Mid-Life Changes and the Second Wind

Perimenopause can be a real bitch.  It starts out slow, making you slightly miserable and then for me, almost two years of feeling absolutely like shit.  Hot flashes that wake you up 3-4 times a night not to mention just randomly during the day which is super fun.  Having your sleep suffer to the point you’re falling asleep driving to work.  Mood swings that a teenager wouldn’t envy.  One minute you’re crying and the next you’re ready to kill a cute furry creature with your bare hands.  I can go on, but trust me, it’s no fun.  Plus, I was the one person who can’t take hormone replacement therapy and everything else they tried I was either allergic to or was overly sensitive.  Yay me!

One thing about this I didn’t expect was how absolutely old, unsexy and washed up I felt.  A lot probably was because I was struggling to do every day things and even more was my own way of thinking and preconceived notions.  The bottom line is that just because menses stops, doesn’t mean it’s over.  Not that I’m going to miss that monthly visitor.  Good riddance.  Moving into this phase of life though, you can’t deny you’re not longer in the ‘youth’ category.  So I started searching out blogs and articles of women who had actually came into their own and had their greatest successess after they entered into menopause.  That was eye-opening especially since I had figured that once you hit menopause, it’s over.  Pull up your rocker, adjust your walker, get ready for death.  No clue where I got that idea but it was stuck in my brain.

Pair in the start of my empty nest, it was quite the emotional, depressing, shit show of who am I?  What am I going to do with my life?  What meaning and purpose do I have any longer?  Why is this so dang hard?  I guess it was my version of a mid-life crisis but mostly it was just an adjustment, two events which I had no control over and in reality, both normal and eventually, positive things.  Eventually, your perimenopause symptoms ease to the point you feel half-way human again and start sleeping more.  You have more energy because your body isn’t in a revolt against the lack of hormone production.  It’s almost like a withdrawal, a reverse puberty.

In line with that, I adjusted to living in this house without children.  I spend a lot more time alone now, but I’m an introvert and I actually thrive in solitude.  Not that I sit at home and feel sorry for myself (okay, once in awhile I did), but I found I love going out alone and being among people I don’t even know.  Interacting with strangers is kind of my jam, because it’s short-lived and doesn’t require a huge amount of energy I don’t want to spend socializing.  Oddly enough, I may be out alone but I’m not actually alone because depending on what I’m doing, there’s people everywhere.  I’ve talked to all sorts of people from all over the world just doing things I love whether it’s hiking, biking or walking through a festival.  When I am with someone else, I tend not to talk to anyone unless spoken to first because I place my attention on the person(s) I’m with.

Then when my employer increased our yearly tuition reimbursement amount, I decide to start taking classes again to finish my bachelor’s degree.  I don’t have any grand plan when I do finish, but I realized it’s important for me to get my degree, a goal I had set for myself in my teens and it had always bothered me I didn’t finish.  My first class was a basic orientation class which was super easy for me.  My next class, Algebra.  I picked this as my first real class because I like to get the worst out of the way early on.  I’m not bad at math, I just struggle with things that don’t make much sense to me so algebra in high school wasn’t my thing.  Geometry made sense to me so I did well in that.  I somehow avoided calculus and trig which in a way, I wished I had believed more in myself back then.

Taking algebra 30+ years later is scary if you didn’t do well in high school.  I’ve spent hours and hours on this class so far and I’m only about 50% done but guess what, I’m getting a 95% in the class overall so far.  My hard work is paying off.  The magical bonus – I’ve totally immersed myself in something extremely challenging and while scary at times (I was afraid I might not get it or even fail), the challenge has given me a major boost.  I get frustrated at times, have been about in tears others but I really love having something that challenges me and it doesn’t revolve around people.

I am not a people person, though I’m not socially awkward, people and their issues drain me like no tomorrow.  But equations and coefficients just sit there quietly, waiting for you to solve, or factor or graph.   It’s exciting when something that didn’t make sense to me suddenly becomes clear.  It may take me awhile to get it but when it clicks, it’s exhilirating to see “CORRECT” when I work through the online homework system.

The odd part is, this class has given me a new purpose and is teaching me about myself.  I never do well having to deal with a lot of people but sit me down with a set of problems that are totally non-human related, and I’m happy to immerse myself in them.  I also realized that I’ve sold myself short most of my life when it comes to math.  Yes, it’s not easy for me but if I work at it long enough and ask for help, I eventually will get it and succeed.  Going back to college again and starting with probably the hardest class in my curriculum has sparked something long buried inside of me.  My love of a challenge.

When you grow up in a violently, dysfunctional home, go through two really bad marriages, so on and so forth, you tend to retreat into the most comfortable place you can nest.   But for me, this means boredom.  Yes, everything is all quiet and such for the most part but I’m bored shitless because I don’t even challenge myself or try something hard.  Not that I want chaos and craziness in my life, but stepping up and stretching my wings is a good thing.  Going back to school has made me feel almost alive again even if at times I just want to cry because I can’t quite get something.

  1. The good news is that even if you reach a time in middle-life when you’re struggling with ‘the change’ and/or empty nest or other changes, there comes a moment where you reach your second wind.  My former therapist called it a valley.  For years, you run at high speed taking care of so much and then bam, you fall into this valley which was for me was grief of losing my mother, perimenopause and transitioning into the empty (though it’s not technically empty) nest.  Then one day, you realize that you’ve climbed out of the valley and are standing out in the sunshine once again.  You take in a deep breath of crisp air and you feel human again.  You want to take on the world or at least a country or two.

I know it’s hard but there is this time when you will out of the blue realize that you’ve come out of the woods.  That you aren’t washed up or too old.  The only time you’re too old is when you’re dead.  Just keep moving ahead even if it’s a few baby steps at a time and you need a nap right after.  We have to adjust as we get older but I follow the Facebook page of Ernestine Shepherd – the World’s Oldest Female Body Builder (check her out, she’s amazing).  She’s in her 80’s and looks better than most people in their 30’s.  Following her posts, it reminds me that you don’t have to just give up and get old.  This lady is super dedicated and even trains other people!

It’s like my great-grandmother, Sadie, always said, “You’re only as old as you think.”  That didn’t make sense to me until I got this age.  She’s absolutely right.