How do I even know whether I’m having a female midlife crisis?
Some months back I received a call from a journalist from the Irish Times who was writing an article on the female midlife crisis. Although I felt flattered to be interviewed, I wasn’t quite sure whether I was an expert in this whole midlife malarky and wondered whether I wanted my name associated with having a crisis or being in the middle of my life.
I have ended up asking myself a whole host of questions. Does that mean that at the age of 46 (and three quarters) I’m officially middle aged? What exactly is the mid-life crisis? Am I having one and why is it called a crisis?
All the changes
I suppose I don’t need to be an expert to have an opinion on my own life though. In fact, of all the people in the world, maybe I am the most familiar with what it’s like to be me?
Or perhaps not? Do I really know who I am as I appear to be different to what I used to be. It seems that doubting yourself or reevaluating your identity also comes with the territory that we women in our forties inhabit.
If you look up the meaning of the word crisis, it refers to danger or difficulty, even change.
I don’t think I am going through a crisis from the danger point of view but I have certainly noticed plenty of changes in my body, emotions and even in what I prioritise in my life. Some of these have been difficult processes. Maybe I am going through a crisis and I don’t even realise it?? HELP!
Speaking to my husband, who is a psychologist, apparently it’s very normal to go through a shift in your perspective when you reach this age. suddenly you get to the point where you look back on your life and ask questions like, “What have I achieved?” and “What gives my life meaning?”
These questions often precipitate irrational behaviour. Men tend to do crazy stuff like buy expensive cars, boats or have affairs.
Women take up new hobbies. (I talk about why this is a good thing further down below).
Is it a crisis or is it a motivator?
There is much written about the mid-life crisis and more recently about the female midlife crisis but the big question I feel is whether it is actually a crisis at all? Isn’t it simply a re-evaluation, a transition and a quest for change? Change isn’t necessarily a crisis, although I get that sometimes, going through the changes can be distressing.
Have you heard of the ‘tyranny of positivity’? This is a mindset that encourages you to always try and look on the bright side without addressing the issues that are bad and causing distress. The key is allowing yourself to acknowledge those issues, to confront them and even allow yourself to be upset by them.
Then the next step it to try and focus on what can be done rather on the things that you have no control over.
Last week I received another email, this time from Louise O’Neill, Irish author of Almost Love and Asking For It who is doing research for a character in her latest novel on what it’s like to be a woman in her forties.
Louise asked me some questions that fell along some of those lines and I have decided to share a selection of my answers with you below. In thinking about her questions and coming up with answers I realised how many changes I have noticed in myself. Plenty of these changes are physical but more importantly, some of them are mental and emotional.
I have a clearer sense of my own worth and esteem. Although I doubt myself and my abilities at times, I have a clearer sense of my priorities and what gives my life meaning.
L.O’N.: What are the physical changes that you’ve noticed in the last number of years? Have you noticed any differences in your skin, your metabolism, your energy levels? Or is it still pretty similar to when you were in your 30s? Do you have more aches and pains? Have your sleeping patterns stayed the same?
Me: There have been SO many notable physical changes since I turned forty!
My metabolism has slowed down and I have developed an extra bulge around my middle. I first noticed it one holiday, we had been away for a month to South Africa and by the end of the month my button up shorts were getting a bit tight and I ended up having to go out and buy more clothes! I actually thought I was pregnant and so was slightly anxious about the possibility of a fifth child and a pregnancy in my forties. However, it turns out that it was just fat. It came as rather a rude shock as I had always taken pride in my slender figure.
I have also developed flabbier upper arms and feel they look awful if I wear vest tops so I am much more conscious of the type of clothes I wear now, I try to dress to disguise my shape more. One of my aunts told me a couple of years ago at my sister’s wedding, when I thought I looked nice in a strappy dress that I had inherited the ‘family arms’! I was disgusted!! I do admit they tend to flap a bit when I wave them and so I always wear longer sleeved t-shit tops now. I have not been able to shake the extra bulge but I’m conscious that I don’t exercise as much as I ought to.
My energy levels have definitely diminished, I often feel ready to climb into bed by 9pm and struggle to drag myself out of bed before 7:30, even though our kids sleep well and we are not being woken at night by babies and feeds etc.
I do find I am more likely to wake at night to go to the bathroom – not every single night but maybe 3 nights out of 7. If I do it can take me an hour or so to fall back to sleep as my mind starts working overtime. I also struggle to fall asleep some nights even though I’m knackered when I get into bed. I could lie awake for a couple of hours feeling anxious about all the silly little annoying things that have happened throughout the day.
My skin is softer and baggier – my neck has suddenly become very wrinkled and I have bigger bags under my eyes. My lips have thinned and I have more lines around my mouth so it’s not so easy to put on lipstick (less lips to put it on) without it bleeding up the lines. I found a YouTube video the other day on how to put eyeshadow on older eyelids, I didn’t realise that was a thing but seemingly older eyes develop an extra crease over the top lid which is exaggerated by applying light and dark shades in the wrong places!! I have blotches appearing on my face and hands.
My hair is noticeably greyer and although I haven’t dyed it, I do feel pressure that maybe I should as so many women my age do.
Recently I made that grunting noise that older people make when they try and get up off the floor! It’s apparent that my knees and wrists are not what they used to be.
I did think of one other thing but I can’t remember it now. Oh yes, I feel like I have become more forgetful! But that wasn’t it, another little distressing detail – my vision. My hubby and I have to wear reading glasses now when we read books or instructions on packaging. We peer down our noses at tiny writing and our arms are to short to hold the offending article far enough away. When I look at him I see his father and when I look at myself I see my mother, we have become the grandparents of our children!
L.O’N.: On an emotional level, how are you feeling? Do you feel more confident in your skin? Are you or your friends more or less worried about ageing? What is it about ageing that worries you most – your sense of mortality or physical stuff? This is a bit of weird question, but I always get really annoyed when I’m wolf whistled at and a friend of my mother’s said “you’ll miss it when that’s gone.” (I really doubt it, somehow!) She’s much older than you, obviously, but have you noticed a change in how other people treat you over the last few years? Or how much attention you get? Is that a good or a bad thing?
Me: The only thing that worries me about aging is losing more and more of my loved ones and friends. I am seeing that my parents generation are dying off now so we will be the next generation to reach the frontlines of death so to speak. I am afraid of leaving my children behind before they are fully independent although I have a way to go before I am old, I know women my age who have died from breast or other types of cancer.
I worry that if something happens to my husband that I will be so used to living with him that the loneliness would be my undoing. But then at other times he annoys me so much I feel a bit of the single life would be welcome!! I seem to feel irritable quite a lot of the time and use the vacuuming as a great way to let off steam.
That’s another thing – the hormones around midlife are confusing. My menstrual cycle has become very erratic – every three months or so – and when it comes it is exceptionally heavy. The last time I had a period was almost four months ago and we were on a road trip. It was extremely uncomfortable, I had to find toilets and also a pharmacy to buy the heaviest sanitary protection I could find. I was getting up in the night and trying to replace the sanitary wear in either the blinding light or pitch darkness of the bathroom. It’s disconcerting in a way to know that the chapter of fertility in my life is ending.
And I seem to go through long patches of feeling very low. I presume it’s hormonal but I don’t really know. Some days for days on end, I struggle to feel happy and feel as if I am pretending to everyone on the outside. Ironically, this stage of life seems to coincide with the teenage years of one’s children. I have two teens so the hormone levels run high and clash loudly. I get very angry with them and they are good at telling me exactly what they think about me too!
I don’t miss the wolf whistles, but I do miss that feeling of being noticed. Having said that, last Friday morning while waiting for my car at the NCT centre I was chatted up by two retired men. I felt a bit confused afterwards – do I appeal to the older man nowadays?!
L.O’N.:What do the 40 something year old women you know do to stave off ageing? Is it a lot of exercise? What type? Do they use Botox or other cosmetic procedures? Do you talk about it or is that still a dirty little secret?
Me: None of my close friends have had any treatment, we never really talk about it to be honest but none of us are really conscious of our appearance to that degree. However, I recently saw a photo on Instagram of another woman I know who admitted to me in the past that she has had botox treatment and I was genuinely shocked – she looks so different, like a twenty year old and I hardly recognised her. She looks absolutely gorgeous and has obviously had work done on her face but I can’t figure out what. I have to admit I find it pointless having any procedures because it’s obvious to everyone else that you don’t look the age you say you are.
I feel that there’s no shame in growing older, it’s just a matter of trying to do it gracefully and do the best with what you already have without changing anything.
Some women would be very good at sticking to regular exercise regimes. I think you do need to be more disciplined if you want to keep a slim figure. I recently tried a workout routine designed for older women and the woman who runs it looks fabulous but I’m not disciplined enough to stick to the regimen.
L.O’N.: How have your priorities changed since coming into your 40s? Particularly since you have children? What is it you would want your daughters to know/what advice would you give them?
Me: I have more time for myself now that I don’t have babies and toddlers in the house so it’s been a process trying to figure out how to use my time constructively.
I feel I absolutely went through a bit of a crisis when my kids were finally all at school and I wanted to go back to some part time work. I found my CV was out of date and I was worried that I would spend the rest of my life stuck at home dusting the shelves.
I have a degree in Graphic Design and felt like it was going to waste. I missed the buzz of the office life and the feeling of doing a job and seeing it completed – unlike housework which is never ending and is never appreciated!! I was lucky in that I stumbled across blogging which I absolutely love and has the potential to bring in a little income.
I try and encourage my girls to be comfortable in their own bodies, I never mention their shape or size or weight, I have hidden the scales. I tell them they are lovely when they are not wearing makeup so they don’t feel that they need to make themselves look different to be noticed.
If my daughters can learn to be content with what ever life brings their way, and to put high value in being kind and in loving relationships, I would feel like I have taught them something worthwhile.
I would like them to value education but that it’s not the most significant thing in life, that they can be useful in even the most humble job – even if that means being a stay at home mum! At the same time it’s also good for a woman to use her skills and gifts to contribute to an income, however that is a tricky thing to do while you are raising a family. You only have so much of yourself to give and the stakes are high if you choose a career over looking after your kids while they are still very young. There is always sacrifice involved in parenting but the future rewards are worth it.
That being married is not a competition, it’s teamwork and we support one another with our different abilities.
Also I am teaching them that it’s important to be a part of your community and to serve and give to those less fortunate.
L.O’N.: Is there’s anything else you would like to add?
Me: Yes, I have taken up a new course! This year I am doing a Higher Diploma in Digital Media and Design at night. I am excited about studying again, even though at times I feel my brain is slower than it used to be and I feel anxious about not keeping up in class.
On the other hand I’m delighted when stuff comes back to me that I knew before and it feels great to be out doing something for myself for the future. I feel I have more determination to succeed now than when I was a student in my late teens. I’m also less shy of hard work as I have been through the process of rearing four babies and there’s definitely no harder job that that – LOL!!
Another thing is I have been dancing with a group of women in an adult ballet class for the past five or six years and this past summer we put on our first performance on stage at the Opera House. The lovely thing is we are all different shapes, abilities and sizes and yet we had such fun. We encouraged one another and I feel like I have achieved a dream I had since I was a little girl.
How to cope with the scary bits
Thinking about this stage of life can be scary and it’s not helpful to ignore how you feel about it. We might be tempted to brush off the worries and try to only look at the positives. However, it is healthier to accept that this is a phase of life that can potentially be very distressing.
Menopause is defined as one straight year without a period and if that’s the case, I could very well be a third of the way through that year – which quite frankly makes me want to cry because I feel like I’m too young.
It’s normal to feel upset because coming to terms with our mortality is no laughing matter. undoubtedly this can be a time for spiritual re-evaluation too. There’s nothing like the thoughts of aging and death to make us question the meaning of life.
Perhaps this stage of life is a good wake-up call to focus on what is most profound and search for ways to make changes for the better.
I don’t think that approaching age has to limit one in all directions, it’s more a matter of choosing new avenues and possibilities for growth. Some of these can be very exciting.
Being a woman can potentially be significant in making it easier to endure this stage of life as we tend to be more collaborative, social and conversational than men. We are more likely to join groups. As a result our support network tends to be stronger so, although menopause is not something that men have to experience, their coping mechanisms for a mid-life crisis are not as diverse.
Once our children are a bit older and reaching secondary school we have more time for ourselves to enjoy the things we like to do like hobbies, sport and further studies. We can also use some of that time to volunteer and help others in our communities. All these things contribute to our sense of well-being and purpose.
Three points to take home!
- acknowledge and recognise you are experiencing change
- allow yourself to grieve the youth that is lost
- focus on what you can do and the potential you have for new growth in the future
How do you know whether you are experiencing a midlife crisis?
- This comprehensive article in the Woman’s Day summarises it into thirteen points.
- And this interesting article in Psychology Today points to some suggestions to help find your way out of the crisis period.
I also asked a few other bloggers whether they identified with this transition in life, here are their comments:
Candace Mantle “Different outlook on life. I lost my senior civil service job due to ill health a month before my 40th birthday and literally moved 3 hours away and self employed. Then last year at 44 I had sepsis and ended up in a coma nearly dying. Certainly made me see what is important; life is just too short not to have fun.” buckets of tea
Jo Boyne “The main starting point of my blog was me quitting my career of 22 years last September!” Jo also talks about how her vision has changed on her blog arosetintedworld
Lynette Hammond “I’m 41, and in preparation for my 40th, I was hoping to be in the best shape of my life. That failed when I quite drastically tore my calf muscle (it’s still not right). So I decided to bleach my hair and dye it pink. I guess that was a bit of a statement saying that I may be older but I’m still going to be me and express myself how I want. I felt great about reaching level 40 but I definitely feel like my body is changing for the worse and I’m not truly a fan of it. I do feel more confident in myself, but not in where I’m headed if that makes sense. Basically, I’m dreading the menopause!” reclusivefox.com
Erica Knight “I feel much more liberated as I get older. It’s not confidence as such, more acceptance of the skin I live in. I have had a few years of ill health (I suffer with Crohn’s) and I think that’s added to my zest for life when I feel well enough to enjoy it.” Erica has written here about the things she wished she had known before she turned 40. theincidentalparent.com
Are you in your forties and do you feel as though you have entered a mid-life crisis? Can you relate to what I have said or is your experience totally different?
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