For some months now I’ve felt like I’ve been in some sort of hibernation/incubation mix, drawn to studying up on a bunch of current events issues and unsure what’s next. Finally in the last couple of weeks a couple of epiphanies have arrived. The first will take several posts so I’m writing up the second one to open.
Lately a number of articles and insights about aging have cropped up, during a spell when I’ve often enjoyed my graying hair in the mirror as well as appreciating my aging face. They’ve had me contemplating myself as an aging woman.
Aging has been an odd process for me. Like many with a long-term ailment like chronic fatigue and/or fibromyalgia, in many ways my life froze at the point in my mid-thirties when normal life stopped. For many years I had trouble conceiving of myself as having moved anywhere past that age.
At the same time, the process of moving toward wellness included lots and lots of bodywork and a faithful yoga practice combined with some other movement practices. Once the process of aging caught up with me enough that I could no longer hold an illusion of being 34 🙂 I had transformed my body from stiff and pained and barely mobile to strong and lithe and flexible.
So I find myself at 66 with a body that feels younger than it did in my thirties and a face that clearly says “66” in a life that felt like a couple of decades went missing.
Clearly somewhere along the way I drifted from feeling 34 to seeing the aging reality in the mirror. Having, in most conventional senses, lost 25 or so years, my initial reaction was, “Not fair!”
Alternating amongst angry and mournful and denying, I grappled with “losing” most of the middle of life and finding myself old and still struggling to get past all the health and emotional issues Not fair!
Again, because my body was coming back to life and my muscles were serving me better than ever, denial became an easy refuge. As long as I didn’t look in the mirror, I felt so much better it was hard to reconcile the “old” thing with the state of my physical being.
I never landed on anger or grief or denial for long and through it all I could manage to look at what I accomplished during those years and have a little re-think.
I Earned This Face
I can’t remember how many years ago I quit dying my hair (I’d gone prematurely white around my face in my early 30’s and, like so many, once I started, I kept going too long), but an appreciation of the gray look has been growing ever since.
Lately, as mentioned, I’ve been seeing a lot of photos and posts about amazing “older” women. Soaking in the tub one recent day and pondering some of these “signs” I flashed to the image of my long graying hair when it’s down and my face with its wrinkles and the deep circles under my eyes that tell me my kidneys are still being squeezed by muscles and I’m not getting enough sleep.
Suddenly I felt love. I earned this face. When I look at the photos above I see a progression that may not be as visible to those who haven’t lived it, but to me is clear.
The toddler me is still open and bright; it’s a photo taken before I shut down.
By the time of the graduation photo taken at 17, my face is frozen and the muscle issues have already pulled my eyes back farther into my head than they should be.
The next photo, at 45-ish, was taken after I’d been doing spiritual work for 10 or so years, after going through the Fisher-Hoffman process work and I can see a little more openness, but, not having started work on the facial muscles, my eyes have pulled even farther back.
In the final photo — from last week — I see a face much more open. My eyes have moved farther forward. Not all the way yet, as final recalcitrant core muscles continue to work out of the web behind my eyes, but they’ve moved and appear more open again. Still in progress, but a visible confirmation of accomplishment.
I worked hard to move from the girl with the frozen face to the aging woman with masks removed and brighter eyes I’ve faced into dark depths and wandered down entangled pathways from which I could not see a way forward.
To the outer world my life moved nowhere except from one U.S. state to another to another, but in my essence, at the core of my being, I have traversed a thousand miles of wilderness, facing down the lions and tigers and bears.
At 66 I stand on the brink of being the healthiest I have perhaps ever been. I’ve jettisoned neuroses and useless beliefs and large pieces of what I thought was my personality. I’m still not positive where the next phase will find me but I know I’m finally going to be living life as me and on my terms.
I earned this face.