Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number

age
The author, Sejal Sehmi

In an attempt to restart my post-lockdown health regime, for the fourth time this year, I pour myself a “moderate” portion of bran flakes, when I’m suddenly taken aback at the warning on the cereal box: “Best Before 26 09 21.”

There it is in black and white – my upcoming birthday.

For a split second, this unwelcome reminder that I’m about to turn another year older forces me to question what I could have achieved – personally and professionally – had COVID not put a halt to our lives over the last year and a half. It is evident that as the world slowly moves back to some form of normality, there now appears to be a race for everyone to play catch up on “lost’ time.

The vocals of late R & B singer Aaliyah playing in the background, both haunt and remind me that actually “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.” The sheer irony is, that not only last month 20 years ago, did the world lose this wonderful artist at the age of 22, but it is also the fact she was as old as me then. Yep – I’m about to turn 43 – single, living alone, and recently made redundant from my City job. HBO’s “Sex and the City” character, then-singleton Miranda, quoted that “43 is my scary age!” Scary, because unless she had a ring on her finger and 2.5 children in tow, the narrative for the Mirandas of the world of that age, places us as “past it” “fussy” or “too ambitious” – God forbid we would be able to face the big bad world alone at 43!

The nightmare that has been the COVID pandemic threw the entire world into turmoil, forcing isolation across the world. Though sadly, we lost many that were dear to us, remaining confined at home and cutting out regular social activities was a small price to pay to avoid becoming another mortality statistic. Yet, the moment there was a hint of freedom, social media began viciously spinning out so–called inspirational posts of how to regain back our daily rituals.

Quick fix diets, boot camp workouts to lose the “lockdown weight,” rapid dating advice, guidance to speed–tracking careers, and even hobbies, were dangerously drip-fed in every medium possible to make up for a year that apparently did not count in the real world. If the pandemic itself didn’t arouse anxiety among us, the end of the lockdown triggered an even more sense of lack of self-worth. No sooner were the rules of social distancing relaxed, get-togethers began to be organized in the dozens. Elated to be reunited with loved ones, I relished the comfort of a hug and the simple grip of a loving hand.

“But when are you going to get your life in order and find a man?”

And there it was – the pure lack of subtlety by those toxic voices who continue to undermine and overlook everything else a single woman has achieved, simply because of the absence on her ring finger. Whilst I have fought hard to shut that noise out, in my already deflated state, I heavyheartedly attempted to justify the difficulty in balancing job-hunting with dating during lockdown – a period that clearly seemed alien to certain people!

Yes, over the best part of 15 months, COVID took away many choices that would have encouraged new relationships. However, it’s also a fact that by November 2020 the British Office of National Statistics had reported a huge spike in domestic violence offenses, with Refuge, the organization fighting domestic violence, reporting at least a 65% increase in calls for help during U.K.’s first lockdown.

Women dependent on their abusive spouses for finance, medical aid or who face language barriers, told Women’s Aid that they struggle to raise their voices. Surely, the limited choices single women faced in lockdown to find Mr. Right is incomparable (if not self–indulgent) to the daily bruises, mental trauma that victims of abuse face, where choice does not exist in their daily vocabulary of life. I still have MY choice to live, many are struggling to exist.

The anxiety breeding from lockdown goes beyond personal relationships – job losses, financial struggles, business breakdowns, lives lost and not having an outlet to grieve outside the confinement of our four walls – traumas that are not bound by time in their resolutions, if in fact they can ever be resolved. With our country’s National Health Service brewing under pressure to prioritize a pandemic which was wiping out people in their thousands, while cancer patients and those suffering from long term illnesses eagerly await on the edge of their seats to be treated with precedence – a situation that has been so close to home, the weight of gratitude is immeasurable.

There is no quick fix solution to digest, resolve or comprehend the magnitude of what individuals have endured and equally survived over the last year and a half. This obsession to “fill in the gaps” of a period that many want to cancel out inadvertently adds layers of self–loathing lest we fail to race to an invisible finish line.

So what if we didn’t get the beach body by the end of lockdown – thanks to vaccinations, millions of our bodies are now at lower risks from the virus. So what if we are still single? Are we less capable of loving or being loved just because the search for a soul mate was on hold? Whilst millions are still mourning and struggling to live and survive another day, isn’t being among our family and friends whilst overcoming social apprehension, more valuable than a verified Hinge date? Why are we trying to compete within our inner selves? Is it COVID me vs post-COVID me??

In contrary to what Miranda of “Sex and the City” said, 43 is not my scary age. Pandemic or no pandemic, there will always be the odd god-awful attempts at insinuating that I’m “stuck” on the rungs of the ladder that leads to a fulfilled life in the eyes of others. That will never change. But I won’t deny that the last 15 months didn’t occur. They did. I flourished in my career, and then lost my job. I’ll find a new one!

I grieved the loss of my dear friend to COVID while in complete isolation, and celebrated his life. I aged, and I’m about to walk into the next birthday with nothing more than an extra few grey hairs I have failed to conceal – many are still fighting much bigger and life-changing battles. So, regardless of what that cereal box says, there is no “best before” date that can be scheduled for one’s self-worth and well-being.

For more articles on SEEMA.com to ease you through the pandemic, check out Life Hacks to Survive the Pain of the Pandemic