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2016-01-29 / Health Features

A woman’s perspective

40-something but 20-something at heart
By Dana Sanders
HTF Contributor

Dana Sanders Dana Sanders My name is Dana and I am a fabulous 44-years old. The past four years have been an interesting journey of different challenges, changes and self-discovery. I can say I am at a point of feeling fabulous now, but this did not happen overnight. Becoming comfortable in one’s own skin through the aging process takes time, humor, grace and acceptance.

I am the mother of five beautiful daughters - three of my own and two stepdaughters. I also have a four-month old grandson. I was 32 when our blended family came together. At that time, our girls were 11, 9, 8, 6 and 5 - “The Lady Bunch.” I often refer to those years in my 30s as organized chaos. Having a blended family, all girls, and years of back-to-back activities were a challenge. There was no shortage of hormones, emotions and drama in our household. Life was a whirlwind of craziness, ups and downs, tears and laughter and no time to slow down. Those years were filled with high stress, high blood pressure and the beginning of the aging process.

When I turned 40, my oldest daughter was in her first year of college. Our girls were growing up, becoming more independent as they started their own journeys of adolescence and self-discovery. They don’t need us doing everything for them. They start living their own lives. That was not easy transition for me. As women and moms, we are programed to nurture and take charge of everything. When we start to lose control of that, we start to lose our identity and can feel a lack of purpose.

In my early 40s, I remember looking in the mirror and asking my reflection who are you? I still felt 20-something at heart but my reflection said otherwise. Life had started to take its toll. I recalled a conversation that I had with my dear friend Anna when I was in my late 20s and she had recently turned 40. She shared some feelings and observations she was noticing about herself and the changes her body was going through. One detail she mentioned was “the arm thing.” I didn’t get it. She chuckled and said that when I turned 40 I would get it. Boy did I ever! I noticed bat wings under my arms! OMG!!! I flapped my arms and swore I had a wing span! I called my friend Anna and shared my self-discovery. She laughed so hard! I believe she found great pleasure in this situation even though she was trying her best to be compassionate and comforting.

A healthy diet and exercise have become a daily routine. My favorite is my B & B workout. (Bouncing to Blondie on my mini-trampoline!) Dealing with gravity will continue to be a battle. I am quite certain that I appear far from graceful in my workout attempts to stay fit.

Another self-discovery was the sudden abundance of eye wrinkles. Where in the heck did they come from? I started to buy the typical beauty products that are guaranteed to restore youth and remove wrinkles. Well, they didn’t work. I decided to try another option. I read that hemorrhoid cream not only removes swelling from your bottom but also dark circles and puffiness under the eyes and wrinkles! I bought the cream and thought I would apply the cream around my eyes and leave it on overnight to really work its magic. I awoke the next morning with my eyes swollen and beat red. I wear contacts and that was another painful experience. This mishap only became worse when I went to work. I am employed at a pretty large company in an office setting with many employees. My eyes were blood shot and full of tears. Many coworkers stopped by my desk to ask if everything was okay as it looked like I was distraught. I had to politely reassure them that everything was fine. Finally, I had enough as one of my close coworkers continued to ask what was wrong. I kind of snapped. I stated that everything was fine and that I just had a bad case of hemorrhoid cream in my eyes! When I told her what I had done, I think her eyes looked worse than mine from crying tears of laughter.

I did find another alternative that produced positive results: I quit smoking and drinking alcohol. Now I drink lots of water and go in for quarterly Botox injections. Determination!

I also remember my first grey hair. I was 42 and having my hair done. My hairdresser pulled my hair. I shouted at him: what are you doing? He thought it was great fun to pull out my first grey hair and actually taped it on a piece of paper for me to keep. Seriously? I did not find this very amusing at the time. However, I still have it and can laugh at it now. The 40s not only brought grey hair, but thinning hair on the head and the start of facial hair. That is just so not okay! So began the monthly maintenance of hair coloring, waxing and daily vitamins for healthy hair and nails.

In today’s society, there is a lot of pressure on women. Many work full-time professionally and also as full-time homemakers. It takes its toll physically, mentally and emotionally. We also have the expectation to look like Barbie as this is often the image portrayed in the fantasy world we live in. It’s a lot of maintenance! Men face some of the same challenges but do not have the same expectations to live up to. They can go grey or bald, have a few love handles and be considered distinguished and land themselves on the cover of Vanity Fair. (In my next life, I want to come back as a man!)

Along with the self-discoveries of my youth disappearing and the challenges of maintaining what was left, there was the loss of identity with my children growing up and starting lives of their own. What do I do with myself? I need to be needed! I was fearful.

It didn’t happen overnight, but I stepped outside of my comfort zone and pursued a new career within my company. After 11 years in an administrative role, I took on a new challenge and opportunity as an instructor in our Learning and Development Department. This position required longer hours and quite a bit of travel - something I couldn’t have pursued with young children. I’ve found teaching to be very rewarding and inspiring and it keeps me young at heart.

I also knew I needed to find a calming hobby for myself. I started gardening in the summer months and crafting in the winter. It is so important to find that healthy balance of work and something to get you to that Zen place (mind, body and spirit).

I also had to adjust to a new relationship with my spouse. For so many years, life was solely focused on work and kids. There wasn’t a lot of consistent alone time. Thankfully, my husband and I enjoy many of the same outdoor activities and watching sports together. However, there is that 20-something girl inside of me screaming for passion and romance! I want to look and feel sexy, get dressed to the hilt and go out for a candle lit dinner and be doted on. Let’s face it ladies, this is not the dream date for our men and can take extreme coaxing. In their mind, the ideal date night is ordering a pizza, sitting contently in their recliner, having a game on the TV and being in close proximity to us. It’s not that they don’t love us or that they don’t find us attractive or appealing. They just age differently than we do and are made up of completely different gene mechanisms (they are missing a few). Learn to take it stride. Curl up with a steamy novel that you can lose yourself in, watch a romantic chick flick, treat yourself to flowers (I buy myself flowers once a week) and always rely on your girlfriends for laughter and support. They get it! It’s when you start mistaking a hot flash for a bout of passion that you may have something to be concerned about!

As for my children, they do still need me but on a different level. They still need to be loved, nurtured and guided. They encounter problems that they can’t face alone. I have come to really enjoy observing and being a part of their youthful journey of finding themselves and their path in life. I am often reminiscent when they share some of their experiences as it takes me back to a different place in time in my past and youth.

I am becoming content and at peace with myself and life. Even though I continue to work diligently on maintaining a healthy mind, body and spirit, the deepest beauty truly radiates from within.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Dana Sanders lives in Zim, MN.

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