‘Growing old isn’t for the faint-hearted,” my 88-year-old mother likes to say. Neither is acquiescing into middle age.
Obviously, you’re not old-old, but nor are you a spring chicken. Which is fine, provided you don’t still want to act like one.
They warn you about the perimenopause, of course, but they don’t warn you about the cancer scares. Breast. Bowel. Ovarian. Cervical. In midlife, it seems that someone is always going through one of them. Or even some of them. So while you expect, as a woman, to wake up randomly at 5am, what is less anticipated is that you’ll spend the next two hours silently compiling the playlist for your funeral, convinced that this time, the test results are going to be bad.
After recently going through my own health scare and mercifully being given the all-clear, I was determined to seize the day and say “yes” to everything. Which is how I found myself at a roller disco, looping around in circles with Dr Dre, Usher, Mary J Blige, Laura Bailey and Liberty Ross. Model Ross, 44, has resurrected Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace, the legendary roller rink her father Ian first opened in Los Angeles in the late 1970s, and the guest list for the London opening party was as starry as Flipper’s original clientele. In the 1970s, you’d see Jane Fonda, Elton John and Cher scooting round the rink. Happy as I’m sure these octogenarians and septuagenarians are about its revival, no one would blame them for sitting this one out. In trainers.
Which is possibly what I should have done, for it’s fair to say that I was one of the older people on the rink. But as a fairly competent skater, I felt as confident in my ability to stay upright as the next person. Even if the next person was half my age.
I would love to say I broke my arm executing a triple-axel jump, but the truth is more prosaic. I broke it coming off the rink, gingerly shuffling to the lockers to retrieve my trainers. Someone jostled me from behind: my legs flew out in front of me and I landed on my bum, both arms outstretched behind me in a doomed attempt to cushion the fall. It was more embarrassing than painful. The pain came later. Only when I woke up the next morning did it occur to me that I might have something worse than a strain: I couldn’t straighten my left arm, sleep on it or even move it much. My elbow was swollen and bruised. Should I go to A&E? I weighed up the pain of my arm versus the pain of a six-hour wait. The arm won.
Two hours later – God bless the NHS – an X-ray had confirmed the break. The doctor was wonderful, as doctors are. Not once did he make me feel like a numpty for having broken it while roller skating. “If you’re going to break your arm, it’s a good break to have,” he said. “I’ve done it myself. Twice.” I asked him whether my age had been the cause. “Oh no,” he assured me. “This is a very common fracture in young people. With a fall like yours, older people would tend to find their wrist more impacted than their elbow.”
While it would be overstating things to say that I left A&E feeling elated, I did feel mollified. “I have a young person’s fracture,” I smiled to myself. “My face may be showing the ravages of time, but at least my bones are still youthful.”
Obviously, it’s a giant pain in the arse to have your arm confined to a municipal blue NHS sling during party season, but I’m trying to see the bright side. My usual festive rituals of getting drunk, wearing heels, ice skating at Somerset House and rollercoasting at Winter Wonderland might be out of the question, but at least I have a new anecdote to recount at parties. It turns out that the midlife injury club (party division) is bigger than you might imagine. One 40-something friend split her lip after someone enthusiastically thrust a microphone at her during a karaoke session. Another broke her finger going down the steps to a nightclub in her new high heels.
Do I feel embarrassed when people ask how I broke my arm? Only when they make me feel as though I ought to be. But why ought I to be? It was only after breaking it that I became aware that bone density starts declining from your mid-30s, and that fluctuating hormone levels can lead to osteoporosis, a condition related to oestrogen deficiency. I didn’t have a clue that more than 200 million women are estimated to have osteoporosis worldwide, or that after the age of 50, one in two women will break a bone, compared with one in five men. So no: I don’t feel embarrassed about having gone roller skating. But I do feel a bit embarrassed by my ignorance about my own bones.
Not to the point that I plan to spend the rest of my days shuffling around in orthopaedic shoes, though. Of course I’ll be on wheels, heels and blades again. But I’ll also add “bone health” to the ever-increasing list of conditions of which I need to be mindful. I don’t believe women should allow their age to preclude them from doing anything they want to do. In this, as in everything, we should be guided not by societal expectations, but by our own instincts and common sense. It’s far healthier to forget about your age than to obsess about it. Next time, however, I’ll be less likely to, um, skate over the consequences of a fall.