Aging and changing might be inevitable, but they ain't easy. They precipitate in us a great uncertainty. The myriad dramatic disturbances of modern middle life -- menopause, health concerns, career shifts, the empty nest, divorce and death -- create an overwhelming crisis of identity and purpose for each of us. What follows is an intense period of questioning absolutely everything -- our goals and achievements, our priorities and our operating systems, our morals and our values, our fantasies and our fears.
Some of us spend a considerable amount of time -- easily 10 or 15 years -- swirling in the turbulence of this middle age reassessment. Who are we supposed to be at this stage of our life when we are less likely to be bound and identified by our kinship connection to someone else -- as a daughter, a wife, a mother, a lover? What exactly is our role as older than young and younger than old women who are still active and more effective than ever?
This middling transitional shift into the next stage of our being promises us a vast world of positive possibilities for the second half of life. But first, before we are able to avail ourselves of the advantages and rewards of maturity, we must cross the Grand Canyon of midlife change, steep, rocky, and ripped asunder by a whole panoply of seismic ripples -- mental, emotional, and spiritual -- beyond the obvious physical ones. We climb and climb, and still we lose ground. The earth that we once trusted to be solid under our feet is slipping away, and we are dragged out to sea where we bob along in uncertain waters, in a leaky boat with no map to guide us.
"It seems as if
I'll never get beyond
the foot prints that I made."
-- Qernertuq, Eskimo poet
Unraveling, indeed. The whole damn sweater is falling apart and we are standing here naked in the cold (and we are still hot). Nothing has prepared us for this landslide of transitions that greets us as we enter our middle years. There we were, going along as always, then one day out of the blue, we discover ourselves to be middle aged. Blindsided in a youth-conscious culture, we never saw it coming, but the overwhelming evidence of our aging can hardly be ignored.
These profound changes in the chemistry of our bodies and in our intimate relationships, the terrifying disruptions of our status quo, the daily life-and-death dramas we are forced to deal with, are incredibly disorienting. Not only are we burning up physically, blasted with flashes from our out of control internal furnaces, we are also, many of us, burnt out on an emotional level after years of tending the home, the hearth, and usually a job as well.
In a Gallup poll (which I discuss in my book, The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife) of women over 55 years of age, respondents were asked in which decade were they the happiest. Eleven percent said their 20s, 14 percent said their 30s, 13 percent said their 40s, the rest -- well over 50 percent -- answered "RIGHT NOW!"
Society tells us, and our own experiences have verified, that now that we are menopausal, we are poised to lose everything that has so far defined us -- our power of reproductivity, our youth, our sex appeal, our children, our parents, our spouses, our time left on the job, our visibility, our very lives -- and we have never been happier!
We might have suffered great loss, but look what we have gained -- our Selves. And that makes us very happy, indeed.
Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife and the monthly Ezine, The Queen's Chronicles.
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 Henes, Donna. The Queen of My Self: Stepping Into Sovereignty in Midlife. New York: Monarch Press. 2005.