It’s the wrinkles, too, that make me look my age. They’ve gathered around my eyes, my forehead and mouth, like gate-crashers to a party that I never planned.
I’ve spent plenty of money on skincare that promises to get rid of these wrinkles, because I’m supposed to feel mad at them for being here. Especially, for some reason, the fine lines – those, I’m meant to hate with added rage. I’ve rubbed these lotions onto my skin, examined the lines in magnified mirrors, and have used precious brain space calculating how much the lines have shrunk or, better yet, faded.
The way we want to look is a really individual thing, but Dr Lishman says it’s worth trying to accept the way we are. “It’s psychologically healthier to be content with ‘what is’, otherwise you’re striving for something that you might never get. And even if you do get there, you’re likely to push the goal posts out.”
“Happiness or contentment comes from within not from something external.”
It was this internal change that transformed my whole view of ageing, because soon before I reached 40, my dad died.
My dad had hated ageing. “I don’t want another birthday,” he said every year when I’d wish him well on another year around the sun.
He wanted to stay young, with everything still ahead of him; he wanted to keep the life where his knees were left and right, not the good one and the bad one, where he could jump out of bed in the morning and whistle about what a lovely day it was rather than ease out and groan before loosening up.
And then, one year he didn’t get to have any more birthdays.
The number I was approaching is the first age I remember Dad hating: the Big 4-0 was a sign that youth lay behind him. All that stretched ahead was being old.
I pondered clicking into the next decade. I knew I was supposed to dread it – according to rumours, it would be the age where I put on weight more easily, and my hips would begin to ache. The best years of my life were behind me. That’s what they told me.
Worst of all, everyone could see it: my hair was going grey and there were wrinkles on my face.
I gave all of this deep reflection following my dad’s death. I pondered spending the rest of my life denying my birthday and dreading the numbers growing larger. I thought about the people I knew who had died young, and how they’d give anything to be able to go grey.
I stared at my hair’s regrowth and wondered what would happen if I let it grow out.
One day I styled my hair to show off the greys instead of hiding them. The next time I went to the hairdresser I said, ‘Just a cut please’.
I now have a sparkle of silver where my hair meets my face.
In the mirror I looked carefully at the lines on my face. Some are from frowning, some are from stress and worry, and lots are from smiling and laughing.
I was surprised to discover that I like them.
They show that I’ve been through a whole lot of great things, and a whole lot of tough things – and I’m still here. I nearly wasn’t, but I survived those near misses.
When I turned 40, I looked my age, and I was proud of that fact.
Dr Lishman says it’s common for this type of contentment to follow a big life change. “Some sort of pain or adversity often has to be felt or experienced to give people perspective as to what is actually important,” she says. “The things that don’t matter can be stripped away within seconds when adversity strikes.”
As it turns out, it’s a great privilege to reach an age where grey hair and wrinkles join us.
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Megan Blandford is a Melbourne-based writer.