September 04, 2006

Where does the time go?

During this last hospitalization, Dr O was telling me what the nurses saw when they looked at me: a thin, middle-aged woman, with blond hair and—

I had ceased listening by then. You mean I looked middle-aged? I knew I was in those years, yes, but I didn’t look the way my mother did at 53. Anyway, 53 was only a number, and we all knew I was barely 15 in social maturity. I was way beyond that intellectually, but that didn’t count; it seemed I’d always been intellectually in my 50’s so to speak, at least since Zyprexa opened my world. It struck me like a fist to my solar plexus that I’d become middle-aged overnight, that I’d lost my entire youth to schizophrenia. I never had a chance to – No, don’t go there...

I swallowed this realization and put it aside. What else could I do? There was no use even going down that road, because the past was the past and nothing could change it. So now, how to deal with this new reality of being an older woman. A ma’am, no longer a miss.

I don’t mind the way I look in middle age, though after menopause the wrinkles have appeared with the speed of an overnight pimple in untoned muscles in my arms and belly. Oddly enough, I kind of like these wrinkles, I don’t know why. Maybe because they remind me of my grandmother who seemed so very comfortable in her skin (though unhappy for other reasons most of her life). My face is relatively unlined so far but I have to admit I do not like one bit the little piece of skin that droops from the bottom of my jaw and connects to my throat: “turkey neck” we used to call it. Since I am underweight, it is not from being fat. That one is definitely a sign of age! All in all, though, none of this particularly concerns me; it never has.

Middle age is not just about looks, though some would have you believe their appearance is the single most critical issue facing 40 and 50-something women. Down that road are facelifts, and liposuction and eternal dissatisfaction and more lifts and tummy tucks because it all tries to droop again and it’s a never ending battle against ever-marching time and time has the upper hand and always will.

In middle age, that is, after 50 or so, women at least can lay claim to one new freedom: No more periods! No more...well, modesty prevents me from saying what, but you all know what I’m talking about. I know, some mourn this and miss it, but not I. I’m supremely glad never to need to carry a purse again if I don’t want more than my keys and a bankcard.

It is hard to tell how much of my memory problems have always been there (Dr O says I’ve had a terrible memory since she’s known me) or are due to CNS Lyme disease or to ECT. I realize that the middle years sometimes seem to bring with them a diminution of one’s memory, but I’m not so sure this is inevitable or normal. I see no reason why it should be, if one’s blood pressure is maintained at a normal level and one is relatively healthy. Those of us with schizophrenia, however, may have had memory problems for a long time, and I doubt that middle age will change that, unless it happens to bring about a remission of symptoms. In that case, I expect one’s memory would improve.

“You’re a middle-aged woman,” I tell myself. And say it again. “I’m a middle-aged woman.” Somehow it doesn’t sound so terrible anymore. The baby boomer generation is now middle-aged and there’s quite a few of us; we could make or break an election if we voted as a block. One comfort I had when Dr O described what the nurses saw was that for many – and this is why there is such a nursing shortage – 50-something was all too familiar; most were more or less my age.

Posted by pamwagg at September 4, 2006 08:41 PM


I want to thank you for your candor. I recently ended a friendship with a woman who calls herself addicted to plastic surgery. We were waiting in line at a movie theater and she says "I don't have crows feet around MY eyes." I thought you b. you have an all too wide awake look about you that is due to that plastic surgery. I am proud of my life experience and survival. I figure I smile a lot so why shouldn't my face show it in a few wrinkles. I am 37 and hear that it gets better for people with mental illness over time. I hear that what I can look forward to is being more comfortable with myself as a human being.

Posted by: Heather at September 6, 2006 05:37 PM

Pam, I too love the wrinkles on my arms and hands!!! I love the softness of them and they remind me of all the elderly people that I love. Luckily, my face isn't as bad as my hands and arms. I just have a few at 52 years old!!! I wonder if I'll love those too when they come!!!! sue M.

Posted by: sue marasciulo at September 5, 2006 09:59 PM

Oh, Karen, I just read your comment, which appeared to me after I posted mine. Sometimes I think I look at my own daughter, who has schizoaffective disorder, in something like the way your mother looks at you--like a shying horse. Nevertheless I love her exceedingly, and am convinced that her soul somehow exceeds mine in depth and range.

Posted by: Cynthia at September 5, 2006 07:24 PM

I figure that I (at the actual age of 50) am about 17 socially and emotionally, so you see, Pam, I'm not much up on you. However, I must add that, when I WAS 17, I was oh, maybe 8 1/2 socially, at best. Therefore I have made SOME progress, halting as it has been.

None of my father's children were spared the familial stetch of skin-and/or-fat that stretches from throat to chin; my brother used to call it a "dewlap." It makes me feel a bit put out just to think of it.

In the stupidity of my youth I thought I wouldn't mind falling into a few folds; I could picture my lined face all aglow with grace and a wondrously gentle dignity. How could I have been so mistaken--about that, as about so MANY things?

Posted by: Cynthia at September 5, 2006 07:12 PM

Hi Pam.

My mother, who is 68, sometimes amazes me with her energy and drive. I am 38 and am a far weaker person because of my schizophrenia. Sometimes she looks at me the same way a horse eyes something it is wary of. Wide eyed and backing away.

Sometimes I wonder what a self actualized (Maslow term) person would think about a schizophrenic. I guess they wouldn't have the time to interact, they would be too busy being creative. As I get older there are members of my family like my mother who are improving with age. My great hope for the future lies in an improved acceptance of who I am. That and the invention of better medication.

My sister just married a fellow who is planning on making a lot of money. Already my sister is getting laser skin treatments, there is certainly more plastic surgery in her future. She looks beautiful.

Posted by: Karen Blair at September 5, 2006 06:34 PM

Well, I can say that I feel better that everyone else is getting older too, even my dear first born daughter, who started her first year of high school today.

Posted by: donna at September 5, 2006 04:54 PM

Dear Fellow Boomer,
Please remember that I am 55 years old, two years your senior, and 56 is just around the corner. Since I fixated at about 13, I really don't think about my age that much. Thanks a lot for reminding me,Pal. I guess I'll go check for wrinkles now, just for kicks.
KA-BOOM! the elderly Paula

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at September 5, 2006 02:40 PM

Hi Pam,

Yes, though I'm 44 I consider myself middle-aged and have for quite a while now. It's the weight gain that has really got me feeling middle-aged, though my neck was starting to sag just a little bit when the psychosis set in at age 36. I'm now in the process of losing the weight I've put on. I've lost twenty pounds and have forty more to go. I really believe that once I achieve my healthy weight goal I will start to feel more attractive again and that will take the edge off being middle-aged. Really I wish I were ten years younger and could have a baby, but that dream is fading fast. The voices took the last of my youth and it was a humiliating entrance into middle-age. But now I accept it and am willing to move forward.
I'm just grateful to be alive, grateful that I survived the worst of this illness.

Kate :)

Posted by: Kate K. at September 5, 2006 01:12 PM

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