Giving yourself permission to be
I start most sentences with ‘now I’m 40…’ recently. It seems as though I’ve somehow shifted into a new phase of life, in this fourth decade. Although, it may just be a serendipitous coming together of a lot of things from the last few years, but the timing seems right, in a way. Has anyone else felt something similar as they get older? Like a settling into yourself, almost? Now I’m 40, I feel that… haha!
I wanted to do a sort of ‘this is what I’ve learned’ thing, but I’m not that great at condensing things and I’m really not good at advice. So instead, here is a collection of thoughts and maybe one or two of them will resonate with someone. Or not! If you’re looking for an actual, helpful list of things, you can find that here, or watch Ethan Hawke’s TED talk on creativity here, which is pretty good. I like to read people’s thoughts and experiences and so I’m just going to ramble out some of that, instead.
In true Sal fashion, I’ve got loads of things I want to write down, but not really any idea how to start. I want to try and describe this shift into being able to choose what to hold on to, and what to let go. Although I think it’s not really a conscious process so much as a “I can’t be arsed with this any more” vibe instead! (Also, can I just interject here that the washing machine has just finished, and the glorious sunshine has immediately disappeared and now it’s raining. Humph). Anyway, I wanted to type out those things that are on their way out, in a sort of great final ‘sodding off’ list. So here they are:
- Caring about being overweight: there’s a whole lot of history here which I won’t bore you with, but I imagine some people may have some similar thoughts. Safe to say, I’ve somehow become so annoyed with the whole thing that I refuse to care any more. Instead of trying to lose weight, I’m thinking about health, longevity, mental health, and sorting my duff knee out. Realising that bodies exist and change over time, and I currently exist in this one, at this time.
- Thinking the only riches are monetary: I remember in my twenties absolutely wishing for just one day off a week, where I didn’t have to think about work. That wish seemed to work rather well although I seemingly forgot to ask the universe not to f* me over in the process – now I have a lot of time, but also a chronic illness and an inability to actually sustain a full time job. Hooray. Safe to say, if time was money, I’d be the next Elon (but less of the actual, y’know, Elon-ness). But if money was money (hear me out), currently I have not much at all, personally. What I’m trying to say is that there are loads of other things that are also good. (I hate that 9-5 ‘work’ is normal and love a good wallow around in the possibility of a rose-tinted utopia. But this is not the time or place! Also, big awareness that money is a thing we need in our current society, and all of the issues that come along with that, and the lack thereof).
- Not doing things for myself: this is a work-in-progress, an ongoing theme in therapy, and something I regret looking back years and years. But, better late than never – I’m getting there and this is something I want to talk more about on the blog, the whole process of rediscovery – or discovery, as I’m not sure I ever knew myself properly. It’s like I’m an onion and each layer peeled back is a surprise – “Oh! I can actually do that? I’m allowed?”. Safe to say, I’ve got my first tattoo booked in, I’m learning that I can ‘be creative’, and the brighter clothes (and huger earrings) the better. I’m taking the first tentative steps, but looking forward to peeling more of those layers (without the obligatory onion crying of course). I just figure it’s so much effort to fit in and I’m just so tired, so see ya later to all of that.
- Pretending I haven’t got a chronic illness or neurodiversity: I am over it. Yes, I get tired. I can’t organise myself out of a paper bag. Some days I need to just become one with a blanket. I can’t remember what I did last week, or this morning, or an hour ago, or annoyingly literally five minutes ago. But I can remember every single word to PJ and Duncan’s debut album (is that a brag? I’m thinking yes). I know that there is a paperclip in an old business card holder in the second drawer down on the third shelf in the office. My mind thinks in universes, but doesn’t know how to start a single thing. Things that are boring are impossible. I have to stop myself doing stuff when I feel fine, because if I don’t then there will be at least a 3 day waiting period before I can do anything else. Some days I’m buzzing, some days I’m buzzed out. I don’t feel bad about it any more. It kind of links into the previous point, I think. It just is, and I just am, and that is all.
It’s weird that even typing that all out is a mixture of anxiety and worry about it being ‘out there’, and a relief at the same. It’s taken 40 years to kind of realise that “I can’t be arsed with it” is actually a legitimate life rule and one that I am finding copious joy in applying. I’d love to hear what you can no longer be arsed with, also.
But, although I am loving the gradual process of letting stuff go, there are actually things I want to lean into, as well.
…and holding on
It’s taken a loooong time and a lot of therapy to get to the point where I am actually starting to put myself together as a person. Lots of reasons and I’m sure no one wants to hear all of that stuff, but the upshot is that I can play and wear things and believe and be good at things and take up space and be a woman and celebrate that and all the bits that come along with being a sentient being on this little planet. So, let’s find things to hold on to. Here are mine:
- Doing things for physical health and mental health: I used to be very healthy, and have become less so, for a multitude of reasons. Everything is relative – there is no one size fits all. So letting go of comparison (a biggie, still a work in progress) and choosing things for health is something I am doing! I can’t stick to a routine, so embracing the rise and fall of interest, tentatively making friends with this body, (although body positivity is beyond me – I’m more of a neutral kinda person right now, and that’s a good place for me) and doing things to keep it going for a few more years at least. No diets, no exercise plans, no rules. Just choices in the moment, and moving a little more, as I can, when I can. Owning those days when I need to do less, or do something wild, or just hide from the world, or be in the world. It’s all good.
- Advocating for myself: This is frustrating, and I’ve got a lot of self-internalised bias, and slowly those walls are coming down which is a good thing. Asking for help, exercising my rights, making sure I don’t just go ‘ahh it’s ok I don’t want to be any trouble’ (as much as I want to). Not apologising for how I am, not trying to make myself small, or agreeable. Doing things I want to, taking opportunities. Owning those parts of me that usually I want to change to fit in. Being confident in my choices. Bring it on!
- Embracing play: I played a lot as a kid, and that was excellent. Somehow that disappeared totally and I missed it. This new of re/discovery is a good time to re/discover playing for playing’s sake. Doodling. Drawing. Wandering. Playing music, making music, creating, singing, making NOISE! Bouncing around to a song in my head. Getting excited about things and places and ideas. Ideas! Following a train of thought and becoming so enthusiastic (and not bothering that I’ll never figure out how to start). Short-term, intense interest. Re-discovering old interests! Finding things out. CURIOSITY! More of this, much more.
- Generally existing: I’ve spent my life flitting between personalities according to who I’m talking to (that rejection sensitive dysphoria got me good). Putting a name to that, and finding a reason (turns out I’m not just a crap person) has been wildly illuminating and the resulting freedom is rather enjoyable. It still happens, but I know it happens, and I can now try and figure out who, what, and why I am, at this moment in time. We all change, in time, in location, even day to day. But overarchingly, there are some constants. Existing and being able to say “yes, I believe this”, “yes I think that”, “yes I am this” and not just blindly agree with whatever the other person says to avoid any sort of criticism… it’s crazy to me! What a feeling! To exist, as a whole, as your self?! Wow. It’s blowing my mind. There’s always that tinge of sadness that it’s taken me this long to get here, but that’s ok. Everything needed to take this long.
So, I’m not sure that made any sense at all, but I feel better for writing it all down, so I suppose that’s a net positive. Everything is still very much a new thing, and there are forwards steps and backwards steps, and not really an end goal, just the turning of a corner and a new kind of light hitting my eyes. I’m curious if anyone else has felt similar. Letting go of things, moving forward with others, feeling more settled, enjoying the journey of growing older but not necessarily wiser!
I’m all typed out now. Time for a cuppa!
(I have just remembered that I was going to hang the washing out, back up at the top of the post! The rain has retreated over the side of the valley. I’m going to chance it. This could be a mistake).
(I wish I could write this many words for my university course).
My mind is full, and it’s ok. I learnt recently from a lecturer that they weren’t able to read any fiction books during their doctorate, because their mind was full of information for their studies. It made me think about how I’ve struggled to get back into reading for pleasure, struggled to get into doing anything, really, for the last year or so. After beating myself up for this repeated failure to get anything done, I’ve realised that’s probably happening to me, too. The reason isn’t because I’m useless, as my brain keeps helpfully suggesting. It’s because my mind is full.
When I say full, I don’t mean full of knowledge, although I wish that was the case. My memory keeps hold of any given fact for approximately 3 seconds before chucking it over its shoulder and moving on to something more shiny. Instead, my mind is grinding away in the background, forging connections and figuring things out when I’m not paying attention. I feel like I’m not doing a lot, and it’s true, I’m not – but my mind is there, munching through information for me, until suddenly I wake up and am able to add some more words to my word count, analyse some more numbers, put something across in a way that finally makes sense.
Figuring out how to work with my brain, not against it, is a whole new ball game. I’m trying to comprehend this newly discovered neurodiversity, understand how I process information (or not) and divert the tempting feeling of regret into something more powerful. I’m nearly 40 and it’s the first time I feel like I might be tentatively trying to make friends with my mind. It’s there, always full of a million things, seeing infinite connections and possibilities every hour of every day. It’s exhausting – but also exhilarating. How do I work alongside it?
I’m finally working out why I can’t remember anything that happened in the last few hours, days or weeks. Why I’ve spent three years learning a subject and can’t remember even the most basic facts about it, but I know every boyband lyric from two decades ago. Why my mind is empty yet crammed full at the same time.
The constant bit of a song or two on loop, the half-formed images that constantly replace each other, the quote from a tv show that plays round and round, the chattering, the lightening-quick overview of any problem and a million and one solutions, the big thinking and infinite ideas, but no clue how to actually start anything. Constantly losing things, but picking up on almost imperceptible information about a situation. White-hot anger and the deepest joys. It’s all still settling with me – yet I feel a kind of peace, too.
I know now that I can feed it some complex problem, forget about it, and a few weeks later, my brain will have figured it out by itself. I’ll wake up one day and suddenly, I’ll be able to do The Thing that just recently was absolutely impossible. I trust that I will be able to produce work absolute last-minute that will be, if not perfect, to a decent standard, without having to draft and re-draft and re-draft. I try not to feel bad that I have to follow the whims of my brain – if it’s not into something, then it’s absolutely impossible to force it. Funny old thing.
But brains aren’t infinite as much they feel it. It’s just recently I’ve realised just how much I’m asking mine to do. No wonder I come home and zone out watching youtube, scrolling, or floating away to the deep wub of drum and bass. That little lump of grey matter is munching through universes in the background. Studying for a PhD has upped the game, and I almost physically feel the limits. No wonder I find it hard to get anything started for this blog, much as I want to. My brain’s already pre-occupied and working full pelt.
So, I’m going to try and cut my brain-friend some slack. I’ve spent 40 years at war with it, really, when it didn’t deserve it at all – it was just a little different from the norm. Of course it was.
In those 40 years, my mind has never been empty. I never realised that you could think of nothing, or even just one thing at a time. It’s been like a 40-year rave inside my head and I’ve been like the spoilsports that call the cops and try and shut it down.
I think it’s time to learn to dance alongside it, finally, although I think I’ll also need to make sure there’s a chill-out room, too…!