Sunday, May 11, 2008

Feeling Disorientated Can Be Good For Your Health - Honest!

One of the worst things about being me at the moment is the feeling of being adrift - cut off from so much of my past, all that youthful optimism squished and, despite my best efforts and for the first time in my life, apparently incapable of jollying myself out of it.

But you don't have to be widowed to be in this state. People find themselves alone or cut off in middle life for all sorts of reasons. I've talked to many fellow bloggers who feel the same as I do - people in all sorts of situations. What links us is the sensation that we have fallen off the life path we thought we were on and we are having difficulty finding a new purpose to our lives.

It's an extremely scary feeling. I was always an upbeat kind of Puddock and I am used to making the best of what life throws at me. It is a new sensation not to be able to roll up my sleeves what? That is the point of course - there is no point at the moment. For twenty years or so, I've known exactly what was required of me every day. [It wasn't necessarily what I would have chosen to be doing with my day but I had responsibilities to people (and dogs) that I loved and I was generally speaking, glad to be mum and cook, secretary and housemaid (okay - not so keen on the last one.) I didn't have time to think about what I would do if I was free of the responsibility. I bought into the get married, have kids, then sit back and be surrounded by family for the rest of your life thing, only to find myself kicked off that particular ocean liner and cast adrift three years ago. But that's just my story. Everyone has their own.

I came across a great book called Navigating Midlife: women becoming themselves by Robyn Vickers-Willis. I think I may even have bought it before the Golfer died (that's what I mean about it not being an exclusively widow issue) and there was one section that struck a particular chord with me, becasue it told me that all that pain and disorientation I was suffering could have a useful purpose. That thought got me through some tough times before and so, hitting a major trough these last few days, I searched out the book again and, lo, it was still useful! She describes it as a normal phase of our lives and calls it liminality. It is one of three phases in the transformation that takes place in midlife - separation, liminality and reintegration. Here's what she says:

There are strong feelings of confusion, bewilderment, disorientation, alienation, fragmentation and drift as we let go of our old self and personal world and float towards the not yet known more complete Self and newly created personal world.

In liminality we are like the migrants on board their boat on the way to Australia. They know they have left behind their old identity and their old life. They are not sure what it is like where they are going. Many find this time terrifying. Some start doubting that they can create a new life and wonder whether they could return to the old.

During this time we come closer to our unconscious. At this stage dreams, inner images, daydreams and writing helped me identify new parts of my Self and new directions for my life. I was also becoming more authentic in my relationships. Questions passing through my mind at liminality were:
If I am not the person I thought I was, who am I?
What is me and what is not me?
Am I ever going to feel 'normal' again?
What is the right direction for me?
What's important to me? What do I want to make time for?
How can I create what I want?

Later, she talks about moving into the reintegration phase but sometimes slipping back into liminality (and this is the bit that helped me.) She says:
Now when I am in liminality I remind myself to feel excited, rather than scared, as I know that I am likely to bring to consciousness another part of my Self. My reward is a more complete feeling of Self. other words, all that disorientation probably means that you are making progress towards something better, stronger and on firmer ground.

I've highlighted the bits that really struck me. I'd also use a different metaphor. My feeling is more one of being kicked off the sunny path through the forest, full of bustling, noisy families and golden people and left with a dark and scary path through the wild wood, with no idea of where it's going. The thing that Robyn tells us is that that thorny path could well be leading to a wonderful sunlit glade, with deer and fluffy rabbits, and that we would never have got to that sunlit spot if we hadn't taken that dark and thorny road. Onwards and upwards people!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Making The Cat Laugh

When I first realised that I was not just widowed, but that I now qualified as single again, I thought I'd better brush up on what it meant to be single these days. So when I found Making the Cat Laugh - one woman's journal of single life on the margins by Lynne Truss on the shelves of my local Waterstones, I grabbed it and headed to the nearest cafe straight away.

Five minutes later I was laughing like a drain and thinking there might be hope for me after all. Here are a couple of quotes:

One of the more difficult things to accept about being newly single is that there is no one to strike chore-bargains with. You know the sort of thing: 'If you do the breakfast, I'll take the bin out'; 'I'll get the milk, you get the papers.' Make such fair's-fair suggestions to the cat, I find, and it will just look preoccupied, and suddenly remember an urgent appointment outside.

Looking on the bright side, however, there is great consolation in the knowledge that the Mr Nobody who takes out the bin is also the Mr Nobody who moves things around so that you can't find them. Take the TV remote control, for example. In my old co-habiting days, how many times did I search frantically among sofa cushions for it, knowing in my heavy heart that it was probably travelling anti-clockwise on the M25 by now, snug in a coat pocket on the back seat of the boyfriend's car? Living alone, then, it is no wonder you rejoice that things remain precisely where you left them. You feel a great warmth inside on the day you realize that if you haven't finished the marmalade, there is still some marmalade left. The only interference I have experienced since living alone was when I emerged from the bath one day to discover the word 'trhjwqxz' on my otherwise blank word-processor screen. I gulped, and stood stock still for a minute, feeling the pulse race in my neck. And then I realized that a cat had made a dash across the keyboard.

And this is the one that made me nearly fall off my chair. A male friend had dropped into conversation that she reminded him of the Michelle Pfeiffer character in Batman Returns. She was extremely chuffed until she saw the film and realized that he meant the Michelle Pfeiffer frumpy librarian before she becomes Catwoman:
No wonder Selina escapes this paltry existence by assuming the identity of Catwoman ('I am Catwoman, hear me roar'). The only problem is that, before it can happen, she must suffer a brutal death from defenestration - which gives pause to all the would-be Catwomen in the audience who are fed up shouting 'Honey I'm home' to an empty flat. I mean, is it worth chucking yourself off the Shell building on the remote chance it might turn you into Catwoman? I'm still weighing it up.

But if it boils down to clothes, I am sunk. You see, in order to become Catwoman it is important that you can rummage in your wardrobe for an old patent-leather coat; you then rip its seams and magically re-fashion it into the appropriate figure-hugging costume. Imagine your disappointment, then, if having flung yourself from a high roof (and become a glassy-eyed un-dead) you opened your closet, snapping your expectant pinking shears, to find only a brown calf-length fun-fur, with no patent leather in sight. You would have to become Teddywoman instead, and it would not be the same. 'I am Teddywoman, hear me not make any aggressive noise', you would say lamely, as you sat with your arms out in front of you, unable to bend your elbows.

Fab stuff.

Not Doing What It Says On The Tin

Hi all

I haven't blogged much here this week - I've been far too fed up, which isn't much use in a blog that's supposed to be supportive and inspiring, is it? It reminds me of a funny (and true) exchange I had a few years ago when I was looking for some support.

My first winter up here in the chilly north was a real culture shock, and I suffered badly for the first time from Seasonal Affective Disorder. I found on the internet that there was a local support group for sufferers and phoned the local organiser to find out about events and meetings, only to be told that he, the organiser, was a bit down just now and that he might organise something when he felt a bit better!

Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, I decided to laugh, and found, not for the last time in my life, that support networks sometimes have bloody great big holes in them.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Squish And Release

Morning all!

Thought I'd share with you the latest armament in my battle against the demons of middle-age angst - isn't he jolly?

I was buying t-shirts (seeing as it looks like summer might be coming this year after all) when I saw a tub full of these stress balls near the till. Feeling particularly stressed as it was Monday morning and the first coach load of tourists had already disgorged grannies from the North of England onto the streets of Inverness to wreak havoc, I had to have one.

He's been my faithful companion ever since. I love his cheery little face and his determined message - life is good (say it often enough and you will believe it.)
I squish him when I'm angry and throw him up and down when I'm happy, so if nothing else I'm exercising my arm.

You can check out the company and especially their cheery t-shirts here.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Maw Not Yaw

So, why is this blog all about being middle-aged and widowed? Well, as I looked around for support groups when my husband died, the ones I found all seemed to be aimed at those widowed young. Luckily for me, I just about qualified as young, so I was able to use three excellent sites: The WAY Foundation - aimed at the Widowed And Young, Merry Widow, originally aimed at the young widowed, though now claiming to be for everyone, and YWBB - Young Widow Bulletin Board. But it struck me as unfair and a bit mean to exclude the older widowed, either actively, by the membership rules, or in more subtle ways.

I fell, as I so often seem to do, between the categories. I was classified as young when the Golfer died, but my family had left home, so I had little in common with the young mums on the message boards. More than that though, I felt that somehow older widows and widowers were being told - well, you've had your life - you should think yourself lucky. And of course, that is true, to an extent. It's one of the many glib truths we all say to ourselves, if not to the people concerned.

But have you thought about what that actually means? I didn't, until I experienced widowhood myself, and wondered what it must be like for people older than myself, unlikely to have time to 'make a new life for themselves', as we are constantly being exhorted to do. You may, like me, have been in a very longterm relationship (married 24 years, together since we were 18), or you may have been on a second or third marriage. It doesn't really matter. The difficulty for the older widowed person is that, in a way, your life is over. Your children, if you had them, have left home and are making their own lives. You may be retired, or you may have been deep in retirement plans with your spouse. It is not only hard to start over again when you are older, you actually can't start over in the important things - you've had your family, you've had your career. I think this makes being widowed after your mid-forties hard in ways that are quite different from the challenges of being widowed young.

For another thing, you probably don't have parents around for support. That was, and still is, one of the most difficult things for me. My parents have been dead for ten years, my in-laws are dead, there is no-one to lean on.

One of the other problems of a long marriage (it certainly was in my case) is that you haven't spent a lot of time cultivating your own friendships. You may have married couples as friends but they melt away like snow in Spring when you are alone, as if being widowed might be contagious. Can't blame anyone for that of course - it's my own fault that I didn't keep up my own friendships - but that doesn't alter the situation one finds oneself in.

So if your husband, wife or partner dies after the age of 45 or so, you can find yourself more alone than you have ever been in your life, and with no obvious way of making things better. That is why this blog is dedicated to older people who find themselves unwillingly alone. I hope lots of you will comment on and add to my stories and experience here. Maybe we can help and inspire others out there as lonely as me!

Dating (or not)

When you've been widowed you do, after a time, and rather to your amazement, begin to think about dating again. Some people seem to get back on the horse, so to speak, quite quickly. Bereavement, like the relationship it comes from, is complex and although the general experience might tend to follow a certain course, the detail of each person's grief process is as unique as the marriage they were once part of.

So when I write here about getting used to being a middle-aged singleton, I am writing from my one unique perspective. I know other people have a very different tale to tell - because they are older or younger than I am, because they were newly married or married for forty years, because they were in a happy or an unhappy marriage.

For the first eighteen months or so after the Golfer died, I was not the slightest bit interested in getting hooked up with another man, for a variety of reasons, not all of them commendable.

I felt tremendous guilt for surviving and it would have felt disloyal even to think about "replacing" him.

For that first year and a half, it felt as though he had just gone on a particularly long business trip. I still felt married to him, so the question of finding another man did not occur to me.

I felt as if I had had my 'go' at marriage. The fact that it was over at the age of 47 was tough but I just had to accept it. (I think this might be a difference between being divorced and being widowed - when a marriage ends in divorce I think it might feel as if the marriage got broken and so there is more of an inclination to go out and have another go. Anyone agree with this?)

And now for the guilty secret - I found, even in the early days, moments of delight in the freedom I now had. No more need to check before I moved the furniture round, I could eat when and what I wanted, get up and go to bed when I fancied. Blissfully happy through most of our marriage, in the later years things had started to go downhill and we had found ourselves bickering over the smallest domestic trivia. The release from that was a guilty pleasure, and when I did begin to realise that there might be life after the Golfer, I was damned if I was going to give up all these new freedoms just as I had found them. Unattractive isn't it? But true.

So now, getting on for three years after his death, I pretty much accept and believe that he is dead, and I find myself hankering (sometimes) to have a close and symbiotic relationship again in my life (assuming you don't count the one I have with my dog.) It's hard to be single for the first time in your life, approaching fifty. So far I have been far too cowardly to do anything more than skulk on the internet dating sites - and a very scary experience that is too. But I'm in a quandary, because I really, really, do not want to give up the control I have over my life, and I'm not sure there is a man out there who is capable of dealing with that.