The Dash In-Between

There is a dash which represents our lives between birth and death.

This is the dash.

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My dash has one date before it because I’m still alive, or at least I think I am?

*checks pulse*

Yep, still here.

One day there will be two dates because there is no doubt, whatsoever, that I’m going to die.

I try not to worry about that too much.

OK, I’m lying through my teeth. I torture myself DAILY with thoughts of death. But then I suffer from health anxiety, innit?

I don’t fear death itself. Truth be told, living is hard graft when you are autistic and I’ll probably be glad of some eternal rest after a few more decades of life in the shit-lane. NOT that being autistic is shit. It isn’t. It’s the anxiety, that’s shit.

The thing is that death is still a bit taboo. Brits don’t like to think about death until they absolutely have to despite TV adverts encouraging us to ‘plan for the inevitable’. Life Insurance companies give away bribes gifts, like clocks, so you can watch the seconds tick away. Nice touch, Guys.

However, some of us don’t get the opportunity to plan for the inevitable because we get wiped out under the wheels of a Number 48 bus during a spontaneous sprint across the road to buy a pie or the shock of the Β£250 supermarket bill stops our hearts, literally. Or we succumb to some disease or other. We like to think we’re in control of our own lives but we’re not.

I’m 47 now. How did that happen? It only seems like yesterday I was snogging Nick Rhodes’ face off on my bedroom wall but thanks to an early menopause I feel like I’m in the re-make of Cocoon..

Having a biological age of 103 means I’m already down on the deal and at this rate I’ll be giving The Boy a lift to high-school on the back of a mobility scooter – which he’d probably love. Most women amble gracefully into menopause whereas I’ve been catapulted into it to find the hormone police waiting for me, truncheons at the ready.

‘ELLO ELLO ELLO! WHAT ‘AVE WE ‘ERE THEN? ‘OESTROGEN AND A FULLY FUNCTIONING PELVIC -FLOOR? WE’LL BE ‘AVIN THOSE! AND YOUR SANITY. HAND EM OVER, THERE’S A GOOD MRS. WE DON’T WANT NO TROUBLE NOW DO WE?’

Bastards.

So I’m swallowing all manner of pills and potions in an attempt to claw back a few years or at least slow the process down. It could be a lot worse. Of course it could because as annoying as my symptoms are, they are transitory and by the time I’m 50 (ish) I should be slightly less deranged. So my GP says, anyway..

With the menopause (and bits dropping off me at an alarming rate) I’m more aware of my ‘dash’ than ever. My parents are dead and mortality is slapping me in the face and, yes, it unnerves me. Someone told me that when you hit 40, it’s downhill from then on. They lied. It’s 35.

I grew up thinking that you got old and then you died. Grandma was in her 70s, as was Nan, and Grandad was a respectable 81 when he wheezed through the pearly gates…

That’s how I expected it to be.

Then the unimaginable happened…

A girl in my school died. She was fifteen years old.

Her dash was too brief.

Years later, my nephew died. His dash represented just four years. How sad is that?

My dad died aged 58 and by now I’d realised that ‘three score years and ten’ wasn’t a cert. To be fair, Dad’s dash was a happy dash apart from the last 12 months, which were shit.

I’m not afraid of death itself because I’m one of those lunatics who believe that consciousness survives death. It’s the before bit that worries me because I have the pain threshold of a testicle. I can’t even stand a deep clean at the dentist without having to be anesthetized so what chance do I have with something major?

I want to reach a grand old age (marbles intacto, obvs) where I can gracefully say, ‘Rightio, Death, I’m ready. You may take me now’. Then I want to slip into a Werthers induced coma having watched an entire box set of Ground Force and, seeing as this is my fantasy, Alan Titchmarsh can be the one to take me to heaven wearing nothing but his wellies and a smile.

That’s another thing about the menopause. One day you’re into Duran Duran and sling-backs, the next you’re craving middle-aged gardeners and comfy slippers. Or maybe that’s just me?

Death is going to happen sooner or later because none of us are immortal except for Bruce Forsyth who’s 302. We can always pay to have ourselves cryogenically frozen but it’s out of most people’s price ranges. Not to mention, creepy.

We worry about death but forget that before we were born, we didn’t exist. Get your brain cells around THAT one! We are part of something much bigger than ourselves but we’re all connected right down to the microscopic stuff that we can’t see. There is too much intricacy and beauty for it all to be random or meaningless, so says me. Our bodies become diseased or frail and eventually stop working but the essence which is us cannot die because it’s energy and energy doesn’t die – it just re-groups.

The dash represents our entire lives. We don’t get to choose when we we’re born and the majority of us don’t get to choose when we die. What happens in-between isn’t necessarily our choice but our attitude to any given situation, regardless of how difficult, most certainly is our choice. This is what our eulogies will be about. Not how long we lived, but how we lived.

In this little corner of the internet I make fun of myself because it’s therapeutic. I try to be kind to my fellow human beings even if I don’t understand them very well. My life will always require effort because I’m autistic, not to mention a nervous Nora. But I brought three amazing human beings into this world and that’s what I’m proud of and when the day comes when my dash is complete, I hope their memories of me will make their tears happy ones. Happy as in I’ll be missed. Not happy as in doing the conger round the living room shouting ‘YESSSSS!! THE OLD BAG’S FINALLY CROAKED! WHERE SHE KEEP THE WILL, BRO’S?’

None of us are getting out of this thing alive, are we? All we can do is accept death and hope that when he does come for us, he’s a friend. Most importantly, we need to make our dashes count.

β€œDON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING, said Death. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.” ~ Terry Pratchett – Good Omens

 

Beauty and the Menopause

I’m menopausal. Have I ever mentioned that? Think I might have done. I’m 47 but my biological age puts me somewhere in my mid-fifties. This is because Mother Nature can be a flipping cow when the mood takes her. Or maybe it’s to do with genetics? The bottom line is that the menopause changes you.

That’s why it’s called ‘THE CHANGE’.

The menopause is all about maintenance of the body AND brain. Or you can just say, ‘f**k it’ and let yourself go. That’s not an option for me because my mother and grandmother took pride in their appearance and they would haunt the crap out of me if I let myself go. Even when I was in the middle of a breakdown, I went through my routine. I just used a lot more dry shampoo because washing my hair triggered panic attacks but that’s for another blog post..

When it comes to hanging onto our bits and pieces, like hair, skin, nails and teeth, we need to work a LOT harder. We need to be aware of the changes in our body and work with them. Alas, some women are not prepared to put the work in after the menopause.

They allow their leg hair to go feral.

They neglect their toenails.

They allow their teeth to fall out.

They give up on themselves.

This does NOT have to be you.

Here are a few tips to help you stick the V’s up to looking old because if you look old, you will feel old. So grab your reading specs and get comfy.

Bathing

Once upon a time, we were able to soak in the bath for HOURS. Nowadays, we get twenty minutes max before we turn prune. No time for reading or daydreaming about Sean Bean. It’s ALL about BODY-CARE.

Menopausal skin is dry skin. There are numerous reasons for this, like lack of oestrogen, genetics, sun-exposure, alcohol and smoking. At this stage of the game you need to be moisturising the LIVING SHIT out of your skin. If you don’t, you’ll end up looking like Keith Richards, and if that’s not enough to have you sprinting to the skincare section of your nearest Superdrug, I don’t know what is..

Are you still using soap? As in, a normal bar of soap?

If so.

That tight feeling you get after using soap is because it’s removed the natural oils from your skin. If you must use soap, at least use a sensitive one with a low pH. Giving yourself a ‘lick’ with an ancient bar of Imperial Leather isn’t on. Throw it away!

When choosing bath or shower products, you need to look for moisturising ones. Glittery bath bombs? What are you, six years old? I use Sanex because it’s the only brand that doesn’t make me itch myself delirious. It’s also a good idea to ensure that you have a decent bath mat or you’ll be up the A & E with a fracture having face-planted your taps reaching for the loofar.

Oh and don’t forget to exfoliate that dead skin off!

Shaving

Obviously, I mean legs and lady bits although you may also be sporting a teensie weensie moustache by now. What can I say? Men get rogue nostril/ear hair. Women get muzzies.

A problem with ageing is that we may not as supple as we used to be. There are exceptions but mostly we start creaking like old floorboards with about as much flexibility. When it comes to de-fuzzing our legs, we can’t reach around the back as well as we could, so we end up with 6″ hairs which are a bit of a turn off. The days of girlie Bic razors (pastel shades) are gone. You are now in the Black and Decker power range and hardcore action is required to tackle your unsightly, er, premises. However, if you prefer the wild and natural look, you can save yourself time and money.

Nails

I’m autistic and struggle with eye contact so I look at the floor a lot which means I get to see people’s feet and believe me, I have seen some HIDEOUSLY BAD FEET in my time. I’m talking CLAWS, rather than nails. There are certain health conditions which cause problems of the foot but unless you are unfortunate enough to have such a problem, there is no excuse for sinisterly bad nails. If you really can’t be arsed to sort your nails out (or pay somebody to do it for you) then do us all favour and shove a sock over them.

A word about nail polish..

Is my general advice to steer clear of blues, greens and purples if you have varicose veins..

Make-up

Less is More.

When it comes to make-up and ageing, I often think of dear old Barbara Cartland. She was an amazing lady but wouldn’t you have thought that those closest to her would have advised her to lay off the electric blue eyeshadow at her age? In certain photographs she looks positively sinister! Thing is, wear the same make-up that you’ve worn for decades if you like but it will AGE you. If you find that people are stopping you in the street and booking you for children’s parties, it’s time to tone it down a few notches.

IT’S NOT THE 1980s ANYMORE, DEARS!

Look at it this way, teenagers use make up to make themselves look older. When you are older, the opposite applies. You need to wear LESS make-up to look younger.

Teeth

Now is the time that you REALLY need to start paying attention to your teeth.

As we age our teeth become worn and discoloured. Medication plays havoc with our oral health and we suffer bone and muscle loss. If we don’t take care of our teeth, we end up looking like Albert Steptoe. Sounds grim but there is much we can do to keep tooth loss at bay. For a start, brushing twice daily is a MUST. Flossing is a MUST. As we get older, gaps appear and food gets lodged in those crevices which brushing alone won’t remove. Blimey. I sound like an advert for toothpaste. But it’s true. How do you feel about last weeks bacon sarnie rotting away in your mouth? Barfarama, eh?

Thanks to receding gums, you will find that you have more enamel on show than you used to. This is something that I have noticed about myself to the point where I wonder if I should be running in the 2.30 at Goodward? Nothing you can do about this except to keep your gynormous teeth dazzlingly white. You could always offer your services as a mobile side-screen at your local cricket club. How about a Bee Gees tribute act? The possibilities are there, if only you choose to look.

There is a very serious side to gum health though…

How many of you know that gum disease can lead to heart disease, strokes and diabetes? Our hearts no longer have the protection of oestrogen so we need to look after ourselves more then ever, yes?

That’s all for today dears. Keep smiling, eh?

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Five Reasons Why Ageing Sucks

 

Teeth

Dental hygiene plays an important part in gum health. Brushing ‘n’ flossing keeps Gingivitis at bay but for some people receding gums can be a matter of genetics, so if several members of your family have receded gums, the odds are that you will too. I know, it’s shit.

I have nice teeth but there’s more tooth on show than there used to be, hence, I am starting to resemble Shergar. The good news is that I still have all my own teeth at 47, which is fang-bloody-tastic considering my mother had a full set of false teeth by the time she was 50. WIN!

Skin

As we age, our skin loses elasticity – it’s called Elastosis.

It’s where all those years of lying on the lawn nuking yourself come back to haunt you with skin that looks like crepe paper. You know, CREPE PAPER? The crinkly stuff we used to make flowers with at school?

Another perk (not) of ageing is that skin becomes translucent which is why we start to resemble AA road maps by the time we are in our 50s. At this stage, PLEASE GOD, DON’T WEAR MINI SKIRTS!

That said, what the hell, it’s your life so wear what you like. Just don’t whinge when somebody turns your saggy backside into a GIF and gets it trending on social media.

Eyesight

Eyesight naturally deteriorates with age. Over time the lens hardens and you struggle to focus. You’re permanently squinting and find yourself holding everything at arm’s length, including your kids. You can’t thread needles anymore and you have to ask your family to read the small print on food packaging or you run the risk of giving them the shits.

You also have your Kindle font on size ENORMOUS.

So, you book an appointment at your local opticians for an eye-test and end up with a pair of specs (two in my case) that will cost you the same price as a week in Barbados, depending on what extras they con you into. However, the good thing about blurry eyesight is the instant soft focus you get without your specs on. YOU DON’T LOOK AS CRAP IN THE MIRROR!

Gimme a high-five!

Feet

Feet, like everything else, change with age. The changes in our feet are largely due to good old gravity and the pounding that they take over years.

The result is more hoof, than foot.

Corns, bunions, deformities, flat and calloused feet are par for the course when it comes to feet unless you REALLY look after them but most people will succumb to at least one of these things after decades of stuffing their foot neglect.

It’s safe to say that my own feet have hit their fugly stage. Boo. 😦

However, it’s my own fault because my idea of a pedicure is to cock my feet over the loo twice a month to cut my nails. No filing them or shaving the balls of my feet with a pumice stone/Black and Decker belt sander, depending on what state the skin is in.

When it comes to shoes, the mid-life woman is more into Pavers than six-inch stilettos and men naturally gravitate towards trainers, slip-ons and sandals. The problem is when they wear sandals with SOCKS to hide their ingrowing toe-nails. To such an offender, my advice is this:

Mate, you look a div. No human over the age of 5 should wear socks with sandals. Lose the socks OR the sandals. You’re welcome.

Hairy toes?

Don’t start me.

Farting

Two thirds of menopausal women report an increase in farting. Fact.

Being post-menopausal, I can vouch for this. I’m definitely more flatulent than before my ovaries pensioned themselves off. Some experts say it’s due to lack of oestrogen, while others say it’s due to an ageing digestive system. It’s not just women though, as middle-aged men are more prone to ‘bottom-blasting’ too.

We literally become old farts.

My theory is that when we reach middle age, most of us will have had some kind of health scare requiring a radical diet change, usually to include more fruit and veg. Combine an increase of fiber with a digestive system that’s buggered from years of trying to digest junk food and you basically start farting yourself into a coma. Am I wrong?

Growing old is a privilege, so we should be grateful that we’ve got this far. However, we can still have a laugh at ourselves, eh? Laughing is what keeps us young inside..

β€œ…inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.” Terry Pratchett – Moving Pictures

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Bend It Like Barbara.

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“So, we have the results of your Dexa scan and ooh, you have Osteopenia”

I thought, ‘WHAT THE SHITTING HELL?!’

I said, “Oh!”

My GP went on to reassure me that it’s quite normal for post-menopausal women like me..

Rewind a few weeks to a conversation with a GP where I mentioned that I was creaking and cracking like an old barn door. This conversation concluded in me being sent for a Dexa scan to measure the density of my bones. The result being that I have Osteopenia.

What’s Osteopenia?

Osteopenia is the technical name for thinning bones and it’s the stage before Osteoporosis. Not to be confused with the film Quadrophenia, as can sometimes happen with the menopausal brain, eh ladies?

Brrrring on the mobilty scooter!

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Ok, it’s a bit shit. I’m only 46. However, there are far worse things in life to deal with AND the condition can be slowed down by exercise and taking calcium supplements – only one of the complications they don’t tell you about with Osteopenia is that you run the risk of choking to death on a calcium tablet because they are the size of Wales!

So I went to see a dietician who advised me to start doing weight bearing exercise like yoga to protect my bones. I already do the school run and walk the dog most days so walking isn’t a problem. I bought a yoga DVD (for the over 50s) and a mat.

The yoga DVD is aimed at menopausal ladies like moiself and has routines targeting Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis and strength building in general to support knackered bones. There is even a routine called ‘Gentle Yoga on a Chair’. So you can basically work out while sitting on your arse!

WIN and WIN!

The DVD itself is relaxing to watch. It’s set outside on a lush green lawn with the Glacier National Park in the background and a beautiful water feature. Of course, you have the sound of running water all the way through which makes having a pre-workout wee ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL, unless you want to test your pelvic floor?

So the location is beautiful and instructor Barbara Benagh’s voice is calming. She’s also bendy as fook but she’s a yoga instructor so she’s meant to be. I mean, she’s bend down – straight legged – hands flat on the floor – bendy whereas I can only reach my knees but I can only improve from here, right?

When it comes to workout gear I opted for old leggings and my Breakfast Club tee shirt. I have some bingo-wing-age going on with my arms so much so that waving has become a health hazard so vest tops are out for the time being.

I did a few workouts in the living room then one day I decided to work out in the sun-room, sounds posh doesn’t it?

It’s not.

The sun-room (which overlooks the yard) is a small space but I can just about stretch my arms out without doing myself an injury. So, I’d set myself up and shoved the dog outside so I wouldn’t be disturbed..

I’d just got into the pose where you balance on one leg with arms outstretched (forget the technical term) when I caught sight of the lurcher in squatting position in the yard. Now, you have to hold the pose for a minute (closing eyes NOT an option if you want to stay upright) so I saw the entire performance of her dropping her load then doing the ski run across the hard flagstones to deal with her ‘cling on’s’.

OM. MY. GOD.

See what I did there?

Pretty much sums me up. Barbara gets tranquil sunlit mountain backdrop to work out to. I get the lurcher having a shit!

The problems with doing yoga at home are distractions of daily life (such as dogs ‘avin a poo) and the motivation that is required to do it regularly. The best way for most people would be to find a group and I have done this in the past but any benefit I got from the yoga was lost due to the stress of being in a group. I don’t do groups, you see. I prefer to go lone wolf and fortunately for me I can motivate myself well enough especially when I have a goal and my goal is to slow down the bone thinning process.

Bone thinning is a natural part of the menopause but many women are unaware of it until they have a Dexa scan or break a bone. There is much that can be done to prevent this condition and having Osteopenia doesn’t mean you will go onto have Osteoporosis. Every post-menopausal woman will have some thinning of the bones. Taking Calcium supplements and doing weight bearing exercise will help to protect your bones. If you are post menopausal, you REALLY need to start addressing it now. My GP told me that all post menopausal women should be taking a calcium supplement as we need around 1200 mgs a day along with Vit D3 which helps with absorption.

One thing about calcium supplements is that GPs prescribe them in carbonate form basically because it’s the cheapest. A lot of people (me included) have issues with constipation when taking it in that form so citrate is the better option.

Don’t take supplements without discussing it with your GP, especially if you take medication as some supplements can interact with certain drugs.

Finally, the BEST thing for bone health is sunshine. Lack of sunlight causes Vitamin D deficiency which affects the bones and the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Menopausal women generally need 800-1,000 IU daily and you can get that through a mixture of sunlight, diet and supplements. Get your calcium and Vit D levels checked about every six months via a blood test and you’ll know if you’ve got the balance right.

The effort you put in now will pay off in years to come keeping you active for longer and off that mobility scooter!

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