ageing

The Benefits of Being Alone

What living and travelling on my own has taught me

On the beach in Portugal as a participant in  a Heal The Healers retreat in January 2019 - thanks to  Casa Fuzetta

On the beach in Portugal as a participant in a Heal The Healers retreat in January 2019 - thanks to Casa Fuzetta

For the very first time in my life, I’m home alone.

After years of ‘boomeranging’ my adult sons have gone and a couple of months ago, my youngest moved out. She and her boyfriend got their own place, albeit only 30 minutes up the road. For 53 years I’ve cooked, washed, cleaned and looked after other people and absolutely loved it. It’s been noisy, chaotic, exhilarating, terrifying, challenging but almost always, very rewarding. I’ve been a lover, a mother and a carer and before that, I was a 17-year-old daughter living at home with two parents, three younger siblings – and a dog. Now the only beating heart in my home is my own and every room in my three-bed, two-bathroom flat is just for me.

I expected to feel lonely when everyone finally left and took most of their things. I expected to feel sad and yes, initially all the clichés of the ‘one pint of milk and a small, festering loaf of bread’, judgemental stares from the empty mega fridge-freezer, family-sized dishwasher and large-capacity washing machine were true. But bizarrely, I feel 30 years younger and ten feet taller.

The other night, stressing out about not falling asleep as quickly as I wanted, a voice whispered in my ear, ‘Your job is done.’  Freaked out, I changed track in my head and concentrated on my breath and hit back into the mindfulness meditation techniques on which I can always rely. The next morning I realised what that was all about. Yes, my job is done in so many ways. My three kids are happy in their own homes and achieving amazing things professionally, but finally being alone has shone a light on what I have achieved, especially in the last 20 years since my husband died. It has given me space to recognise my own strengths – holding the family together, supporting them emotionally (and sometimes financially) and using my experience and skills to start a new career that I love, empowering others by writing down my life and encouraging everyone to do the same.

Also, maybe I have relied too much, for too long on my children’s company. If ever there has been a film to see, an exhibition to visit, a new travel adventure to plan my first thought has always been, ‘Would Jamie, Will or Lu like to do that with me?’ I have been enormously lucky that a lot of the time, they have said yes. But, it’s time I finally let go and moved on. Found out who I really am and what I want to do for the next maybe 30 years of my life. And lately I’ve discovered that it IS possible to make fabulous new friends when you’re older, you just have to travel more on your own!

2019 lies ahead and I welcome it with open arms. I have no ailing parents to care for, no partner to accommodate, no grandchildren (yet), no health issues that I’m aware of, no car, no mortgage – and no dog. For the very first time in my life I have no dependants, apart from an ever-increasing army of spider plants. The only person I have to look after is myself. What I have always dreaded has turned out to be a true liberation.

            A recent report in the UK press stated that, according to the Resolution Foundation report, we are happiest in our lives at 16 and 70. That we are happier, more satisfied and feel a greater sense of self-worth in our earlier years – and again as we approach older age.

I’m 70 in September. Bring it on! 

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Why Spending Time and Money on Yourself is Essential

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Often,  the responses I get from writers on my workshops or retreats are, ‘This feels such a treat, such an indulgence, having time to myself, being given permission to write.’

In these frantic, challenging and guilt-inducing times when we can feel powerless to affect the bigger picture, nurturing our bodies and feeding our minds is even more important. And writing it down, bearing witness, leaving a written record on paper for future generations to read, handle, hold and treasure is a duty. Not an indulgence, far, far from it. It replenishes our self-belief and self-esteem, as much as it informs and encourages others. Remember John Aubrey, the 'father of lifewriting' and his insistence of 'writing down the minutiae of life'. All our lives matter, not just those of celebrities, politicians or cultural heroes.

This is a piece that I wrote recently  for Alyson Walsh’s blog That’s Not My Age, for older women with style. I hope to meet many of you on my writing retreats in Spain at Finca Buenvino this summer, writing down your lives and enjoying a whole week of indulgence! 

I’m at my favourite hairdresser’s, in charity-shop top and jeans, spending a ridiculous amount on a cut and colour. The guaranteed boost to my fragile self-confidence will be well worth it. Tomorrow I will pay to have my toe nails painted, even though my bathroom needs re-grouting and the tap has a terrible drip. My saloneyebrow maintenance ritual is a non-negotiable expense, I love the therapist’s gentle attention. Last night I booked a three-week runaway to Crete in August, after weeping buckets at the Charmed Life in Greece free exhibition at the British Museum about the friendships between writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and artists John Craxton and Niko Ghika. God knows how I’ll pay for the care home now. What I once believed were indulgences have become essential mental maintenance.

My kitchen blind is held up with drawing pins and I really must paint my bedroom walls but tell me to invest in a new kitchen bin and I glaze over and buy another novel. I’ve been to the cinema more times in the past month than in the past year and my addiction to Eventbrite is causing concern. My membership of the Tate costs a bomb but visits are intellectually invigorating. So many places to go, people to see, lessons to learn.

Is it my age that is causing me to fast-track through life, sucking up sensual experiences, ignoring practical concerns? Is it the global political uncertainties? Fear of impending climate melt-down? Or is it the realisation, at 68, that it is not selfish to nurture myself? That feeding my brain, my creativity and my self-esteem may pay dividends in the fight against dementia, helps me in my work and in my relationships? Yes, I must attend to the mundane, pay the direct debits and remember to eat more fruit and veg but worrying about the what-ifs in five, 10 or 15 years hence seems a pointless exercise if I don’t cherish myself today.