Friday, 12 January 2018

Turning 60 (part 1): WTF?

Railcard leaflet
Is that all there is?
This year, I turn 60. How did that happen? 60 is the age my Nana and Grandad always were. It’s where you stop being middle aged and start getting called “older”. It’s totally incompatible with my self-image. (But so was 50, and I got used to that… sort of.)

My husband turned 60 last year. He didn’t take much notice and neither did I, apart from buying him a railcard. But then, he never expected to retire when he reached that age. I did.

I always thought I would retire at 60, but there’s another six years now before I can get the state pension – assuming the government doesn’t change the goalposts a third time. All I can do is keep trying to earn a living, and hope I don’t get ill. 

I didn’t think it would be like this. My parents worked hard and worked their way up the career ladder and then took early retirement and had a comfortable life. I worked hard too, but for myself a lot of the time or in different jobs. And I’ve not got much to show for it, apart from a roof over my head.

I’m very grateful for the roof, of course, and I know there are people (including a lot of 60+ women) much worse off. But I’m scared about being poor again. I know what it’s like: been there, done that, got the (second-hand) T-shirt. My parents were skint once, but won’t be skint again: I probably will.

Even if I got the state pension this year, I’d probably still carry on working: too scared not to.  But it’s disorientating having your lifelong expectations overturned. I feel like I’m in limbo: it’s too late to think about career progression and stuff like that, but too early to think about retiring.

I’d quite like to slow down, just a bit. It would be nice to have time to read books and listen to music, and write stuff without worrying about whether someone is paying me for it. It would be quite nice to have a life, before I’m too old to enjoy it.

You’re as old as you feel, they say, as if that helps. Well, I don’t know how old I feel. I don’t even know how old I look now. I always used to look younger than I really am, but one morning last year I looked in the mirror and saw a line on my face that had literally appeared overnight. My feet have gone weird, too. And it hasn’t stopped there. It feels as if 60 is when you enter the zone of “embarrassing bodies”.

There’s that famous quote from Gloria Steinem: “This is what 60 looks like.” (Well, she started with 40, and carried on saying it.) Do I look 60, or does 60 look like me? The latter, I suppose.

I don’t know what 60 behaves like. I think you stabilise into a decade around the half-way mark: it takes that long to get used to it. In my mid-50s, I was in that “I don’t give a shit any more” phase and I loved it. A few years ago I found out the hard way that actually you can’t just go around saying what you think. It has repercussions. One of my new year resolutions is to stop getting into arguments. (I’ve broken it already.) My new motto is “You’re not right all the time.”  That was a hard lesson to learn. But it means that now I don’t know how to act any more.

I don’t know what 60 feels like. I know there are times when I’m still 18 in the head. I also know I get tired easily and have two sorts of arthritis, and depression. I’m managing all of that, and this isn’t depression talking. It’s more about wanting to ask questions. Like: when am I going to get a life? And what will it look like when I get it?

It’s not just about money, or health, or appearances, or what other people think of you. It’s about knowing that I am well over the halfway mark now, and time is running out. Please don’t let me waste it.

For a more optimistic take: Turning 60 (part 2): Not giving up

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