women and aging

Insomnia spooky5.JPG

Insomnia (Photo credit: Buddha Rhubarb)

While there is no cause I can pinpoint, I had a night of interrupted by stupid insomnia again.

Doctors have been unhelpful in the extreme. They tell me it is “aging”. Drink some tea. Meditate. All quite useless.

It’s not as bad as it was prior to the discovery that I am indeed suffering from “female issues” of an aging lady variety, but sleeplessness is not an option for someone who has to be up before the dawn to put a kid on a school bus and pack a husband off to work.

Making breakfast, packing lunches and making sure that the bus does indeed arrive to convey the child has me up and conscious just long enough to make it difficult to impossible to go back to bed for a couple more hours.

This leaves me with days like today. Walking not quite dead. Feeling as though I am just coming down with or just getting over a messy bout with influenza.

Insomnia is nothing new for me. I have never been a good sleeper.

As a wee one, I gave up naps quite early, was a night owl and an early riser and generally seemed able to run on six or seven hours of shut eye without much trouble. No lounging in bed til noon as a general rule for me as a teen or young adult. And though I developed a bit of a napping habit in my early 30’s, it wasn’t a consistent one but more about the weather, which meant that on wintry or raining Sunday afternoons, you might catch me napping but otherwise – not.

Pregnancy and early motherhood were bad for sleep, but that’s true for a lot of women.

I didn’t sleep well the first year of widowhood either, but I blame that more on physical issues than emotional ones.

Now, it’s just a piss poor schedule combined with that old lady thing and the fact that we have really inconsiderate neighbors.

Age has screwed with my internal temperature regulation.

It’s too hot. Or it’s too cold. More cold than warm during the day and the opposite over night.

Who knew you could get cold flashes?

Our neighbors are a railroad siding, a guy who finds it necessary to start his truck even morning at 6 AM and leave it idle for 15 minutes – right underneath our bedroom window, and an elderly woman across the alley who, rather than listen to her equally elderly dogs shuffle and bark at her all night, puts them outside so her neighbors can listen to them shuffle and bark all night.

Once I am awake, I am awake for a solid hour or more.

In the past, I have  panicked about not getting back to sleep and this just made it take longer to get back to sleep.

Now I am more sanguine. Not happy however. I know what a loss of two hours in the middle of the night means for the next day.

It means I accomplish next to nothing and I get to feel like shit in the bargain.

Oh, I have my folk remedies. Although tea makes me pee and melatonin has to be used in moderation lest one feel just as groggy and wiped out as the insomnia leaves one.

I have a heating pad for cold flashes and muscle aches (another thing those books on “aging” don’t mention but should) and ice packs for overheating.

Mattress is newer and foam-topped. Sheets are a primo thread count.

But still, I endure days like this several times a month.

When my mother, and then Rob’s mother, were visiting recently, I noted that neither of them could sleep through the night. Mom is 80 and MIL is 71. A glimpse of my future that is bleaker than the creakiness, the sagging skin and the humpbacks.

I don’t recall my Dad having such a time sleeping, but since he went to bed by 7PM and was up by 5AM most days from about age 65 on, I don’t know that I can glean much from his example.

So much about getting older in this year I make my slow approach to 50 is depressing.

It’s not that I expect the true middle of middle age to be the new 40 or 30 or some such other nonsense, but does it have to be such a chore all the time?

Scientology Stress Test with E-meter

Scientology Stress Test E-meter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s heading toward three years since Rob’s “heart event”. At three years past with no further incidences, one is considered “good to go”. Even insurance companies think you are just an average risk for your age again.

A final step before the “all clear” is a stress test. He’s had one every year since the heart attack and treatment.

I can’t say that I don’t worry about these things. Rob’s sister, LW, watched her husband drop dead in the middle of his stress test. Granted, he was a  high-strung type and heavy smoker that had been experiencing problems. A stress test was just asking the universe to do something. But, I worry just the same.

And it’s January. I had a husband die on me in January before. Some months are decidedly better than others to schedule things.

However, he went. He jogged furiously. His heart kept up. He’s once again rewarded for his indifferent regard for cardiovascular exercise and watching his weight.

Instead of sitting anxiously about the house, I went to town to walk at the fitness centre and run a couple of errands. By the time I also squeezed in side trip to Dee’s school to chat with her teacher about a ski trip form I’d apparently filled out incorrectly and arrived home, time enough had passed that if something amiss had occurred during Rob’s stress test – someone would have contacted me already. No reason, therefore, to worry further.

He wasn’t even out of breath when he called to let me know he was already on his way home.

“I’m cleared,” he said. “No reason to make any more follow-up appointments unless there is a problem.”

A relief. I prefer everyone in my life to be healthy.

My own health issues were given the “you’re just old” stamp last week after all the cancer checks came back cancer-less.

The Doctor, who is seriously chagrined that I not only am well-versed in my own anatomy but that I can and actually do read the lab requisitions he gives out, had to do a bit of explaining as to why he ordered blood work to check for ovarian cancer along with assessing my hormone levels.

I had already googled and knew why, but I loathe being treated like just one of the sheeples and now he knows better than to poke and pry without giving me a heads up.

So, we are both good. Old. And not in a fine wine so of way. But okay.

Hopefully, we can put all the worries about health to rest now and concentrate on getting the present uncluttered and start planning the future. Other fish need to be cleaned and prepared because this being old business just keeps getting older by the day. I don’t want us to waste too much of it stressing.

FatesI allowed my hair to revert back to its natural color, which at this point includes a fair patch of very white hair. Not gray. White. And this pleased me enormously because two of my great-aunties were blessed with snow-white hair that was thick and simply gorgeous. When I was a young girl, I prayed that when old age struck, it wouldn’t curse me with hair the color and texture of steel wool. I wanted to be as white as a snow owl’s down feathers.

As the whites multiplied, I was content. For a while.

Here’s the trouble with pigment loss, unless you are a character in a Stephen King novel, it’s unlikely that your hair will go white overnight. It’s a fairly slow process when that doesn’t make you look as old as it does washed out, tired and hallow-eyed, and after a while, I’d had enough.

So last week when I went in for my thrice yearly haircut, I had Stylist put the highlights back. She’s new to my hair. I’ve only had her cut it once and as a result there was that moment when she realized that my hair likes being a yellow gold. It quite naturally lightens up to a colour that most women pay quite good money to achieve through dyes. The gods of beauty showered me with precious little at birth, but they gave me great hair. Even the coarse texture with its tendency to poof and curl can’t fully undercut the colour luck I have.

Stylist oo’d and aa’d as the morning slipped away. Foiled, shampoo’d, cut, thinned and blown out straight, I left the shop a lighter version of me. Not one I wasn’t accustomed to because I have been lightening my hair for close to 30 years. I have been more blonde. Much. But as I mentioned earlier, it’s been a while.

One of the reasons for the long blonde-less stretch was my reluctance to play too much into the idea that women of a certain age – my age – should fight like cougars to hold off time. Artificially influencing the colour of our hair is the most common way that this is done because it works and it’s easily accessible. I know personally every few women under the age of 70-something who don’t mess with the locks Mother Nature gave them. Even women my mother’s age, and she will be 80 this spring, colour their hair though not as much as the under 60 crowd does.

And the effects are startling. I’ve stopped counting the number of times a woman will turn to face me and I am thrown off by the fact that her hair doesn’t match her face, and even if she’s Botox’d, the neck always gives her away.

There is just too much pressure and unrealistic expectation. Women are supposed to grow old, travel the path from maiden to crone. It’s not something that needs correcting because aging is not about anything but aging and if most of us stop doing that – we do our daughters and granddaughters a disservice. I don’t want my daughters to think that middle age and beyound is anything to fear or fight against.

But I got impatient awaiting my milky mane, so back to highlights I went.

The reaction?

“Your hair looks fantastic. I didn’t recognize you.”

Um, thanks.

Didn’t recognize me? How crone-ish did I look exactly?

I am not vain or terribly interested in foo-foo fluffery. I haven’t willing applied make-up since my father’s funeral back in the fall of ’09. My wardrobe is yoga based and aside from deodorant, I steer clear of perfumes – cuz they are poisonous.

But I have always been a bit weird about my hair. Love/hate to be sure because it curls willfully and never cottoned to any style that has ever been popular or trendy. Colour was all that was left to me once I slipped my parent’s yoke and grew it long*, and it didn’t take me long to realize that while my natural red shade set me apart from the herd, being blonde suited me on more levels than simply attention seeking.

I will, therefore, maintain the highlights until such time as my head deigns to grow me stark white tresses. As interventions go, it’s barely extreme. It’s certainly not pulling a Demi Moore, dieting to anorexic proportions with the help of Red Bull.

*My father had this odd thing about our hair being short when we were growing up, which is made stranger by the fact that for a long time he insisted that Mom wear hers long.