A Journey From Fearful To Fabulous (Sometimes)
Posted on 14th April 2023 at 16:06
A Journey from Fearful to Fabulous (Sometimes) How I Wrote My Way Out of Depression in Midlife
Driving home from a shopping trip one day in my late forties, I suddenly realised that my cheeks were wet. I was silently crying without even realising it and, once they started, the tears just wouldn’t stop.
It had been a difficult few years with multiple bereavements, financial difficulties, and the upheaval of my four children leaving home. An empty nest was one thing, but when you add in the gloomy prognosis I had been given about my future mobility, I guess it created a perfect storm.
“Come back and see me when you’re 60,” the surgeon I had consulted about my knee problems told me, “when your needs have reduced.” To this day, I don’t know what he meant by that. What did he think I was going to be doing with my time at 60? Sitting on the sofa watching daytime TV and knitting? Ha - not likely!
Clearly, he didn’t think I had much of a future as the cartilage in both knees had all but worn away. I was in constant pain and lack of exercise and comfort eating was causing me to pile on the weight. I felt old, tired, overweight and useless.
I drove home that day several weeks later with tears rolling down my face and realised I had to do something about it. My GP gave me anti depressants and sent me on my way. The pills dried up my tears, but anti depressants couldn’t stop me from feeling washed up!
Looking back, I realise now that I was in the peri-menopause. I’d had a few hot flushes and night sweats, but I didn’t realise that a drop in hormones can cause joint pain, anxiety and, crucially, depression. In an ideal world, my GP would have checked my hormone levels and helped me make an informed choice about HRT. If I’d known what I was dealing with it would have made things so much easier!
As it was, I felt as if I was going mad. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything and my memory was so poor I could barely read a magazine because I forgot the beginning of the sentence before I got to the end of it.
What made things worse was that I had recently started a new job, so every day I was being challenged with different tasks as well as a whole new routine. I didn’t know the people I worked with yet, so I didn’t feel able to confide in anyone. I felt very isolated and alone.
I couldn’t believe I was the only woman feeling this way, and yet no one I knew talked about depression or anxiety, or the unexpected grief triggered by your children leaving home. My husband, though he tried to understand, clearly had the old fashioned view that mental health was something you didn’t talk about. It wasn’t so much that he was ashamed of me, personally, but I am sure he felt I needed to stiffen my upper lip!
Guilt and shame often rear their ugly heads when someone is depressed. For me, I felt guilty because I had a good life, good health and people around who cared about me. I felt my thoughts and feelings were shameful, but the stress of trying to hide how I felt simply made me worse, until I physically couldn’t hide it any more. Hence the unconscious tears.
Years before, I had some success as a freelance writer, so I decided to start writing again in my spare time. I had stumbled across the concept of blogging and thought I’d give it a go. So I set up a simple wordpress site (which, in itself, was a challenge!) and started to write.
It was as if a dam had burst. I wrote about the sorrow I felt about my ageing appearance, how much I missed my children, my regrets and disappointments. It wasn’t all doom and gloom - I recounted conversations with my family, reminisced about my childhood and the people I have loved, wrote public letters to my daughter, my sons, my younger self, my older self.
People started to respond - leaving comments on the blog, sending me private emails - letting me know that no, I wasn’t alone. They liked what I was writing, empathising with the sad things and laughing at the absurd.
Slowly, slowly, the heavy black fog of depression that had gripped me for months started to lift. My world, which had seemed so grey and lifeless, slowly seemed to be flooding with colour and movement. I wanted to get up in the mornings. I started to notice little things again, like the sound of the birds singing and the feeling of the breeze in my hair.
As I started to come alive again, I realised how deadened to everything around me I had been. It was like slowly creeping out of the shadows so that I could feel the sun on my face.
I decided that I would start interviewing people in their fifties and beyond who were really grabbing life by the horns and giving it a shake. I figured it would inspire both me and my readers. I had the idea that it would be good to photograph them too, so I booked myself onto a photography course.
It wasn’t until I got there, armed with my husband’s camera which had never come off
“auto”, that I realised I’d accidentally booked myself onto a course for professional photographers! Instead of running away, though, I listened and learned so much. I was blown away with what I could see through my lens - beauty, strength, character - far more than I could see with my own eyes! I was hooked.
Booking onto another course before I left, I threw myself into my portrait and interview project and that became my apprenticeship. It also dispelled the last vestiges of depression as complete strangers welcomed me into their homes, even having me to stay in some cases. I realised, finally, that what I need to thrive is connection with others, a sense of purpose and to allow my creativity full reign. I left the job I had come to hate and set myself up as a professional photographer - at almost 50!
Eventually, I shut down the blog and got on with living my life. However, my clients tend to be women forty plus. Over and over again, they would tell me that they felt lost, invisible, that they had lost their confidence and couldn’t see a happy future for themselves. An appointment with me became far more than simply having your photograph taken - I was often told by clients that our session together had been transformative.
All I was doing was listening and sharing and I began to realise that being heard and seen was something that we all need. Talking to friends and clients who are life coaches, stylists, therapists, I realised that there is huge power in female friendship and in helping women know they are not alone.
Gathering together a group of female business owners, I asked them to give me short courses that I could offer to midlife women who were struggling, as I once was. I created a Membership site called The Midlife Movement where women could access all these resources to help them work out “what’s next?”
Eventually, I trained as a life coach and now work one to one with women who want more for themselves in midlife and beyond.
I’m still a working Professional Photographer, but what drives me now is a desire to show other women that midlife is not so much a crisis, but an opportunity! Do I still miss my children? Of course I do, but I am enjoying being a grandma!
I can honestly say I have never felt more confident, optimistic and energetic as I do now, in my early 60s. I’m well past the menopause, although I recently started taking HRT to protect my heart and bones in the future, and I am excited about what my 60s will bring. Over the past few years I have learned so much: not just about technology and business, but about myself. If you’d told that unhappy woman driving home with tears rolling down her face that within ten years she would be running two businesses, hosting her own podcast, appearing regularly on the radio, writing a blog and running a Facebook group for women who want to make the most of midlife and beyond, she would have looked at you in disbelief.
I still have the odd wobble into anxiety, but generally I am proud to say that I am walking my talk, and it gives me enormous pleasure to play a small part in my members’ own midlife transformations!
A selection of the most popular posts from the original, now defunct blog, “project50” was gathered together in the book “Oh Crap - I’m 50! A Journey from Fearful to Fabulous (Sometimes)
It is available to buy in paperback and ebook via this link: https://jo-blackwell.ck.page/6a54e606ae
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