Soon after I turned 35, something began to shift in me. Life was less of a struggle toward perfection and more an acceptance of what is.
It wasn’t that life had gotten easier, quite the contrary. With a colicky newborn, a stubborn 5-year-old and an out-of-work husband, life wasn’t exactly smooth sailing then, but it just became easier to “shake it off,” as Ms. Swift so eloquently advises. My 35th year was one of the most intense years of my life in terms of stress, but I had something on my side that I’d never had before: experience.
It turns out that three-and-a-half decades of blood, sweat and tears amounts to something. Although I had never experienced a financial crisis or family transition like the one we were going through then, I had been to hell and back before. I am a child of divorce and court custody battles. I have suffered through numerous periods of severe panic attacks. I’ve gone through two pregnancies, a miscarriage and two med-free childbirths. I lived through postpartum anxiety. I trudged through years of baby and toddler sleep deprivation. And I’ve got 10 years of therapy under my belt.
So when my stress levels started to peak again at 35, I knew myself well enough to be sure I could get through it. I knew what I needed to do. I meditated. I rolled out my yoga mat. I walked. I ran. I knew that I couldn’t fight it. Holding my feelings inside always caused more stress and triggered panic attacks in me. I knew I needed to feel it, accept it and let it go.
Feel it, accept it and let it go.
As I move into my 38th year—ever so much closer to 40 than 35 was—I foresee this mantra filling my days. Life isn’t going be stress-free. Misfortune, heartache and loss are all things I have grown to expect. The worst thing I can do is push away the bad feelings. The best thing I can do is acknowledge them, feel the hell out of them, then set them free.
This is the spiritual, Zen-like way of saying that as I get older, I don’t give one single fuck about so many of the things that used to get me totally bent out of shape.
Here’s what rocks about getting older, and what I hope to see more of as I enter my 40s:
1. I know what I want. From what kind of underwear I feel most comfortable in (boy shorts, size medium) to how I like to spend a Saturday night (in bed with a book, or with my husband, curled up watching a movie), I know what I like and what I want. I don’t need to try to be someone else or to conform to some image I have of myself. I know my shortcomings, I know my strengths, and I know my preferences. Really, it doesn’t take much to make me happy (some vegan mint chocolate chip ice cream will do just fine).
2. I know what I don’t want, and I’m not afraid to say it. Nope, I have no interest in seeing a horror movie ever, and I’m not going to make myself try to sit through one. If you want to get in touch with me, please text or email (I hate talking on the phone). And kids, Mommy prefers to eat her dinner in peace. She will serve you the food, clean up and then retreat to the den and enjoy a hot meal alone, thankyouverymuch.
3. When life gets tough, I know how to cope. I’ve recently been “coming out” as an anxiety sufferer, and it’s been really freeing to say it out loud. I used to just hope my anxious tendencies would go away, but I have realized that it is just part of who I am. I have amassed a whole slew of coping mechanisms to get through, including writing, which I recommend to anyone who suffers from anxiety, even if you don’t want to write professionally. I keep my therapist’s number on speed dial and a prescription for Xanax in my back pocket.
4. I accept my body. This was something that slowly and happily crept up on me over the past few years. Sure, I wish my body were tighter in some places, and I’d like to get rid of the five pounds I gained last winter, but I know what kind of body I am destined to have. I am never going to be thin—that just isn’t in my genetics. I know what I need to do to be healthy and of a reasonable weight. And that’s what it is. I have no illusions like I did when I was younger. I’m done with crash diets and 30-day burns. It’s all about acceptance and health at this point in my life.
5. Perfection is overrated. I used to have lots of dreams for how I thought things should be when I “grew up.” Now, I can’t deny that I have officially grown up, and although I’m blessed in many ways I never imagined, that old picture-perfect image just isn’t the reality. I have a good husband and two healthy kids, but I don’t have the material things I thought I would by this age. We rent our home, we can’t afford vacations, and we’re still driving the tiny Honda Civic we were gifted when we got married 14 years ago. But as imperfect as all that is, I have learned that perfection is highly overrated; the idea of “having it all” is a total myth; and the real key to life is to count your blessings and make the best with what you have.
Lately, each year seems to be better than the last, and as much as I’m dreading more gray hairs, perimenopause and creaky bones, I’m looking forward to hitting the big 4-0. For me, getting older is all about resilience, relinquishment and kicking ass. I’ll take it.