This Is 40

This Is 40

I recently hit the big 4-0. While many people are living more vibrant elder years than was once common, thanks to advancements in medicine, the “over the hill” theme for turning 40 has developed for a reason. For the average American, 40 years is still about half a lifetime. It’s also around the midpoint for most careers, depending on when one entered the workforce. For women, it’s a time of rapidly decreasing fertility. And for many people, the forties represent the early stages of physical decline.

A time of reflection

Recognizing all of this, the milestone of turning 40 has been a time of reflection for me. I’ve been thinking about where I am in my career, I’ve compared the expectations I had for my middle-aged life when I was young with the reality of where I am now, and I’ve thought a lot about what I hope to achieve in my next decade. It’s been a time of taking stock and setting goals.

It has also been a time of noting the physical reminders of my age. While my laugh lines (I will never call them “crow’s feet”) have been developing for years, since turning 40 I’ve looked a little longer in the mirror and realized that some lines on my face and body are now permanent fixtures, rather than momentarily appearing in certain expressions. Feeling like insult added to injury, my gynecologist sent me to my first mammogram (why couldn’t my first mammogram be at age 39 or 41?). And at my last visit to the ophthalmologist, required due to the risk the Plaquenil I’m on poses to one’s eyes, I was informed that I have the beginnings of a cataract. Yes, I have indeed hit middle age.

There are some physical downsides to being 40. However, while at this age many people begin to experience daily aches and pains for the first time in their lives, I am no stranger to the constant presence of pain in my body. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease (RA/RD) at the age of 22 after having symptoms for years, it’s been decades since I took physical vitality and health for granted.

I have good days and bad, but the unpredictability of the bad days is always a little caveat in the back of my brain. When I’m invited to do something physical (go for a bike ride or a hike) my response is along the lines of, “That sounds like so much fun. I definitely want to, but I will have to see how I’m feeling that day. Can we have a plan B in case my body isn’t up for it?” While many 40-year-olds are just starting to wrap their brains around the possibility of not being able to do everything they want to do, I’m well accustomed to it.

One could see that as sad, that my 20s and 30s had too much in common with middle age. While there are times that I do grieve the “might have beens” associated with having a painful, chronic condition, for the most part I am grateful for all that my body is able to do in my 40s in spite of contending with this challenging disease.

When I was a college student going through the diagnostic process to find what was causing my severe symptoms, an orthopedic surgeon said he thought I had Reiter’s syndrome. This is a form of reactive arthritis in which symptoms are triggered by an infection and then go away within a year. When he gave me that (mis)diagnosis, I felt crushed. “I’m going to have to feel this bad for a whole year?!” Now I look back and I shake my head with compassion and a smile at that naïve college girl who had no concept of time because she hadn’t lived long enough to develop one.

I’ve now done that year that seemed so insurmountable 18 times. My symptoms haven’t been as severe each day of these 18 years as they were before I started treatment for the disease, but hundreds of them have been. Yes, at the age of 40 I have already experienced hundreds upon hundreds of horribly painful days. And I’ve survived them and they have not broken me. I continue to live my life, develop new goals, make new friends, and try new experiences in spite of the inherent setbacks that RA/RD routinely causes.

In this way, making it to 40 and having lived longer with this disease than without it, my milestone birthday feels like a major accomplishment. In those years, I have learned so much. While I remain a constant work in progress, I’ve learned to self-advocate, to listen to my body and honor its needs, and to be kind to myself and feel less guilty. Reflecting on what I have gone through and where I am now, I am so much stronger than that college senior ever could have imagined.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (11)
  • rockcandi
    11 months ago

    Happy belated birthday Tamara! I it really did me good to read your perspective on aging with RA. My husbands 37th was today and this time I reflected on my life as well as his and our lives together. My birthday is 6 months away and 37 is approaching me quickly. Because I was diagnosed with JRA at age 6, this past (36th) birthday was time of serious retrospection. At the realization that I have been living with JRA for 30 years, two different perspectives abided in my mind. First, when the realization hit me I thought, 30 years of living with JRA and I’m only 36 years old, how unbelievably unfair and sad. But at the same time, I quickly thought about how much worse off I could be and could have been for all these years. I’ll write more of my story soon and to go into all the detail would take a long while. So I’ll point out the biggest wow-in-a-good-way detail. At the time of my diagnosis, my doctor told my mom that by the time I graduated high school I’d be crossing the stage in a wheelchair. I didn’t. I walked with the agility and ability of an 18 year old who had no chronic, ultimately debilitating disease! It’s true that my JRA seems to be progressing faster and harsher the last 8 years, but I’m still walking (most days) without the aid of a cane, walker, or wheelchair. Many happy returns! Thank you for the article!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    11 months ago

    Hey Rockcandi,

    Thanks so much for sharing a little about your decades with JRA and how it has impacted you! I do encourage you to submit a story if you feel so inclined: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/stories/.

    That is a wonderful high point of striding across the graduation stage when doctors said you’d be rolling. I wish doctors wouldn’t say those kind of things when it’s so hard to predict. My sister was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age 8 (and then with RA about 10 years ago), and one of her high school teachers told my mom she’s never graduate high school because she missed so much school. Not only did she graduate (on time!) but she successfully made it through college and vet school. Your story and hers highlight that others don’t know what the future will bring, nor can they measure the power of determination, hope, and perseverance. I’m so glad you proved those doctors wrong!

    I am sad to hear these last 8 years have been hard. Please feel free to comment here any time you need to vent or need validation – we get it and we are here for you.

    Thanks again for sharing – your perspective as someone who has persevered through so many years with JRA is inspiring.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Tamara

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    11 months ago

    That’s wonderful, Rockcandi! I look forward to reading more about your experience! Thanks for being in our community, Tamara

  • rockcandi
    11 months ago

    Thank you, Tamara for your encouraging and kind words and sharing some of your sister’s inspiring story. I shared a little of my story so far. I can’t remember what it’s titled right now and I don’t know how to share the link. Keep planning to share more and I will soon.

  • 2mra
    11 months ago

    I’m so glad that you had a double good time Tamara. You deserve it. I didn’t think to have a separate day with my friends near my birthday. Shucks!
    Oh well, we always had fun during our birthdays anyway and sometimes our friends were invited too. More presents!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    11 months ago

    Thanks! I appreciate it! And there’s always the next birthday to celebrate with friends – it may not be a round number, but still a special day. 🙂 Thanks for the well wishes, and sending you well wishes too, Tamara

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    11 months ago

    I was 60 on my last birthday, and will be 61 in June of this year. Personally, I have never had it so good. Yes my body is not as well, but my life is much better. So here’s to 60, 50 and yes 40. I hope when you are 41, you will say life is getting better, not just older.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    11 months ago

    Thanks so much for sharing your perspective, as it’s heartening to know that life can keep getting better in spite of age and RA. And a happy early birthday to you! Wishing you all the best, Tamara

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    11 months ago

    Thanks so much for the well wishes! Thanks also for sharing a bit about your own experience. As to how I celebrated my 40th, it was on a Sunday and the night before I had my husband take the kids away overnight while I had a party with all my lady friends, followed by a fun day with my hubby and kids the next day. It was wonderful and lots to be grateful for. 🙂 All the best, Tamara

  • Richard Faust moderator
    11 months ago

    Hi Tamara. Another sign of aging/maturity is being able to do the Sunday with the husband and kids after the night out with the friends. I think things like RA also teach that pacing a little earlier also. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • 2mra
    11 months ago

    ***HAPPY SUPER 40TH YEAR TAMARA***
    CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

    I enjoyed reading your article(it sounds familiar to me since I had my first symptoms at 24 ). How naive we were!

    “living more vibrant elder years” That sounds like a wonderful dream.

    BUT what did you do on your Special Day????

    I was thankfully in remission on my 40th and we not long before, had purchased the home that we live in now.

    I hope that you were feeling good and were able to enjoy yourself with your family.

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