relief and had a little inward chuckle. I’m not losing it, getting forgetful or absent minded. It was just the treatment. Hahaha. I’m still a woman who is punctual and on time.
Who am I really?
Then I wondered, am I really that person? Suppose being punctual is not ‘me’ at all. If all it takes for me to muddle up my timing is a few needles inserted in my bum, perhaps that’s not who I am at all. Perhaps being on time takes a huge effort for me – always having to show up at the right moment, doing my best to be perfect so no one could possibly say I’d dropped any kind of ball.
And then I had another radical, in some ways distressing thought. Suppose leaving the house too early had nothing to do with the needles. Suppose I just made a mistake. Suppose I am getting forgetful or not as sharp (ho ho!) as I used to be.
And then in rapid succession … this thought. If all of that were true, if in fact my brain is slowing down and the connections it’s making are not as finely tuned as they were… would that really be so terrible? Whoah … now this feels like interesting territory. This feels like Out Loud, like an admission (deep sigh!!), that we do change as we age, not all of it as we would like or care to admit even to ourselves.
A new kind of tyranny
There’s a lot going on nowadays about the value of ageing – how wrong it is that once we reach a certain age we are consigned to a quiet corner where we shouldn’t disturb anyone. That ageism in all its form is pernicious and as bad as any other kind of discrimination. And I totally agree with that.
But in our eagerness to reclaim ourselves and be seen as vibrant and alive still with so much to contribute, are we in danger of overlooking the tiny, microscopic changes which re-define how we see ourselves? When we brush those feelings of fear of ageing away, pretend they’re not happening or deny their importance, we step on truth and the honesty of our lived experience. We step on life itself.
Because if I can’t see and validate that moment of truth, when I suddenly worry that I’m changing but fear what admitting to my worry might mean, especially what others might assume about me, the worry grows in to a much darker space that I don’t allow myself to enter. Instead, I step in to different rooms, where I make up all kinds of narratives to suit how I think I’m supposed to see myself. Rooms of denial and delusion – and we all know how dangerous they can be.
You know, I have no idea whether that day of confusion was connected to needles or the humid weather or being dazzled by Andrew Neill’s brilliance or simply the ageing process – the point is I was frightened that it was the latter. Simply articulating the truth of my experience of that fear without attaching to whether it was correct or not already normalises it and makes way for something else. Something more honest and real where I can talk about what’s really going on for me and hopefully give you permission, if you want, to do the same.
And that’s the essence of being Out Loud.
If you’d like to learn how to be more honest and truthful and thus more Out Loud in your life, my book Live Out Loud: A Masterclass in Being Yourself is available now on Amazon here.