Before the Easter break, in episode 12, Cath had been given a clean bill of health following an entanglement with a camera up the derriere just before Christmas. Her family were keen for her to go on antidepressants and she was keen to avoid them at all costs! Let’s rejoin her story at the beginning of a new year, her fiftieth year no less.
A very happy new year…
‘Oh my goodness’ I whisper to Mr D ‘we have the house to ourselves and no plans for the New Year. Whatever shall we do with the freedom?’ I know exactly what I want to do with the freedom (nudge nudge!) but will Mr D be a willing participant?
I dare him to resist this – a roaring log fire, cosy throws, masses of candles and oodles of chilled bubbly to hand…(I’ll leave the rest to your imagination, you naughty, but accurate people!)
Boy do I know how to set a scene! The poor man didn’t stand a chance, and we brought the New Year in style!
This year I am not making any resolutions either. On my social media stream I spot a piece of advice from Patsy Stone, a character from the Absolutely Fabulous sitcom.
According to Patsy, she’s not doing resolutions –
“None of this New Year, new me bollocks. I was fabulous last year and I will be fabulous again this year.”
I couldn’t agree more. After all, this is my 50th Year and I’m doing it in style, my style. Anyone who doesn’t like it will just have to deal with it. That said, I get the urge, yet again, to change my hair, clothes and make-up. I’m feeling quite feisty, which is something I am not used, to let alone the people around me. Well I have news for them.
‘This is just the beginning, so watch out!’
Spring-cleaning my social media accounts…
I begin with a cyber-clear out, removing people from my Twitter feed and Facebook who have a tendency to fill it with unnecessary negativity. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!!
As you know, I am not a big fan of January in general. Last year Mr D and I took part in Dry January… and bloody miserable is was too. No Friday gin and tonic to wash away the mid-winter blues. Needless to say, we are not doing that again! Just as well – this particular January seems determined to kick everyone in the gut. Before the first month is gone, the world loses David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Terry Wogan, three of my favourite chaps. The news of David Bowie’s death is announced over the radio as I wend my weary way to work. I arrive in the car park, tears streaming down my face, taking my mascara with them. Oh great. I will spend the day with panda eyes! Diving into the loos I make some attempt to repair my makeup. All this sad news, coupled with the usual antagonistic, poisonous atmosphere in the office, leaves me feeling quite drained and short tempered.
‘Enough! Just stop it!’ I snap back at one perpetrator of poison.
This is a noteworthy event, as I can count on one hand the number of times, over my entire working life, I’ve snapped at a colleague. It was deserved each time. As I am normally such a chilled out person at work, this comes as a shock, having the desired effect. Who knew I had such a fiery streak? Maybe there is a positive side to all this hormonal upheaval? Or is it the begining of Grumpy Old Woman syndrome?
Eating habits under the microscope…
Meanwhile, in the gut department, now that I know it’s healthy, I still want to understand what is going on with it. Time to put my eating habits under the microscope.
Dr Siskin asks me to complete a food and mood diary for a week to see if she can spot some triggers for some of my symptoms. Handing it over at our next appointment, it’s quite a revelation when we look at it together.
In summary, I am running on empty most of the time (the reserve tank has long since been drained) as I am not taking in nearly enough protein and my use of artificial sweeteners has to stop. I wonder if these habits are responsible for some of the more weird symptoms. To date I have the jitters in the morning, tinnitus on and off, mood swings, variable bowel, poor sleep, intermittent tingly left hand/arm/leg/foot and regular Friday headaches. I note the majority of them seem to love popping up on the left side of my body. Why is it always the left? This is such an odd pattern. I make a note to tell Dr Siskin when I see her for my next session.
Can I add a new symptom? Clumsiness!
I actually manage to drown my mobile phone twice in one month! Once in my lunchtime soup, and once in a puddle. I should name it Lazarus as it comes back from the dead as long as I put it in intensive care for a few days (switch off, place in a bag of rice, and leave in the airing cupboard for a few days).
During one session with Dr Siskin, I outline a few changes I’m planning for myself (weight loss, hair, make-up, clothes etc.) before I hit 50. She asks a very simple question but one that has me stumped for an instant answer.
‘How did you arrive at a target weight?’
She has that knowing look on her face. Over the weeks, I’ve learned that this look means I am about to uncover something significant and better put some effort into the answer. As I seem to be struggling with an answer, she gives me a nudge by asking –
‘Whose target is it really?’
Lightbulb moment ahead…
At first I was about to answer ‘mine’, but then I thought more about how I’d made the decision. So here’s how my mind did its calculations…
First, I looked at the BMI chart and worked out the minimum weight I would need to be to still be in the green zone, i.e. healthy. Secondly, I compared this weight to what my mother says she weighs (we are a similar build) and adjusted the target downwards (oh dear!) to be within striking distance of her weight. When I talk it through with Dr Siskin, I realise this target is not mine, it’s my mother’s!
‘Ah! I think I spot a pitfall.’ … this brings a smile to Dr Siskin’s face. She loves it when I solve something for myself.
Telling her about previous attempts at weight loss, I note that even when I have hit target, or been below (in the past), Mother still treated me as if I was fat. The truth is, it does not matter whether I am the same weight as her, or under, I will never be the right weight and shape in her eyes. So why am I beating myself up over it? Am I still yearning for unconditional parental approval? Well yes I am. We agree that I will give up seeking parental approval for Lent. This will include my birthday so I will need to become comfortable with not pleasing my mother, but pleasing myself for my birthday.
Girding the loins (or preparing for battle)…
This is a big task for me as I would normally walk over hot coals instead of risking maternal wrath. However, I am more determined than ever to lead my own life, for me, from now on. I agree to do just that.
I was put to the test sooner than expected, when mother came up with all sorts of suggestions on where we should go for my birthday party. I had already booked us into a lovely country hotel. All of her ideas involved lots of driving (she doesn’t drive), or expensive taxis… if we wanted to enjoy a few drinks. I plan on enjoying more than a few drinkies but I can’t seem to work out a plan that pleases everyone (by everyone I mean Mother). I am a few steps away from total meltdown when Mr D spots me starting to spiral downwards into old habits.
Mr D to the rescue…
‘What do you want, Cath? This is magic wand time. If you could have your party the way you want, how would it look?’
‘I want a lunch party at the same hotel we are booked into, so no driving and plenty of drinking. I don’t want a birthday cake, I want pretty cupcakes in different flavours and designs.’ grinning back at Mr D. Bless him, he’s good at this, my knight in shining armour.
‘Well then. That’s what I’ll do.’ I declare, picking up the phone.
Moments later I have spoken to the hotel staff, organised a lunch table and a limited menu; too much choice is a bad thing! After a quick chat with my sister to put her in the picture, she suggests a couple of great bakeries near her who specialise in cupcakes. And she colunteers to collect them on the morning and bring them to our hotel. What a wee gem.
Within thirty minutes I have my party organised my way! Way to go, Cath!
Speed bump ahead…
I feel energised by this. Invigorated. Who knew being strong could be so much fun. Ah, but then I have to tell Mother what is happening and when…. a potential speed bump/war zone. Taking a deep breath, I do just that, treating it like setting out an agenda for a business meeting. For the first time ever, I don’t ask for permission with phrases like ‘would it be ok if I…?’. No. I simply outline my plan and stop talking, waiting for Mother’s response – usually a negative one. Interestingly, there is no pushback, yet. I must have taken her by surprise. I know it will come, and when it does I’ll be ready for it.
And come it did. Mother decides that she will not be bringing my birthday present to the hotel and party. No. We must make a detour (miles and hours) on our way home, and I can have it then! What the actual flip (note, I am being polite here)? Er, hello… we are having a party together! The Dean family has school, university and work to accommodate, so I firmly decline to do the detour, much to her displeasure. Mother has never heard me say no to her, until now. She tells me I have put a spanner in her plans. I do not apologise, just simply reminder her that we will have fun all together at the hotel. She’s not easily swayed but I remain firm. I have to confess to quivering like a half-set jelly when I did it, but determined to go through with my plans. She can choose to be part of them, or not. It is a turning point for me. Now that I’ve survived these two tests, I know I can do it again… and again. Yes! I can be strong for me!!
The day of my party dawned bright, sunny and cold as befits late winter in the Scottish countryside. Breakfast was a relaxed affair for the Dean family. I enjoyed getting dressed up while waiting for the rest of my family to arrive. Cost Center 1 and I had a very girly time doing hair and makeup together while Mr D and Cost Center 2 were off making mischief in the nearby village. I am now resplendent in new everything, from a beautiful set of matching underwear from Mr D, to a bright red dress and new make-up from me to me. I finish off with a fabulous statement matt red lipstick. I feel amazing and am looking forward to seeing everyone.
My sister and her family arrive, bringing with them the all-important cupcakes. The bakery has surpassed themselves. Each one is a work of art. It seems such a shame to eat them. It is so good to see everyone. Within minutes, the cousins are catching up with the gossip, huddled in a corner so they are not overheard by parents. Our parents arrive not long after and the whole family settle down for some pre-lunchtime drinks before our feast. As it is my party and I’m determined to enjoy every minute, I start as I mean to go on, by ordering bubbly. Well why not?!
Lunch goes off without a hitch. It was a master stroke to limit the menu choices. At the end of the meal the cupcakes are brought out to a unique rendition of Happy Birthday. Cost Center 1 is the only person I know who can deliberately miss every note of a song whilst singing the loudest. I think (hope) we entertained the other diners that day. Some of them joined in the raucous singing.
Present opening time was entertaining for everyone in the dining room, not just my family. I have some thoughtful gifts along with some whacky ones (thanks to Cost Center 2). One very special gift from my sister reduces me to tears. Since that day it goes with me practically everywhere now. When I take time to sit back and take in all that is happening around me, I realise I am surrounded by love. My sister and her family are so much fun. The only people who are having difficulty with this relaxed display of love and affection are my parents. They look quite uncomfortable, detached from the rest of us. It seems to me that they just cannot cope with normal displays of sibling and family affection. I feel sorry for them. They are missing out on so much joy by being so distant.
As with all good things, they must come to an end and I finally go to bed (in the wee small hours) a very happy woman. I didn’t receive one single barbed or backhanded comment from Mother at all. Not one. Happy as Larry (whoever he is) the Dean family head homeward, back to normal life. Meeting with one of my very good friends later that week, she asks how my party went. She has similar issues with her own mother and is well aware of my situation. With a cheesy grin, I tell her about the day and how wonderful it was not being on the receiving end of barbed comments.
I should have known better…
Within hours of that bold statement, Mother phoned to compliment me on my beautiful red dress. She followed this with a question –
‘Did you know you can buy special underwear that can smooth out lumps and bumps and even drop you a dress size?’
Thanks for that, Mother. So what you’re saying is that I looked fat, and lumpy, one size too big for my dress!
As a matter of fact I do know about such underwear. Anyone who has watched Bridget Jones’ Diary knows about big knickers. Without hesitation, I informed her that I was wearing my new birthday undies and was thrilled to bits with how I looked on the day. Closing down this topic of conversation, I closed the call very quickly. Years ago I would have slammed the phone down. Nowadays, all I can do is viciously stab the ‘end call’ button, which is not nearly as satisfying and the old slam!
Livid, seething, spitting feathers, bristling with rage. None of these terms cover how angry and hurt I felt. It’s almost as if I had had too much of a good time and needed to be brought down a peg or two, yet again. Naughty me. How dare I have fun and wear what I want and have the day I want.
What a nasty thing to do to a person, let alone your own child. So much for me giving up seeking parental approval for Lent! I haven’t been so angry in ages. I resolve then and there to drastically reduce the number and duration of phone calls in order to protect myself. I refuse to enable her behaviour. As you know, I am a great believer in the old saying regarding keeping one’s mouth shut if one finds oneself unable to say anything nice.
Tune in to episode 14 where we see how Cath deals with the aftermath of this stinging phone call and what she discovers about the location and type of symptoms she’s been having while travelling through Perimenopauseland.