Purple on the inside

birthday cake

This is the time of year when I start to think about age. My mother’s birthday was last week, mine is next month (she remembered hers alright, unlike the names of her grandchildren or when my father died; it’s so ingrained she won’t forget that until the last), along with Sigoth’s and two of the Offspringses. It’s pretty much birthday time all the time at EBL Towers just at the moment.

Ageing is not a popular pastime in western culture. I think that’s a shame, because we all do it every day and we can’t change that, so we might as well enjoy it. For example, I am about to become 52, which sounds like fun. There was a song my mother liked when I was a child about a deck of cards. It’s mawkish and sentimental, but at least it makes 52 a magic number. I have to say, 51 is not very exciting unless prime numbers are your thing. I like proper numbers that are made up of other smaller numbers, in different patterns and combinations. I think it makes them more interesting. I am not interested in a number you can only make by multiplying it by one. It leaves no room for creativity.

Perhaps I will invite friends round to play cards and eat cake.

There are many reasons I enjoy getting older. I have mentioned before that I suffer from depression. I have done so since I was a child and there hasn’t been anything anyone has been able to do about it, myself included. It doesn’t sit well with me, because I am a fixer. The pills don’t work, no matter which ones I try. Talking therapies are too expensive, although the occasional short series of sessions I have managed to access have been partly helpful but insufficient for any long term benefit. Pulling my socks up has only made holes in the toes.

It turns out that in my case ageing seems to be part of the answer rather than part of the problem. I know many people don’t like it or see it as positive but I really enjoy it. My depression has generally been worse during times of hormonal excess – puberty, pregnancy and menopause were all especially difficult, when the demons were at their worst. Now I am past all that nonsense, things are calming down.

I don’t know how other people experience depression, if they do. In my case it has been like a veil between me and the rest of the world. At times the veil has been relatively thin and I can reach through it and make contact with people. At other times it has been so solid and unyielding that I am trapped, able to see dimly through it but disconnected, unable to be heard or seen by others. The veil is always there, but lately it is gossamer thin, at least most days. It has worn away to a cobweb over time and I for one am cheered by that. Perhaps it will turn out that I am the mightier, that I have more staying power, that I will be the one to win the race. That is not what I expected, and I am glad for it. Who’s the stronger now, eh?

And I blow a raspberry at the veil. It mutters to itself in a corner and I start to see it for what it is – a bully, not insuperable, not immortal and not intact.

Today the veil was thin, yesterday it had a burst of energy. But I think I am winning the war, if not every battle. The tide is turning.

I like ageing. As I grow older I become careless. I care less what people think or say or do. I not only quote Jenny Joseph but actually wear the purple on the inside as well as the out.



Declining years

A couple of years ago my mother came to live with us. She has her own annexe attached to our house and lives quite independently, although I provide support by cooking, shopping and doing laundry. However, as i still work full time she is effectively living independently.

Over the last couple of months she has declined noticeably. Her memory is very poor and conversations, already hindered by her deafness, tend to go round in endless circles, usually with three topics.

Today for example we had a looping conversation about how pretty the snow looked, how surprisingly quick the hospital appointment was, and how quiet the village is during the day. These three comments went round repeatedly several times before she got tired and went back to her living room to doze in front of the television.

I also move through cycles of exasperation, sadness and resigned amusement. The hospital trip today did not penetrate her consciousness until it was over; she repeatedly asked where we going and why. At first I was irritated, then sad to realise how she struggled to understand. In the end I accepted it and we got through the afternoon.

Other days go less well. It can feel like dealing with a recalcitrant toddler. She performs pouts and sulks and quivering bottom lips. I get moody and snappish, straight back to teenage frustration and ineptitude. The rest of the family ignores us or escapes as best they can.

Perhaps our parents’ frailties in later years is their final lesson to us. Perhaps it is part of the process of becoming an adult that I learn to move beyond teenage dependence and emerge into full adulthood, in charge of my destiny.

It’s sad to see a person move backwards through time, losing memories and skills and becoming child-like and fragile, constantly bemused by the strangeness of life. It is also sobering to wonder how long it will be until I tread that path myself, and what will remain of the person typing at this keyboard.

What is the story I leave my children? Will it be about me in my prime, or in my dotage?