There are words that we mostly accept go together; knife and fork, chicken and egg, midlife and crisis. The last is an example of the first suggestion that comes up on Google when you search the word midlife. But there’s more to midlife than a crisis, surely? That’s such a negative impression to give everybody and is so far removed from the realities of midlife that I see, both in myself and those around me. Granted I have had some difficult times over the last few years, but to focus purely on those is to miss the bigger picture. There is much that we all need support with during middle-age, particularly but not exclusively women, but I have been thinking how much more helpful it would be to consider this time as the ‘new age’ rather than the ‘middle – basically you’re past your best –age!’
I’ll give a little context to this thought. If you consider the different ages or stages of life, mine would look something like this. My teenage years were the ‘naïve but keen to find out more age.’ Perhaps I was more naïve or sheltered than other teenagers but it was the time of trying out fashions, listening to new bands, learning to drive, starting college, drinking with friends and going out with boys. We had the luxury then of finding part-time jobs with actual contracts which centred round weekend hours so that they did not interfere with studies in the week, and juggling both felt like a gradual easing into adulthood.
Next were my twenties and thirties – looking back I have concluded that these were my ‘have your cake and eat it years’. They were certainly busy times, but busy with the stuff of work and family home life. I was married at the age of 21, started my first teaching job and stepped onto the property ladder a year later, and had our children when I was 28 and 32. We were busy setting up home, and doing it all again when we moved. We were learning how to parent – well at least trying hard to make a good job of it, sometimes through trial and error, and hoping always to do the best we could for our children.
Then I moved into my forties, which was hailed as the great ‘life begins at 40’ stage. Well, life definitely began to make its mark, particularly in the latter part of this decade. It’s a time when I became more aware of the elastic band effect – both my husband and I being stretched thin by demands of our children and of our parents. There’s a sobering effect made when you realise that your parents are not invincible and are actually quite vulnerable and that you are supporting them in ways that they did for you in the past. My experience of my forties is of course coloured by losing my Dad, after a struggle with vascular dementia following a stroke. I understand that this experience will therefore not be mirrored by everyone, but I wonder if perhaps this decade was my ‘growing-up age.’
I am not entirely convinced though, by that I mean that I don’t know if I feel like an adult. As a child, I always saw adults as the ones with all the answers. If you needed help, you asked an adult because you expected that they would know what to do. As an adult, I kept waiting for this mystical day when I would wake up feeling like a wise and responsible adult who knew the answers and felt in charge and capable of dealing with whatever came along. Well that hasn’t happened yet, and that brings me nicely to the age I am in now. My fifties. Over the hill, you ask? Sat on a sofa, feeling sorry for myself and my menopausal symptoms, stuffing chocolates and sliding towards grey-haired oblivion? Emphatically, no!
This is my ‘new age’ – remember? There may be a heap of unpleasant aspects of aging and transitioning through menopause, but all processes of change are scary when they are unknown. I can certainly say that most of my difficult times, my ‘crisis’ times if we have to use that word, were born out of not knowing what was going on. I hurtled towards midlife with little idea of what to expect, thinking my periods would just stop one day and I might feel a bit hot from time to time.
Now that I have joined the ‘secret club’ of women and found others willing to acknowledge and talk about what is happening to them, I at least face any developments with a little knowledge. And as we all know, a little knowledge is a powerful tool. This and the support of knowing it’s good to break the taboo and talk to others to share what is happening, have changed my whole perception of what this midlife thing is all about.
I hit my fifties head on. I lost some weight, took control of my life by putting my mental health first and I focused on writing – the hitherto pipedream that I was saving for a rainy day. I left my 27 year teaching career, after much soul searching, and treated writing as my job. Learning about writing, editing, self-publishing, and promoting my work, maintaining an author website and so much more. A steep learning curve but also a journey of personal development. I learnt new skills and I expressed myself in new ways, putting my thoughts and feelings on paper. Heading towards my 52nd birthday, I have published two books, continue to write blog posts and am now working on a piece of historical fiction. But it’s not all about me.
These aspects have been part of my ‘new age.’ Sharing my thoughts via my blog and with friends, it is clear that it is wider than that. It is a time when we can think differently, learn to say no to things sometimes without worrying that we might offend someone, we can use our creativity to enrich our lives and we can rediscover ourselves beyond the roles we play as partner, mother, work colleague and so on. Friends I know have started new jobs, taken up new hobbies or sports, had their first holiday without their kids, slowly developed a new perspective on life and do not recognise the accepted narrative being told of midlife women sipping tea, wearing slacks and going grey gracefully. We might want to be graceful and serene some days, on others we may want to be totally disgraceful – grab a pink hair dye, eat the largest slice of cake or dance in the rain. Whatever we want to do and whatever we are doing, it is our time of reawakening.
I have heard the term ‘menovist’ and maybe I have become one, shouting the cause for middle-aged women everywhere but mostly, I am trying hard to accept that I am just being me and that just being me, is enough.