A friend and I spoke yesterday about feeling we are “growing into ourselves” as women in our 40’s.
I’m growing out the brown dyed and highlighted hair I have had for almost twenty years. Each month my cropped hair is revealing more of its natural silver beauty, there are almost pale Ceylon blue sapphire tones in certain lights. Almost every day my husband says how beautiful it is… and I believe him.
Did you know there’s a whole online community out there of younger women documenting their journeys to liberate their natural hair colour via hashtags such as #silversisters and #greyhairdontcare? I feel part of a sisterhood unshackling themselves from beauty standards defined by a fear of ageing.
There’s nothing I love more than the deeply wrinkled, wind-swept skin of fellow wild swimmers who are older than me. Sitting on the beach in a soaking wet blue bra and black knickers after an impromptu swim at Ladram Bay, I watched with fondness as a group of 3 swimmers who could have been in their 70’s or 80’s donned their costumes, swim caps, beach shoes and plunged into the water. You can be a wild woman at any age.
I’ve been thinking about this blog for a long time and wanted to honour wild women in my life by telling you some short stories. I’ve changed the names to respect privacy but am so incredibly grateful for these women and the parts they have played in my becoming. I’ll be writing a series of blogs celebrating two friends each time.
Ainoa is a surfer, a runner, a mountain biker. She combines strength and tenderness in a way I’ve never encountered in any other person. We met at University and have been friends ever since. Intelligent and curious, she enables the most far-reaching conversations and is deeply interested in how and why the naive Christianity of my University days is metamorphosing into a different kind of spirituality.
We have swum in the moonlight, drunk homemade elderflower champagne by the fire-pit and she’s sat in my kitchen helping me rethink my overwhelming desire to take an overdose.
She told me recently that we had walked in a woodland together when I was receiving ECT treatment for psychotic depression after Little One was born. She remembers me asking her over and over again whether I was dead. Either ECT or just the darkness of that time has completely erased the memory of anyone other than my family having seen me at this lowest ebb.
Knowing that this friend has entered the deepest sorrow as well as surfing, drinking and dancing with me in some of the most joyful times of my life makes me love her even more.
Lydia is a nurse, a mother, a Cuban dancer. We first met when I was a patient in psychiatric hospital running up and down corridors in elation and trying to escape down the phone lines. She was a nurse and also had a daughter. I remember very little of our first encounter in each other’s lives except a deep human connection. I have a faint sense of her sitting close to me on a blue wipe-down hospital sofa and asking me about my baby.
Five years later I looked at a beautiful and strangely familiar face in the chocolate aisle at Waitrose supermarket. I had newborn Little One in the trolley and was browsing with my parents. Such was the sense of connection that I started up a conversation about the Monty Bojangles chocolates! I was curious about my feeling of recognition and asked Lydia if we had perhaps worked together. She told me she had nursed me in those early days of postpartum psychosis after Eldest was born.
Eight years after we first met, I walked into the office of Exeter Mother & Baby Unit for my first day as an NHS employee. Lydia gave me the biggest hug and we shared our excitement and amazement at being able to work together in the same team. Since becoming colleagues we have deepened our friendship and discovered many more ways in which our stories have interwoven with each other’s. We have eaten mezze and celebrated new beginnings at an art gallery.
Lydia will always be precious to me because she has celebrated every victory, championed me as a colleague and she’s an inspirational model of how to bring your whole self to work. Oh, and she makes the best chocolate courgette cake you have ever tasted.