Overwhelmed. Losing yourself. Huge hormonal changes. Midlife is a perfect storm for women. But it can also be the key to finding out who we are. Sarah Miller shares her experience of losing – then finding – herself…
Leaving my marriage and, on the cusp of forty, losing the entire infrastructure of my life, with two little girls to care for, was the catalyst for finally meeting my true self. The one with dreams, desires, values and beliefs, beyond spinning the plates of family life.
I thought leaving my marriage was the answer to my unhappiness and chronic illnesses. But it was just the first step on a road to finding my truth and meeting myself. I thought it was just a major midlife crisis. It never occurred to me that others might be experiencing the same.
Like many, I thought only men had midlife crises – the clichéd sports car/new wife combo. But the more I looked around, the more prevalent my situation seemed to be. It was a relief to know I wasn’t the only one questioning the point of my life.
Millions of midlife women find themselves in this situation. It’s a strange time. As we emerge from the ‘responsibility years’ – where our own needs are pushed to the bottom of a deep, forever growing pile – we often experience a crisis of self and of purpose.
Decades have been spent caring for children, chasing careers, taking on the growing role of caring for elderly parents and, at the same time, building and maintaining increasingly complex lives. Now throw into the mix the hormonal thunderstorm of the perimenopause and it’s a melting pot of confusion. Where did life go? Where am I going? Who am I?
Anxiety and worry ramp up. Life becomes overwhelming. Our faith wanes. We begin to question what the point is. We are diagnosed with depression when, often, we are simply exhausted and need respite.
We run on a hamster wheel at vicious speed. There is no-one to gently remove us from that wheel and care for us. We lose ourselves. Lose our minds to the constant requirement to be ‘on’, and lose our bodies to the ravages of time, hormones and self-neglect.
When we find time to get our heads above water for long enough, we realise we’ve been holding our breath for so long that we no longer know who we are. No longer know what makes us happy. And, most of all, no longer know what we want from the rest of our lives.
It’s no wonder we question life. During perimenopause and menopause, oestrogen and progesterone levels decline. That can contribute to sleeplessness, mood swings, exhaustion, memory loss, anxiety, weight gain and decreased interest in things that we used to enjoy.
All of that sucks. And, I discovered, if you throw living out of alignment with your ‘self’ into the mix, chronic illnesses and depression really get their foot in the door.
We have so much on our spinning plates that we cannot afford to be out of alignment with who we are. Stabilising those plates takes too much energy. When we live out of alignment, we lose the essence of who we are. We undermine ourselves and it makes us ill. It’s easy to bury your dreams and beliefs and values to please others – but, when you do that, you bury the most important part of yourself: your lifeblood.
By the time we hit midlife, we may have strayed far from the path that we expected to be on. We were so busy with all the distractions that we didn’t notice until we stopped that we were in the wrong place entirely.
It’s confusing, disorientating and painful, but it’s never too late to reset your compass. Hitting forty as a divorcée with two girls under four – and with a massive change to my financials, and looking in the mirror to discover I had grown ‘old’ – really shocked me.
It was time to face my true self. Acknowledge who I was, where I was at and what I wanted from life. Build in the direction that my intuition and desires told me to go. It was frightening and risky and quite often painful, but it was the only way to truly live. I didn’t have time to just exist. I wanted to make the best of the rest.
My favourite rule to live by is: accept it, change it or leave it. Midlife is a brilliantly frightening time to meet yourself, to appraise where you are and begin implementing positive lifestyle changes. In the workplace, regular appraisals check that everything is running smoothly, and that we are growing and progressing happily. Why not implement that into our everyday lives?
We need to wake up to the fact that time flies and, if we don’t stop to smell the roses, we will never experience their sweetness. Accepting and loving the woman behind the juggling act is the first step on the road to finding health, happiness and yourself.