Middle age is something I’m still not ready for, even though I’m right in the thick of it. I have got to the point where I don’t readily remember my age, and every time I have to recall it I have to take part in a ‘Play Your Cards Right’-style guessing game in my mind:
‘No, it can’t be, not…42?????’
I just can’t comprehend my ageing so I find it’s better not to think about it at all, which is easy when I don’t feel – inwardly – any different from when I was a teenager. There’s just more admin, and slightly less angst. A problem only arises when I happen to catch a reflection of myself and am confronted by a frowny, puffy, tired woman I half-recognise before I realise it’s me. Maybe I’m vainer than I should be, but I find it impossible to be the well-adjusted person who isn’t bothered that how they look on the outside doesn’t match their internal image of themselves.
Middle-age and using a walking stick have come to me at about the same time, so they’ve delivered a double-whammy of change in the way I look, and a sudden and dramatic divergence between the way I perceive myself and the way I appear outwardly. Now it’s not just the wrinkles that take me aback but the stick I’m leaning on, which I’ve now become so used to I forget until I see it reflected back at me in a shop window or a full-length mirror I’m accidentally passing.
Though I normally make a conscious effort not to see myself, this week I was forced to confront my appearance when the MS Society asked me to make a video as part of their #StopMS campaign. I haven’t filmed myself, ever. I find it hard enough to take a decent selfie but the addition of my voice and the way I move means I have always actively avoided watching myself on film, even my own wedding video. But this is such a great cause I gave it a go. As always, I was surprised at how unlike my mental image of myself I am on film, and after many goes I couldn’t get a take I was happy with. In the end, I settled for a selfie with a handwritten sign, but I’m a bit disappointed with myself for letting my concerns about my appearance take precedence.
I’m becoming more and more aware that at my age I should be aiming to transcend concerns about my physical appearance, and embracing the other aspects of me that I should take pride in. What I need to see when I see myself needs to be the way I act, how I think and what I do rather than the lines on my face or the stick in my hand. The things that people hopefully see when they really know me, rather than just catch sight of me in the street. I realise that if I was happier with those things, I’d automatically be less bothered by the imperfections in my physical appearance.