Things can only get better… 

Linda Kelsey found midlife incredibly difficult. Now, almost 70, she sends us a postcard from our futures

Given that age discrimination is illegal, and there are no controls to stop oldies getting in, I opened Noon for the first time to remind myself of the joys that midlife has to offer and ageing beautifully. To peek at the pleasures afforded by relative youth and firm skin and a decent memory and hips that don’t hurt.

I wanted to embrace every one of Noon’s 40 and 50something community in a heartfelt hug.

This is no criticism of Noon, believe me, which is a terrific and necessary resource, but after skimming the content, from the car crash of menopause and various forms of ‘living hell’ and ‘dark nights’ to the agonies of having to deal with troubled teenagers and parents with dementia, I felt I wanted to embrace every one of Noon’s 40 and 50something community in a heartfelt hug. I was even prepared to break the social distancing rules to do it.

Surely, I thought, it’s not all that bad being a still relatively young woman. Surely it wasn’t like that for me. And look at me now! I’m 69, I’m still here, enjoying my work, often giggling like a teenager and having a good sex life despite heading towards my eighth decade.

I felt torn between saying to the Noon community, “You poor loves, I really feel for you” and “Stop moaning and feeling so damn sorry for yourselves,” Smug? Patronising? You bet.

Ageing beautifully…only after the dark nights and days

And then of course I remembered all the stuff I went through in my 40s and 50s. Not just the nights – but the days, too – that were so dark that I wasn’t sure I could survive them. If I’d told myself then that approaching 70 I’d be happier now than I was then, I wouldn’t have believed it. If I could have predicted that even lockdown and the terrible losses that have accompanied it would fail to stamp out my relative equanimity, I wouldn’t have believed that either.

My ‘Noon’ story

I suppose what I went through in midlife is classic Noon territory. My 30s were little short of fabulous. At 32, the year I met the man who, four years later, would become the father of my beloved son, I also became the editor of Cosmopolitan, at the time the most successful of the glossy magazines.

After giving birth to Thomas at the age of 36 I returned to work with added zest and immediately relaunched an ailing magazine called SHE, aimed at women in their 30s and 40s juggling work and parenting and facing many of the issues Noon readers still face today. Sales of the magazine soared, my partner was an always-hands-on dad and we both doted on our wondrous little boy. So I failed to get pregnant a second time, which made me sad, but I had Thomas, and he was enough.

My midlife crisis: anxiety and panic

But coming up for 40, a curious thing happened. I started to think that I’d hit my peak and the only way from here was down. Sleeplessness and anxiety began to bite. Then came the panic attacks, that ultimately led to full-on clinical depression and two periods of hospitalisation before I hit my mid-40s. For way too long I soldiered on, not seeking help, refusing medication, thinking I was about to die. I refused to acknowledge the depression that ran through the maternal line (leading to my grandmother’s suicide). And I couldn’t face up to the shame of not coping.

‘Not coping’ is easier today

In a way, the Noon generation are luckier. Mental health is an acceptable topic today. Back then my boss, although supportive in a number of ways, told me, “You know you’ll never get a high-level job again, don’t you?” I don’t suppose he’d have said that if I’d had cancer. And when I had to stand down and the papers found it interesting to write about how a woman who edited a magazine for ‘women who juggle their own lives’ couldn’t  juggle her own, even columnist Suzanne Moore found it impossible to believe my condition was worthy of consideration, given I wasn’t “a single mother living in a tower block” and had such a lovely life.

I prefer who I am now

But I did eventually get through it. And though I wouldn’t wish those horrible times on anyone, I actually prefer the person I became as a result. I learnt that I was fallible and that to be fallible is OK, which meant I was less hard on others who struggled emotionally. I learnt that anxiety and depression aren’t your fault, and that help is out there, and you can breathe your way through a panic attack. And that drugs can be a good thing. I learnt that walking is the greatest antidote to anxiety and spur to creativity. And that a black dog  (in my case a Labrador named Cuba) was the perfection antidote to depression’s ‘black dog’. I learnt that if you can’t keep on hacking it at the top, find a place to hack it in the middle.

I learnt that if you can’t keep on hacking it at the top, find a place to hack it in the middle.

Here’s some other stuff I got through in my 40s and 50s. On the medical front: a hysterectomy; major intestinal bypass surgery (the result of a blockage caused by scarring following the hysterectomy); a splenectomy. Not one op since I turned 60, so that’s positive.

What getting past midlife means as a mother

As a mother: I found the thought of an empty nest unbearable. When Thomas went off on his gap year to Australia, aged 18, I cried non-stop for 48 hours. He came back eventually, went to university, became a tech professional, a drummer and a fabulous cook, and on lockdown Mother’s Day last year he recorded a sweet, loving song for me which he sent in lieu of a visit. Grown-up children of 32 can be even more of a joy than babies. And especially more than teenagers.

Coping with my own parents

The parents got old. My mother developed Parkinson’s and eventually dementia. My dad cared for her until he couldn’t. Then carers – and my sister and I – cared for them both, until it was no longer viable. We did what we could. They are both dead now and I can acknowledge the relief and release of their parting, while never forgetting their place in my heart. I think of them, dream of them and feel lucky that I had them.

Divorce…and new love

Divorce: When I was in my mid-50s my husband left. I was determined not to give up on love and I met a new man who has been my loving partner for 13 years. My ex and I have forgiven one another, and love each other anew, albeit differently from before.

While all of this was going on, life went on in other ways. I wrote novels, I did one degree, and started an M.A. And a couple of weeks ago, for the hell of it, I launched a blog with my beloved 71 year-old sister, who has only just stopped working after a 50-year career as a successful fashion designer. We are having the best fun, and hoping our followers are, too.

Enjoying older age

One of my favourite ever movies, and which I watch on an almost-annual basis, is Gigi. There was a time when I identified with the gamine and gorgeous Gigi. Today I think of Maurice Chevalier, ancient and twinkly, as my soulmate, especially when he croons, “I’m glad I’m not young any more.” Get through this patch and you’ll join me, I guarantee.

Linda’s blog with her sister, about sibling devotion and differences, is at www.sistersueandme.com.

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