Note: This piece is part of our Long-form series, longer articles dedicated to more in-depth exploration of various topics.
When I was a kid, I thought that being an adult was something I’d grow into. Like magic, I’d one day transform into this power woman with a corporate job, her own flat, and who went on two dates a week. I would also have become better at Math, have a much-improved sense of direction, and be effortlessly fashionable. Truly, a woman who knew how to do life and a proper smoky eye.
But while waiting to truly feel like a grown-up, the craziest thing happened: I hit my 40s. Understand that I have several so-called trappings of adulthood – [a] husband, daughter, driver’s license, TIN card, genuine diamond earrings, confidence, an ability to laugh at myself. But now that I’m in my 40s, I still feel like a teenager, which incidentally, is the age my daughter is at now. This can’t be normal.
I was once told that my late 30s would be when I’d be the best version of myself: strongest, most beautiful, most accomplished. This turned out to be true.
I was also told later on that once I hit my 40s, aging would begin. From what I’ve experienced, this is also true (painfully so, might I add). Ten years ago, I had such good eyesight that I swore I had x-ray vision. Today, I don’t wear glasses (yet), nor do I have to adjust my phone’s text settings to LARGE but I’m aware that it may go there. Also, terrified of crow’s feet, I eye cream to death twice daily. And sunscreen is my new religion.
I’ve always been a morning person but now I’m awake at the crack of dawn, no matter how late I slept the night before. As I fumble towards the bathroom and afterwards, as I work my way downstairs, I hear a succession of crracks! and pops!; an indication that I’m not as “slick” as I used to be. When I was in Japan recently, I made the mistake of using the Japanese “squat-style” toilet – oh my god, I almost never made it back up.
In my 40s, I’ve had to say buh-bye to my ripped arms (sob!); I’m suddenly slightly more padded than I used to be, nature’s way of protecting me against potential falls, I’d like to think. With all the havoc my hormones are raising, it’s the hot flashes that take some getting used to. My post-cancer treatment involves estrogen-suppressing meds that are responsible for those moments where I feel like I’ve just “swallowed the sun.” I used to raise an eyebrow at those older ladies at mass who’d be fanning themselves in an air-conditioned chapel – I am now one of those women.
There I was waiting for the day that I’d finally feel grown-up, and now I feel kinda … ok, really old. And picky. I avoid restaurants that feel too – how shall I put this – “hipster and young” for me. And to my horror, I’ve also become that girl: the girl who frequents the same 12 reliable restaurants because at my age, a bad meal at a new restaurant is soul-crushing. A friend of mine once accused me of being, “‘momming-mommy’.” He had the same reaction when he accompanied me to the supermarket once and saw that I had three recyclable shopping bags in my purse. Sorry, but does being ecologically responsible equal old? Wait, on second thought, don’t answer that.
When I was younger, I was so glib about getting older. I was part of that army of chest-thumpers who declared that “age ain’t nothing but a number,” together with those who asserted that “age is a state of mind.” Those are such impossible ideals for me now. When I talk to my mom about my woes, she can only shake her head at me in wonder and disbelief. My mom is 69 but looks 50, and possesses the skin tone of a 40-year old. That’s my life peg right there.
To be blunt, I feel that cancer fast-tracked me to menopause: the experience changed me and aged me. How could it not, I suppose. I admit that I partly blame my meds for my hot flashes and fleshy middle, but it’s a small price to pay for a longer life.
More than ever now, I’m doing my best to keep on exercising because it will keep me healthy. But oh, how I mourn what I used to be able to do! On my workout DVDs, I used to gloat at being able to do the advanced version; now I have to modify the modifier. Bending over makes me breathless, and I swear that I don’t recall how I ever used to be able to do man-pushups.
I read somewhere once that life is all about transitions and one’s happiness is dependent on how well you deal with those transitions. Now that I’m past my prime, I’ve had to let go of several visions of myself and make the most of the changing seasons in my life. However, some parts of me don’t seem to have gotten the memo that I’m now over 40. I still prefer pop over piano, I maintain an unreasonable attraction for jumpsuits, and most of all, I still have the appetite of an adolescent. Menopause or not, I’m still terrible at Math, and I couldn’t navigate my way out of a paper bag.
During one chemo session, I told my best friend that I had managed to check everything off my bucket list before I had gotten sick. “I’ve done everything I want to do,” I remember saying. She smiled indulgently at me and replied, “Looks like it’s time to make a new list.”
In the timeline that is my life, I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to my new normal. I imagine I could bay at the moon lamenting that I’m past my prime. But I’ve been given a second chance at life and I choose to carry on. Though the heart-swelling memories of my past sometimes haunt me, my best years are up ahead and there’s still very much to do.