What A Female Mid-Life Crisis Looks Like

mid life 2

 

Working women experience a different mid-life crisis than men. -Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D.

As I explore this question of the female mid-life transition I have attempted to consider all possible scenarios. Of course, being human I often find myself drawn to those friends in similar circumstances. Specifically, the woman who is educated, career oriented and actively balancing the needs of the family with the demands of advancing in her chosen profession. I have also searched for meaning and guidance in literature where I have found a variety of definitions in numerous books, articles, blogs and musings. Each of these poignant and well meaning interpretations often center around the loss of purpose a woman experiences as children launch into the world. But, I personally know of many talented, intelligent, strong, amazing women who chose to focus on their careers and to remain childless, and they are not immune to this phase of questioning at this point in their lives. Conversely, I have rarely seen writings about the male mid-life crisis where child rearing is the main topic of angst. Of course, for many men the family is a tremendous concern for them but the main question they wrestle with is what do to with their careers, should they retire, or change avocation and the sterotypiccal dealing with the inevitable loss of youth (is this all there is?). It is not often that I come across an article that specifically focuses on the women, whether they have had children or not, addressing the question of “what’s next?” with respect to their lives and careers. In What a female mid-life crisis looks like, by Marcia Reynolds Psy.D., she says,

These women have not faced a crisis, but they are facing a mid-life quest for identity.

Reynolds postulates that for the educated, goal oriented woman, this is a particularly difficult time as one tries to first define greatness and then searches to achieve it. Woman are not interested in reclaiming their lost youth, but fear missing out on what they could have accomplished with the time they have left. This resonated for me as I know many women who want to use this next act for more than just the job, being the mom or care giver for those around her.

Most importantly, Reynolds provides the reader with permission. Permission to have these feelings, permission to explore these questions and permission to spend the time and energy on finding what is right for you.

Above all, don’t let people tell you that you have no right to be unhappy with your life.

Funny how a man never worries about this, only women feel guilty for putting their needs above others, for taking time to consider what is best for themselves. Men instinctually believe they have the right to self preservation, yet a woman has to be reminded that she too is worthy of self reflection, respect and consideration.

mid life image

Advertisements

I thought I was waving, a year in retrospect.

waving

There is no hesitation for me when I say that 2016 has been the worst year of my life. It started out excruciatingly painful and by April, I just wanted it over. I thought it could not get worse, until it did in June. Any recovery I had scratched out for myself to that point was smothered in a new round of despair. I found myself slipping under the surface time and time again, hoping that the decisions I was making were the best for my future and my self-preservation. I have never felt so alone, so sad and so invisible.

Slowly, so slowly, I have been moving forward and trying to find solid footing on this shaky, unstable ground. In the course of re-establishing my life I have been reading. Books, poems, song lyrics, really anything and everything that may, in any way, connect me to some sort of idea on how to proceed from this darkened space. In this massive literary consumption I came across a poem that truly spoke to me.

Not Waving, but Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life

And not waving but drowning.

-Stevie Smith

I began to research Stevie Smith and learned that this was her most famous poem, and I can understand why. Smith’s words perfectly captured my feelings of obscurity. That I was as far out to sea as one could get, yet no one saw my signal for help. I had become irrelevant in my own world. And I cried, but there was no one to see my tears. I hid them like I always do because I don’t want to upset my family.

The truth is that I pretended that I was waving, not drowning. And, it was not just this past year that has been the root of all my pain and problems. When I really started being honest with myself, and looking at the pattern of my behavior, I realized that I have been drowning for several years. I told my family and friends that I was waving the entire time but the reality was that I had been drifting further and further from shore. I had not been happy for some time and was trying desperately to figure out how to fix myself without inconveniencing my husband and children. This mid life quandary is impossible to navigate alone, but that is me, and how I deal with everything, on my own. It took the ensnarement of this massive rip tide of the last 12 months for me to finally ask for help. I had to realize that my friends and family want to help and we both gain from that exchange. I have been trying to change these engrained behaviors of mine for the last few months. It’s very hard for me because this often requires me to think of myself as a priority, and I am not wired that way. When I have managed to remember to include others and let them into my personal space, it has worked well and I feel better, prideful even that I acted against my nature and let others know what I am feeling and thinking.

The last two months have found me in a better place than back in June. I have started this blog and connected with many interesting people, which I hope will continue to grow. My husband and I are more connected today than we have been in several years. We are spending more time together exercising, traveling and laughing. I have been able to find the gratitude in the small things that one takes for granted in a long term relationship. If you think that is easy, wait until you have been together for three decades to render that judgment!

So, as I end this ugly, unpleasant year I want to start fresh in 2017. I can’t control how other people act, but I can control how I respond. I will…

-Stop putting my needs last

-Ask for help when needed

-Not be the last priority in my relationships

-Have my own back

-Continue to exercise for stress management and fun

-Remember that I deserve happiness too

-Travel more!

And to start a regular gratitude segment for my blog to remind myself how good I have it, how lucky I am and how great things may be in the future.

a-year-ago

Happy New Year!

Exploring Your Second Adulthood

book-review

Suzanne Braun Levine’s “Inventing the rest of our lives” was first printed in 2006 and, while is it over a decade old now, I found the material to be fresh, helpful and well beyond the standard list of what ails the average mid-lifer. Most of the literature I have read to date addresses the common issues faced by both men and women. There is no shortage of men out there that are struggling, mightily, with this transition, to be sure. But men and women are approaching this quagmire from decidedly different viewpoints. Men tend to wonder about what is best for them and turn their focus inward while women worry about how their spouse and children will be affected by their new path. We are wives and mothers first, and individuals second. If we are caring for elderly parents or good friends, we may not even rate that high on our own list of priorities.

This work is organized into three sections. The first, Getting to What Matters; Letting Go and Saying No, is an acknowledgment of the changes that have taken place. Whether those changes involve children growing up, a divorce, failing health, menopause or just the recognition that one is unsettled about the future, the point is to embrace that something needs to change. Levine offers the reader the opportunity to identify the change and then offers permission to the reader to navigate the path toward that end. Why do women need permission to seek what they need or want but a man innately believes he is entitled to happiness? No one tells a man he deserves to be happy-he just decides it is so and sets out to acquire it, be it a new job, new car or a new wife!

Levine defines the “fertile void” as the period of time in a woman’s life when she knows something needs to change. The imputes is different for everyone but the end result is the stirring and inner voice that propels her to begin to ask “is this all there is?” This marks the opportunity to begin her second adulthood. In the second section, Finding Out What Works: Recalibrating Your Life, the reader is urged to look at those areas of her life that are enjoyable and affirming and to consider changing those components that are no longer working for her. That may mean reevaluating a career, toxic friendships or an unhappy marriage. Confronting these larger than life topics in your fifties can be riddled with anxiety and fear. Many women still have the “bag lady” syndrome, as described in this and many other writings in similarly themed literature. It may be 2016 but the fear of being alone and unable to take care of oneself is still engrained in most women today.

The author moves into section three, Moving On to What’s Next: Making Peace and Taking Charge and offers the simple, but powerful discussion, about recognizing what you can and cannot change. She ends the book with hope and the acknowledgment that this is an ongoing process. The women whose stories have been shared are not resolved by the end of the text, because they are not who they were before, only older. They are coming into their new selves as stronger, more self-aware individuals. Levine is open and honest about her own path and struggles in each area of the book and I found her candor relatable. I recommend this work to any woman who is searching for a book that will speak to her specific concerns and not just in generalities.

Two Books and an Article

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

ms-magazine

This image, which appeared on the cover of the first issue of Ms. Magazine in December 1971, is still quite accurate despite the 46-year age gap. Of course, some of the pictures could be updated. The typewriter might be a MacBook Air 2, and the rotary phone would probably by an iphone7, but the fundamental thesis put forth in Jane O’Reilly’s “The Housewife’s Moment of Truth” is still relevant and continues to build on the revolutionary themes presented almost 50 years prior. Women in the workforce today still do not have equal pay for equal work. Oh, it is better sure, but not equal. Modern husbands are far more involved in taking care of the children and helping with housework then their fathers or grandfathers. But, do you know any women who would not appreciate more help? We females do not ask for help as much as we should, I am the poster woman for this trait!

To read Jane O’Reilly’s full article from 1971, click here

In my quest for answers to the great mid life questions I have done what I always do, read a lot of books. Some have been tremendously helpful and others have missed (my) mark entirely. I am sure that others would find the publications that I have not connected with as invaluable. Which is what is so great about our literary offerings, there is, literally, something for everyone. I would like to share two books that my husband and I have found quite valuable in our search for “what’s next?”

my-book

Author, Dr. Tina B. Tessina, has several publications targeting women’s issues and providing marital advice. In “The ten Smartest Decisions A Woman Can Make After forty,” she chronicles case studies from real women who are at a variety of life stages. There will be several stories that most women will be able to relate to in their present state and can easily empathize with as they move forward. The book is a bit of a checklist, encouraging the reader to take stock of where they are currently strong and identifying areas that one may need to bolster. Tessina encourages journaling, like many other self-help publications, as a means of assessing those areas that may need tending, such as finances and personal friendships. Personally, I found this to be a great guide in asking pertinent questions and exploring avenues to secure a strong foundation moving forward in general. However, I did not find the focus of this book to be as helpful in the overarching question of “what’s next?” I would recommend this publication to women who are approaching mid life, even if they feel secure in their present marital status, or employment, because you never know when that status could change and that change is usually emotional and can be quite traumatic. It would be best to have these points addressed before you need them! Invest in your own security, how can that be a bad thing! You are worth the time!

his-book

This book is a recommendation from my husband. Stephen Cope takes a more spiritual approach in “The Great Work of Your Life.” He explains the concept of Dharma, which is akin to a calling of sorts. One does not choose his or her Dharma but rather it is what you are meant to do. Cope profiles individuals, both famous and the everyday man, to illustrate how one comes to the understanding that when you release the bindings of traditionally measured success, and achieving specific goals, you will find joy in the mastery process. Personal fulfillment is attained through the joy of the process. Essentially if you do what you are truly meant to, not what you define as success through the eyes of others, you will be actualized. The trick here, of course, is to identify your Dharma and embrace it fully. One must make decisions and/or take risks to align your life with your Dharma. Cope believes that it is better to fail at your Dharma then to be successful in a less fulfilling role. Cope draws his lessons from the Bhavagad Gita, if you are familiar with that work you know that indecision can be paralyzing. I think that is a great metaphor when looking at the “What’s next?” question that stops many of us from moving forward in any meaningful way.

I hope these reviews have been helpful and I will be posting more as I am currently reading several other publications on these topics.

Why Start a Blog Now?

My story is not unique or new, I am just like every other woman who made choices her whole life, worked hard, always with the future in mind, who wakes up one day to find that she is officially middle aged. I knew it was coming. My kids were finishing high school and entering college and my career had been put on hold to help them with the transition. I knew when I resigned my tenure at the college that I would be isolating myself a bit, but I thought when the kids get settled I would just pick back up where I had left off. I didn’t count on the possibility that I would question my passion for teaching and would start the long process of asking myself “what’s next”? This would mark the beginning of the next five years of soul searching, contemplation and waiting……so much waiting.

At this point, I didn’t know that I was in a mid life crisis, because you have to be at mid life for that, right? I was over 40, just like all the other women I knew at the time and most of us were asking these same questions as our families, and purpose, was growing more independent.   It was actually great at the start. I had more time for working out, gardening and experimenting in the kitchen, all activities I enjoy. But over time I found that I wanted more: more human interaction, more purpose and more experiences. I decided to enter a culinary program to see if that industry held any future appeal. I really enjoyed cooking, baking and working in a commercial kitchen and met some great friends that I still see when we can get our schedules to align. However, the thought of “proving myself” all over again in a new field was overwhelming and I knew that I did not want to work the restaurant hours required for success in the hospitality industry. While I was wrestling with these major life adjustments, my husband was entering his mid life crisis and where my crisis was a quiet, internal struggle, his was a category 5 tornado that ripped apart the trailer park. Any woman who has dealt with a man in crisis knows how self absorbed and all consuming his world becomes. There was no room for my problems or concerns at that time, and how could I figure out what I wanted until he decided if he would retire? He spoke of moving to another country, changing jobs, retiring and traveling the world….and so on, and so on. So, I waited some more. I know how hard this question is and that there is no quick answer and I wanted to be supportive and give him the space and time to work this all out. That was three years ago and he has yet to pull the trigger on any clear decision, and I am tired of waiting.

This blog is an account of how I continue to cope with both of our mid life issues and where I find an outlet for those times when I am overwhelmed and feel weighed down by the enormity of these difficult problems. I have found that exercise has been critical for my mental and spiritual health. I have always enjoyed physical activity but at this point in my life, I have really come to understand the benefits of regular workouts.  I signed up to train for a half marathon on a whim, and have finished two this year, I have started rock climbing (indoor and outdoor) and find that both of these challenge me and evoke a sense of pride upon completion. Pride in myself has not always been easy to find, so I have a new appreciation for it now that I am older. Another area that I find myself gravitating toward is time in the kitchen, cooking and baking are fantastic creative outlets for me.  I find it calming to work in the kitchen and really enjoy challenging myself with difficult or new recipes. Gardening is another way for me to relax, create and connect with the outdoors and I have spent considerable time and effort building structures, experimenting with different plantings and weeding (so much weeding!). And, like so many others, I love to travel and explore new areas and cultures as often as possible.

It is my hope that I will be able to connect with others to share ideas, stories and life lessons and, maybe, provide some support to those of you who are also in this interesting phase of life.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase”                              -Dr. Martin Luther King