[This column was first published in Radish Magazine, July 5, 2017.]
I’m getting old.
I know it by the calendar — I turned 54 in May.
I know it by the age spot on my left cheek, and the ones that dot my forearms.
I know it by the lines that span my forehead and neck.
I know it by the grays that pop out when my hair needs a new dose of blonde.
I feel my 54 years when I get on the yoga mat or go on a hike.
I feel it when my children’s birthdays push them closer to 30.
Then there’s my little reminder named Owen, my 6-year-old grandson.
And, of course, AARP, which somehow got my email and mailing address the second I turned 50.
Thanks to these reminders and so many others, I know I’m aging, but I haven’t really cared. My body is healthy. My mind is sharp.
But a month before my 54th, I felt the gravity — not of aging, but of my age. Not of how I view myself, but how others view me. I’m not talking about no longer turning heads when I walk by —that hasn’t happened in decades and, frankly, I was never a fan of catcalls. I’ve even gotten used to being virtually invisible in public, which is pretty great.
No, I convinced myself that a 20-something colleague thought I was old. Not just old, but worse: irrelevant. Fear then wiggled in and camped out.
“You’re old. Irrelevant,” it shouted, tossing another log on the fire. “All of your freelance writing clients know it. In fact, they’re all talking about it. ‘Annie’s old and irrelevant. She needs to retire.’”
My freelance business that I have built over nearly a decade was going to dry up. No money; no work. Who would hire me? I’m OLD and IRRELEVANT.
The mental mania took root on a Wednesday and continued to play full blast into the weekend. In an attempt to quiet it, I decided to garden. I hoped getting my hands in the soil would help. But the story spinning through my head only worsened until I was certain that not only had all of my clients determined I was old and irrelevant and they weren’t going to hire me anymore, but they didn’t like me, either.
Especially the 20-somethings.
Then my phone dinged.
I took off my gardening gloves and got out my phone. It was a Facebook message from a friend, sending me a video she thought I would like. I had no idea what it was, but the timing felt important so I sat down to watch. Maybe, hopefully, it would teleport me out of my funk.
The video was of a guy named Kyle Cease, a former stand-up comedian who now combines his comedy with inspirational speaking. Somehow, this guy had taken a front-row seat to my madness and had gathered up enough material for an entire talk. I sat on the ground, watching and listening, crying and laughing.
Turns out, Cease is a master at showing people how to release their old patterns of thinking and fear to get to the good stuff. He helped me to see that I had, once again, slipped back into people-pleasing mode. I also had taken a deep dive into my core belief: There’s something wrong with me.
He also helped me to see that this story I was telling myself was in fact a lie. I wasn’t old and irrelevant; I was unlimited love and infinite creativity.
We all are.
While these old thought patterns had made me sad, fearful and angry, acknowledging and even embracing them was a good thing. Now that I had, I could let them go.
“We have a lot of thoughts. We just don’t have to believe them,” a wise friend once told me.
Our thoughts, I’m learning again and again, are important to question. When I’m miserable, I get out my flashlight and start hunting for the thought or thoughts that led me back down the rabbit hole. It doesn’t take long to discover them. Mine seem to be stuck on repeat. They’re boring, really, but I listen to them. I acknowledge them. I do my best to release them. And if they turn back up, I start the whole process again.
It doesn’t happen immediately. Sometimes I spend the better part of my day in upset. But I’m certain that if I question the thoughts that cause me fear, pain, worry and all those other icky feelings, I can unravel them.
The result is peace. The result is happiness. The result is contentment.
The result is worth it.