Mid-Life Series: Renaissance vs. Crisis

Renaissance: Rebirth, Revival

Crisis: An emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life

                        -Defined by Merriam-Webster

Say the word ‘mid-life’ and suddenly the stereotype of the fiftish man dumping his long-suffering wife for a younger woman, who buys an obnoxious sports car pops up into the brain.  Mid-life is met with groans and negativity.   The words ‘mid-life crisis’ are rampant for describing this period of life.  But I don’t think most of us have an actual ‘crisis’.  I believe it’s normal to step back and look at one’s life especially admist the many signficant life changes that can happen in this period such as a parent or both parent’s death, children leaving home and facing our own mortality more definitely now.

The average US life expectancy at this writing is approximately 78 years of age.  Divide that by two and you get 39.  Yep, at 39, you’re half way to dead if you live to this statistic.  That was a bit sobering for me when I did the math because I’m already 49.  Ten years into the downward spiral to the grave.  There are varying opinions of when mid-life crises seem to strike or when mid-life actually falls.  Frankly, none of usually know when we will die unless we have been unfortunately diagnosed with a terminal illness.  If you die when you are 30, then 15 was your mid-way point.  It’s the crap shoot of life, you just never know.

I know a lot of people around my age and honestly, unless it’s been kept a very tight secret, I’ve only seen a few of them go through what I would term a mid-life crises.  We are all going through changes to our life but haven’t we from the beginning?  It’s just that in mid-life, the changes sometimes are more painful.  Caring for an ill and/or aging parent or parents.  If you are a parent, your children leaving home can be bittersweet.  Some of you are super thrilled while others are gravely devastated. These are tough points in our lives and no one can truly prepare you for them.  I spent years preparing for the empty nest.  As soon as my oldest daughter graduated high school when I was 39, I went into preparation mode.  I read books and articles on empty nest.  None of which really helped.  You get vague advice like pursue your hobbies or start a new career, reconnect with old friends.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, but they don’t really say, grieve that part of your life.  It’s okay to feel sad about it.  Just don’t get stuck there.

When my youngest left home after living with us through four years of college, I spent the last few months she lived with us dreading her leaving.  Then after she left, the first few weeks were tough but then I adjusted.  Now, going on a year later, our relationship has evolved and even though we had a few bumps which I think are normal, I’m enjoying the empty nest quite a bit.  It’s a change.  There are good and bad parts of it but for me it was mostly good.  But getting over that hump was scary and difficult at times but mostly, I worked it up in my head to be worse than it truly turned out.  I was a young mother so at 49, I’m fully into mid-life, I’m an orphan because my parents and grandparents have all passed away and I’m living in an empty nest.  Which sounds somewhat depressing but it’s really part of life.  We won’t all be at the same place at the same time.

But did I go through a crisis?  No.  I had ups and downs but never a crisis.  I think much with this time of my life has to do with mentality.  How you see your life currently as it is.  It can’t stay the same, the kids grow up, people pass away and/or get sick, you get bored with your job (or not), you revisit old dreams only to find the are no longer valid.

I was sitting in a restaurant having lunch alone when the term ‘mid-life renaissance’ popped into my head.  I’ve embraced my introversion over the last year or so as I needed to recalibrate my life as an empty nester.  Actually, my nest isn’t empty, there is my husband and I and our cat and dog.  I really think they need a new term because “empty nest” makes it sound vacant.  Once a nest is empty in the bird world, not even the parents come back to it.  They move on to other locations and adventures.   Embracing my introversion means I actually enjoy doing things alone, mostly because it gives me a lot of time to think, which is really crucial to my personality.  I usually take in a book or a notebook, usually the latter, because I tend to do a lot of thinking while sitting in a restaurant.  I was thinking about what I want to do in the future, when the word ‘renaissance’ popped into my head.  Mid-Life Renaissance rather than a crisis.

As part of this ‘renaissance’, I’ve started challenging myself to do things out of my comfort zone.  Yesterday, I went to a large festival I really enjoy and almost always attend with someone else.  This time however, I went alone.  I was a little nervous riding the shuttle bus by myself.  But I forced myself into the long line and did it anyway.  A teenager sat down beside me relieved she didn’t have to sit alone.  She worked in the town where the festival was happening and knew she wouldn’t find parking so she opted for the shuttle.  So it happened that I was able to qualm her nervousness just by being there. At the festival, I walked around taking my time and stopping to talk to the artists at some of the booths.  I took photos of things that I thought were cool that I might not have noticed had I been with other people.  Essentially, I enjoyed the experience and getting out of my comfort zone is a key part of my mid-life renaissance.   Bottom line, I have fun by myself or with someone else along.   But I don’t need someone to go with me all the time.

Really we have little control over the world and what happens but we can control how we think about it and our reactions.  We can think of mid-life in the negative, that it sucks and so on or we can embrace this time, understand there are some tough moments to it, but find the beauty in the storm.  For example, I love to bicycle but at 49, I don’t recover like I once did.  I find myself being more cautious to prevent injuries because it simply takes longer to heal.  I could be upset and depressed about that fact or I can look at it as hey look, I’m 49 and I can still go out to ride fifty miles.  Choosing the positive outlook very much changes the feel of the exact same situation.  Yes at times I get passed by younger, fitter cyclists but on the other hand, I pass quite a few cyclists myself that are younger than me.  I chose at this point in my life to just compete with myself and listen to my body.   I’m not 20, listening to my body is crucial but it’s not a bad thing either.  I did damage to my body when I was younger that I pay for today.  I don’t want to repeat that mistake.

I’m at a point of my life that I am financially stable and want for very little materialistically.  I’ve worked hard to get here and have suffered several setbacks usually in the way of divorce, that required me to start over again.   But for this moment, I’m in a very good place and it’s time to enjoy what I’ve worked so hard for.  Mid-life is a time to stop and look around.  To stop racing so hard, pushing so hard especially when you’ve reached a large number of your goals.

Mid-life is your time for a renaissance, a rebirth, a revival.  To start embracing the gifts you have been given, to really start being cognizant of how you spend your time and with whom.  Mid-life isn’t a death sentence, it’s a gift all its own where you get to take your hard-earned wisdom and put it to use.  It’s a time to experience new things with the time that may suddenly appear after the kids move out and so on.  It’s your rebirth, but this time you don’t usually have to start from the bottom and work your way up.  Chances are you’ve already done that and have a solid foundation that allows you to enjoy your life and explore new avenues.

Very simply, it’s not required to have a mid-life crisis though I know people may experience this but I believe they are in the minority and have personality traits that set them up for this such as large egos or deep-seated insecurity.  The rest of us can embrace a rebirth, a revival, a mid-life renaissance.  I’m excited for this next par tof my life.

‘Till next post…

 

 

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Letting Go… Time to Move on

Recently I listened to J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy via audiobook through my online public library.  While my family doesn’t really fall into the ‘hillbilly’ category, it does fall into the substance abuse realm which is what Vance dealt with his mom.  His mom had grown up with her father being an alcoholic.  Much of his descriptions about his life really hit home with me on this realm.  Except it was my father not my mother.

I have another blog that is completely anonymous, I don’t post it to my social media, I don’t put in any identifying items that it could be tied back to me.  I’ve used it to write about my painful past, especially growing up with a schizophrenic, alcoholic father without upsetting my family or having people feel sorry for me.  The purpose was to reach others in my situation so that maybe in some small way, I could help them.

Recently, a visit with a maternal aunt revealed that after my parents divorced, my dad had gone off the deep end.  So much so, that he was phoning in bomb threats to my mom’s work which threatened her job.  He’d call everyone he knew and act like he was in Vietnam (he never served overseas) and all this batshit crazy stuff.  My maternal grandmother grew so tired of it and being from Youngstown, Ohio, she considered hiring a hit man to rid us all of his shit.  If you know my grandmother, you’d not even blink an eye at this.  I was in my mid-teens when this was happening and my dad died seventeen years ago yesterday, June 2.  So from say age 14 till I was thirty-two, and really all the years before, my dad created havoc in lives all around him.  He cheated on my mom at least after my sister was born and maybe before.  He did crazy shit like get drunk and karate chop a priest at a family member’s wedding reception.

Essentially, my dad needed to be institutionalized.  He should have never been allowed to live among polite society acting so god damned crazy and it’s amazing he didn’t hurt or kill someone else in one of his paranoid phases.  My dad could have easily been one of those people who had procured an automatic weapon and shot up a crowd.  And no, it wouldn’t have been the gun’s fault, it would have been my crazy ass f’ing father’s fault.  That and the lack of mental health care.  When your ex-mother-in-law is considering hiring a hit man, you are a burden on society.  Part of me, when I learned this little historic tidbit, sat and thought about how much easier all our lives would have been without my father running lose.  I realize that may seem insensitive or cruel but my dad didnt’ want to get better, he wanted to live in his victim mentality disrupting everyone’s lives because he had been enabled his entire life to act like a freaking idiot.   People tried to help him.  I don’t know how many times he had been in and out of programs.  He was given medication for his mental illness but refused to stay on it.  Because if he did, he would have had to been a responsible adult like the rest of us and he wanted to be special, even if it meant hurting the people he claimed to love.

My paternal cousin, Chad, whose mother was my dad’s sister, lived the same hell I did and even more because he had to live with his alcoholic parent even past her divorcing his father.  We’ve become close over the past few years, helping each other through our healing process which has been eerily similar.  He’s more my brother than cousin.  He mentioned how the neighboring dairy farm had bought our paternal grandparents small dairy farm after my grandmother moved into town.  Recently, someone built a beautiful home on their old homesite.  This farm served as a safe haven for my cousin and I where many of our happiest childhood memories reside.  At first, it seemed sad that someone built there but then when I thought about it, I’m glad someone loved the little hill they lived on enough to build a nice home there.  The family that bought the land were always kind to us, which makes it even better.  But my father had been bitter about the sale of ‘the home place’ and for the longest time, I mirrored his feeling and now I just think, well if you wanted it so damned bad, you should have worked to get better, get a job and buy it.

Vance in his Hillbilly Elegy book laid out his crazy family’s skeletons for all to see but he rose above his upbringing with the help and encouragement of his hillbilly grandmother.  But mainly, he brought to light how his relationship with his mother had to be distant, and while he tried to help her, he stopped being pulled into her drama.  He made sure to put his well-being and family first.  At one point, he called out his mother by telling her what a ‘shitty mother’ she had been.  But the best point was how his mother’s brother and sister both chose to live better lives while his mom went the route of drug and alcohol abuse.  He doesn’t sugar coat the fact that his mother made that choice and that he came to the point he was done suffering because of those choices.  That he went beyond where he was from, the tough circumstances he lived to go to Yale law school.  He could have chosen to stay in Middletown, Ohio, and work in a dying factory.  But he didn’t.

Yesterday, we attended my cousin’s daughter’s high school graduation party.  I was sitting there surrounded by family, watching the excitement of his daughter at graduating high school, when it hit me.  I have everything in life I could ever want.  My daughters are happy and healthy as well as responsible members of society.  I live in my ‘dream’ house which is modest compared to what most consider their dream homes.  But my closest neighbor is a quarter of a mile away, I have views of rolling country side and can walk out any of my doors without having neighbors disturb my peace.  I own everything material I could ever want or more.  My health is good (knock on wood), I have a wonderful husband and a great job.  I have great friends, supportive family and so on.  Why do I choose to keep dredging up my past?  Yeah it was tough, but it’s over.

Now it’s my turn to make a choice, and today I closed out my anonymous blog with a final post.  I chose to leave that past behind me and embrace today.   My tumultuous upbringing wasn’t fair nor was it a safe, loving environment at times but I survived.  Yesterday was seventeen years since my father died on June 2, 2002.  I think today is a good day to move on.

I chose to let it all go and not be defined by my past.  I chose to be happy and to live in today.  I chose happiness over perfection.  I chose gratitude over self-pity.  I am a survivor and I am also very blessed.  I am letting it go….