#39. Not freaking out about turning 40

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” – Norman Vincent Peale

Did you notice that I didn’t write a blog entry last week? I didn’t even write about not writing a blog entry. I just…didn’t do it. Couldn’t be bothered.

I don’t even have an interesting excuse. It’s not like I was trapped under something heavy or in a sudden coma. It’s just that, to be perfectly frank, I’ve been feeling like hell the past month. My fibromyalgia’s the worst it’s been in years and while I can usually soldier on through the pain, it’s the exhaustion that has been my undoing. I can’t seem to get anything done. I couldn’t make a change, let alone write a blog entry about it. Just didn’t have the energy. And worst of all? I didn’t care that much. Didn’t have the energy for that either.

Sigh. So there you have it. The experience of feeling too defeated to write last week was an interesting one. Really humbling, in a super uncomfortable sort of way. My perfectionism took a big ding when I had to come to terms with the fact that this project wasn’t going to go without flaws, that there was going to be a big gaping hole on the calendar one week.

In fact, it was staring at my blog archive calendar and seeing that gap on the graphic that bothered me most – not the fact that there was no actual blog entry. So what does that say? That my perfectionism is more about the appearance of perfectionism and consistency rather than having any actual substance. Probably. Double sigh.

However, if I must mine for diamonds in this particular experience, I did at least discover that I’m not comfortable with the idea of abandoning this project permanently. I’m a Scorpio, for God’s sake, with a stubborn streak a mile wide. I realized that I have to see this through, which for me means a full 52 weeks of change – even if it bothers the hell out of me that they’re not in a row. It’ll have to do. If I can muster up enough acceptance for that, then we’ll have a REAL change on our hands, ladies and germs.

Anyway, all that rambling brings me to this week’s change. I don’t have much more energy or much less pain than in the past few weeks, but plug away I must. I should mention that it’s not helping my overall malaise that my 40th birthday is looming on the horizon, mere days away and I – who didn’t bat an eyelash at turning 30 – have become an embarrassing cliché of self pity and weepiness at the prospect of entering my forties.

I’ve been pretty consumed with taking the usual self-immolating inventory of regrets, comparing what I thought my life would look like to what it actually looks like, mourning some paths not taken, freaking out at the prospect of my life being HALF OVER.

Then, last week, within a couple of days of each other, two friends posted on Facebook the Norman Vincent Peale quote I put at the top of this entry. Now, I should make a confession, at the risk of offending some people I adore (and, you know, others I don’t): posting pseudo-inspirational quotes in one’s Facebook status update is a big ol’ pet peeve of mine. Ditto song lyrics. I won’t pretend to know why, but it generally makes me roll my eyes. It’s the modern-day equivalent of using John Lennon lyrics as your quote in your senior yearbook.

Only…this time there was a clear indication that they were speaking to me. I’m feeling pretty miserable lately, obsessing about the negative ramifications of turning 40. I needed to change my thinking, focus on the positive.

But, realistically, how?  When you have pain and limited energy, it’s really, really difficult to remain positive. It wasn’t going to be enough to just try to be positive for seven days. Also, that sounds annoying. This required a more focused approach, a concrete device to help me “reframe” my thinking, in some small way.

One of the things that makes me inexplicably happy is photography – taking pictures and looking at them. I don’t pretend to be good at it, but I take tremendous pleasure in photos that capture the small, quiet moments of life. And even though I haven’t been taking a lot of pictures lately, it doesn’t actually require all that much energy.

So for a week, I determined to take one photo each day that represented something positive, that shifted my thinking away from self-pity and self-recrimination and onto the good in my life. Seven days. Seven photos. Don’t worry, I’m not going to force the issue and write long-winded accompaniments about why these things shift my thinking. Suffice it to say that they do. Here they are…

1. view from the couch

2. wood pile, late afternoon

3. salted caramel, in service of ice cream of said flavor

4. flowers from Birgit

5. happy kitty

6. tealight

7. driveway bricks

Enough with the photographic navel-gazing, you say! What the crowds really want to know is: did it work? Did the simple act of seeking out moments to photograph, then taking the time to consider and snap them actually change the way I thought? The answer might surprise you. It surprised me.

It did. It completely turned my week around. It kind of operated on two levels. First, it lifted me out of the morass of feeling sick and unproductive and reminded me that there are things I love to do and can do even when unwell. No one likes to feel like a lump on a log all the time.

Second, it was impossible to ignore the impact of the subject matter. I have a good life. I mean, a Really Good Life. And complaining about turning 40 is just complaining about getting to enjoy it longer. Which makes absolutely no sense.

A skeptic might say that really it was just the fact that I had another week to get comfortable with the idea of aging, but that seems unlikely – even to a skeptic like me. There was something at play here. Something big. That Norman Vincent Peale knew what he was on about. Okay, maybe it didn’t change my world, but I can totally get behind, “Change your thoughts and you change your week.”

P.S. Reader! It occurred to me that slacking off this past week and the couple I took off before then adds me in a numerologically happy position: next week will be my 40th change. During the week I turn 40. SHAZAAM!