When I turned 40, I felt overwhelmed by articles that kept popping up on my social media feeds with titles like, “15 Things to Every Woman should Do by 40,” 25 Things to do in your 50s,” “10 Things you’ll regret in your 60s.”
Each decade we cross brings with it this intense desire to reassess, evaluate, and take inventory. When I turned 40, I felt that my personal inventory was falling short on so many levels.
I was a divorced single mom working a mid-level job in a career with little promise of upward mobility. Those articles and lists were simply overwhelming at a time when my future seemed so uncertain.
I tried to tackle my mid-life inventory. Mediocrity surfaced in most of my thoughts, because I kept judging and comparing my life to everyone else’s.
I felt that my life was a disaster. I felt like all the dreams I had for myself had died, and I had done little to keep them alive or allow them to flourish. It’s one thing to have someone else step on your dreams, but when those dreams are crushed by your own life choices, there’s no one to blame but yourself.
For years, I put all my time, my thoughts and my energy into raising my daughter. I totally neglected myself because if the focus was on me, I’d be forced to deal with my emotional health. Being a single mom isn’t easy, and most days I’d say that it is synonymous with being exhausted.
Shutting off everything else made it possible for me to be a “good parent”—good in the proverbial, accepted, self-sacrificing manner that is actually not good for anyone except the critics watching from the outside. I dealt with most days in survival mode, but finally, I realized that while survival was fine as a mode, it was not necessarily a modus vivendi.
I had to start small, making little changes. I started going to acupuncture. I was suffering from severe insomnia, and the acupuncture helped. Once I started sleeping better, I started eating better. I started exercising. I am not saying that I became a gym junkie and a vegan; no, the changes I made were small.
I was taking it easy: no need to set unachievable goals that would just make me feel worse if left unaccomplished. I began taking short walks. That led me to resume my yoga practice, which I had neglected for years. I stopped dating my food and changed my relationship to it. I had been overeating because I wasn’t happy and needed to compensate for my lack of real relationships. For me, eating was a way to numb the pain. I also began journaling, which helped me process and feel my sadness.
It took time.
But of all of these things, the most important thing I did was this: I stopped comparing myself with everyone around me, and began to understand that my process is unique. I will always be a work in progress, but I know I am in a much healthier place than I was a year ago.
I keep going to acupuncture, I keep exercising, I keep journaling. These are the ways I take care of myself. Each one of us has to figure out how to take care of ourselves and realize that self-love is essential to building the solid ground of self-reliance that gives us life.
For years, I was waiting for some magical force to lift me up so that I could begin living. I imagined a beautiful blue fairy that would sprinkle me with magic dust and make me happy and give me the will to chase all my dreams. That magical fairy dust is beyond a doubt enchanting and wondrous, and it’s called self-love. It doesn’t come from a fairy or a partner, your children, or your friends.
It’s you. You are the magical, enchanting blue fairy.
I’ve had to face my worst fears, dig deep, and rehash things I thought were long buried. But it’s all growth. The good thing is that after 40, we know that growth can be painful, but we do it anyway, with authenticity and love. We know that there is always a better and stronger us after the pain.
We honor the process, we honor the pain, and we honor ourselves.
Author: Marinet Quinones
Editor: Callie Rushton