I remember watching a Sex and the City episode in my early 30s when I was up late one night nursing my twins. Samantha talked about how liberating her forties were when she had everything she ever wanted in life—a fulfilling career, confidence, money, great sex, and amazing friends.

And although I didn’t desire to mimic her sexual exploits, she made the rest of it sound pretty good.

As my forties approached, I watched friends who hit this significant milestone before me complete marathons or lose thirty pounds. Some started new careers or took once-in-a-lifetime vacations. They made it sound fantastic.

Since my thirties were consumed with pregnancies, nursing, and chasing after toddlers, as forty drew near, I almost looked forward to what this decade would deliver. I loved raising my kids, but I was ready to focus on me a bit more.

Then a dear friend passed away from non-smoking related lung cancer a month before my 40th birthday. There was nothing fabulous about that.

And as I approach the half-way mark of this decade, I can easily say my forties have not been kind to me.

My forties handed me a freak illness that destroyed my vision and my psyche. It has been filled with loss of friends and family I miss each day.

It challenged my marriage and parenting and everything I feel confident about in this life.

It contained broken bones, broken relationships, and broken spirits.

I am not the only one who feels this way. My friends share their grief over divorces, personal losses, and the constant agony of being torn in half from caring for aging loved ones while raising active kids.

I fought these painful emotions for the past five years, restricted their flow. I felt guilty for not feeling more gratitude for the beautiful people and goodness in my life.

And as I struggled with suppressing these emotions, I numbed them all, reducing the impact of the aches in my heart while also diminishing the joy.

I was in the prime of my life, but never have I felt more un-fabulous.

Never have I weighed so much, felt so flabby or been so out of shape.

Never have I possessed a level of uncertainty in parenting as I do raising my three teens/tweens.

Never have I tried so hard to keep it all together, yet failed at something each and every day.

But despite all the pain and demands and tests that my forties have thrown at me, well, I am also the happiest I’ve ever been.

My loved ones still face health challenges, I struggle with finding a work-life balance that fits my family, my relationships wobble, and I must squash feelings of guilt and insecurity and inadequacy all the time.

But finally in my forties, I learned how to say no — to requests that pull at my heartstrings, to events I have no interest, and sometimes even to friends and family—so I can regain some control of my life.

Finally I learned to let things go—like people who are mean-spirited, who don’t want to help, who put others down—and realized those things are not about me. Sometimes I engage, sometimes I walk away. Both are okay, and neither is wrong.

Finally, I learned to quiet my mind and focus on what’s in front of me—like my daughters and husband, my passions, and my future. Contentment is a beautiful thing.

Finally, I let go of the events that happened to me—and for the first time in my forties, they do not define me. They are simply a part of my story. I learned that pain is a part of life, and to deny it, to dismiss it, to blame it—that is to reject life, and happiness, itself.

And finally, I realized that which does not kill you doesn’t always have to make you stronger, and you don’t have to be grateful or learn from it. Sometimes getting through something difficult is enough.

My forties, well, they have not been fabulous.

I often run late, my pants are too tight, my friend who has cancer is not improving, the world is still mad, and my broken bones and spirit are still healing.

But with all those things I learned to sink in—and hold onto—the fabulous moments.

And I choose to be happy about that. Because I simply decided it was time to be happy again.

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But despite all the pain and demands and tests that my forties have thrown at me, well, I am also the happiest I’ve ever been.

Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a communications consultant, and blogger. She tries to dispel the myth of being a typical suburban mom although she is often driving her minivan to soccer practices and attending PTA meetings. She writes about parenting, relationships, and w(h)ine on her blog Playdates on Fridays.