How I Learned to Stop Fighting and Start Loving Midlife
I hate to break it to you, but those of us over 40 (or getting close) are officially in midlife. We mid-lifers hate to be predictable, and it’s common that we spend some time kicking and screaming before we admit to the midlife cliche.
To me the term ‘midlife crisis’ seems particularly male. It is the balding guy buying a red convertible and having an affair. It is man who leaves his family in a quest to recapture his youth. No, thank you.
Some of the information that can be found online about midlife crises in women is dated and simplistic. Sometimes it is just plain sexist. At best it just doesn’t resonate with my experience. One webpage that addresses the cost of a midlife crisis notes a common expense for women is breast augmentation. Really? Excuse me while I throw my laptop out the window.
Other articles assume a woman’s midlife crisis has to do with children leaving home, menopause, and biological changes. Sure, these are all big influencers in a woman’s life. But can we consider that women have desires and thoughts outside of their hormones and children?
I’m not in menopause and my kids are still at home and will be for a while. I have to admit I have wondered if some of my anxiety or malaise was due to peri-menopause. My doctor doesn’t think so. My hunch is that there are other factors at work here. We owe it to ourselves to take a deeper look, rather than dismissing our feelings as simply hormonal.
What does a midlife crisis look like? I just turned 43, and for the last few years I am at turns restless and frustrated or sad and reflective. I wonder if I’ve already bypassed the most productive years of my life. Is it all downhill from here? Have I missed my chance to impact the world? Is this all there is?
I have become more and more aware that something is missing. I feel an ache inside of dreams deferred crying out. I don’t exactly know what the voices want, but I’m called to listen to them. I’m realizing that so much of what I learned in the first half of my life has not been in my service. I need to let go of living by what others may think of me or feeling like I need to fit a particular mold.
I’ve often tried ignoring or pushing the feelings away, only to have them resurface with a vengeance, seemingly stronger for having been ignored. That approach clearly wasn’t working, so I’ve taken a different one.
The word ‘crisis’ indicates something difficult, dangerous, and undesirable. While not a cake walk by any measure, I believe that our midlife struggles are a time of rebirth; a reconciling of the social selves with our essential selves. It is taking off all of the masks we’ve learned to wear. These are the masks that have garnered praise, protected us from being hurt, or make us look totally fine and pulled together.
The term midlife awakening seems more fitting. An awakening welcomes a new way of being and liberates us from old, ill-fitting cliches.
I love my husband. I love my kids. They are my heart and foundation, but they can’t be my everything. I can’t simply live in response or anticipation of their needs. Though simple, it can be revolutionary to simply ask: Who am I? What do I want? What am I feeling?
I’m still navigating this awakening, but I have rediscovered wonder and simplicity. I’m letting go of ideas of being everything to everyone. I am saying ‘No’ more often. I’m reading a lot. I take the time to just sit and look at trees, and to tell myself that I deserve happiness. When the sadness comes, I sit with it, and ask “What are you here to tell me?”.
I have let go of rushing and am learning to live with a little more chaos. Seeking perfection is only going to bring anxiety and suffering. I find comfort in knowing I don’t have to find that perfect answer or solution. I will take missteps on this journey, but I am comforted just by knowing I am on it.
The greater fear for me is keeping the status quo, and never knowing or becoming my whole self. So I will continue, step by step, slowly uncovering and revealing my true self. As I walk, I become stronger and more at peace, able to be all the more true to myself and present with my loved ones.
"I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear: I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go. Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever. Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.''
- Brené Brown, The Midlife Unraveling
Want to know more? Check out The Happiness Curve.