39, six feet tall, not feeling willowy

What a life of thoughtful reflecting and resetting can do is help us feel more in tune with ourselves. We can reconcile ourselves to our family histories. We can realise not everyone or everything else around us is to blame for how our lives have gone to date. Instead, we can look within and ask ourselves what we're going to be accountable for in our own futures. We can commit to change.

I’m in the prime years, apparently

One of my favourite actresses, Dame Judi Dench, was interviewed this week. She talked about ‘life under lock-down’ and being age 86. Ever industrious, she regrets work has dried up. When it was put to her that she is a ‘national treasure’, she clearly baulked at the term.

One of the stand-out quotes, however, reflecting on her younger life and how she likes to think of herself now, was when she stated she still sees herself as aged 39, six feet tall, and “willowy”. I’m 39, six feet tall, but not so willowy!

Yesterday, I noted on social media that LGBTQ+ and social justice campaigner, Peter Tatchell, has turned 69. In social media posts he celebrated the fact that he still feels forty with his daily regime of 80 sit-ups and presses. And to think I tried to do strenuous exercise yesterday and nearly threw up.

So, here are older actors and personalities reflecting on better days, or indeed celebrating their current mood – either way, they see age 39 or 40 as a prime period in their lives. I’ve just turned age 39 in fact. Didn’t send me birthday best wishes? It’s not too late!

I joked with a few friends that I clearly have to embrace this last year of my thirties, locked down or not. It might not be debauched, but it should at least feel like a year where I can be driven, dynamic even. I’m certainly not down about coasting towards my fortieth birthday in just under a year’s time.

I can work on being ‘willowy’, but that means I have at least five kilograms of weight to shed.

What else can I work on in 2021?

Starting with some milestones

First of all, I’d like to reflect on where I’ve come from before I look to ‘reset’.

Twenty years ago this year, a couple of weeks before the 9/11 tragedies, I started experiencing the onset of terrible and unwanted ruminations. These were later diagnosed as a form of OCD, referred to in the psychiatric and psychotherapeutic field, as ‘obsessive ruminations’. Catchy, huh?

One can be predisposed, I read, to certain mental health risks, but environmental factors and life experiences can provide the trigger that sees them manifest.

In 2001, I dealt with the triple challenges of

  • a delayed explosion in grief after losing my Mum at the young age of 50 (the year before) to cancer
  • a delayed explosion of repressed sexual feelings after spending the first nineteen years of my life ‘in the closet’ and terribly guilty for liking people of the same sex
  • an explosion of workaholic anxieties and stress, as I sought to escape these other life challenges and buried myself in first year exam preparation

It led twenty years ago this coming month to;

  • physical symptoms of mental stresses (laryngitis, tonsillitis)
  • mental health stresses totally new and unfamiliar to me (full-blown panic attacks that I had to hide from friends, as I was trying to settle into my new life as an undergrad at university and desperately keen to remain closeted and ‘normal’)

This led, later in 2001 and into 2002, to

  • meetings with a shrewd and sensitive psychotherapist, Margot, who sought to normalise the vicious and life-crushing ruminations that I was experiencing;
  • a meeting with Professor Kevin Gournay, my psychiatrist at the Priory hospital in Enfield (I still remember seeing the patients with acute and severe eating disorders; and the long forbidding walk up the wooded lane to the hospital)
  • a twenty-year (to date) prescription to anti-depressants, not for depression, although that was certainly something I experienced when I was 19, but for OCD. Serotonin can help manage the worst excesses of obsessive ruminations.

Generally speaking, I’ve kept a lot of this past quiet and don’t share it now for any particular reason other than to observe how far I have moved on since 2001. They weren’t the best of times.

So now I am 39, have I entered the prime of my life?

What does it mean to be in one’s prime?

Gosh, as if I know!

That’s my instinctive first answer.

What I can say is that since I turned age 34, and after taking a sabbatical (thank you to my generous and thoughtful boss at Independent Age, Simon, who offered me the break), life has changed for the better.

I’ve been more in tune with my emotional needs. I’ve done a lot of ‘work’ on myself, to use the jargon.

I’ve met an incredibly thoughtful and sensitive partner, who is emotionally mature enough to feel like family. My friend.

There have been down’s, as there always are in life. Learning my Dad had end stage kidney failure and that his most obvious choice other than dialysis (or death) was for me to donate an organ wasn’t a bundle of fun! I never go too much into the details, but I’ve had to deal with a close family member who found themselves in a situation of terrible and obscene domestic abuse.

There will be more challenges and dips in the years to come.

But I took the time and considered my wellbeing important enough to change course and invest in my personal development. I became a qualified TEFL teacher and a qualified coach. I am writing and have plans to write a lot more non-fiction and, who knows, one day a book.

There are many moments I still feel self-doubt. My ruminations have a habit of turning themselves up as if they were the volume button on a remote control. Luckily for the most part this past 20 years I’ve managed more or less to keep them on mute.

I berate myself for not being slimmer, or more productive, or nearly good enough at sticking to projects and plans.

I have what I’ve seen referred to as a ‘scattered focus’, insatiably thirsting for new knowledge and experiences, but not keeping to one significant project that might in the end give me the greatest life satisfaction.

Am I in my prime? If so, it feels pretty good, but there’s no room for complacency here. I am not nearly fulfilled enough in terms of my wish-list of life accomplishments. But that’s an interesting question in its own right, ‘what is fulfilled enough?’

Fulfilled enough

I like to think my coaching service is about being human and relatable enough that I can speak to clients with empathy. I haven’t lived their lives. I don’t have their worries or aspirations. But I don’t pretend to be a guru. I’m flawed, we all are, but I’ve had personal experience of working on myself, reflecting and then resetting, and I like to think I can help others with this same experience.

Does it lead to a life of wondrous fulfilment?

I am not sure. How can one measure fulfilment? What’s the scale or currency here, is there such a thing?

What a life of thoughtful reflecting and resetting can do is help us feel more in tune with ourselves. We can reconcile ourselves to our family histories, which Dame Doris Lessing elegantly manages in this striking essay. We can realise not everyone or everything else around us is to blame for how our lives have gone to date. But instead, we can look within and ask ourselves what we’re going to be accountable for in our own futures. We can commit to change.

If this sounds like something that resonates with you, be it in relation to a change you hope to make in your career, or in relation to your personal life, or indeed another life domain, please don’t hesitate to read more about my coaching services. I really hope something resonates there too, in which case, please feel free to get in touch with me at andrew.j.kaye82@gmail.co.uk

We can work together – not to guarantee fulfilment, or indeed the ‘prime’ period of your life. But to sure as hell strive for it and enjoy the resetting experience of working on the things that matter most to you in this otherwise uncertain world.

Who knows, you can even work on feeling age 39, six feet tall, and willowy!

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