The Next Act – Midlife Wonderings…

By the time you have hit your mid-40’s or so, life has probably kicked you around a bit.  Your youth is slipping away or has slipped away, you are most likely into some career or job with a mortgage, car payment(s), a few kids (or maybe no kids), aging parents or in my case – no parents, you have seen great things and suffered through at least one tragedy.  People call this a time of midlife crisis, but really, I disagree.

Certainly there are people who just go off the deep end as they watch their younger years slip away and they move into being ‘older’.  They dump their spouses, buy something ridiculously impractical, and get a much younger partner which they may or may not marry.  Eventually, many of them come to their senses and realize, holy crap, I just made a mess of my life.  Or maybe they never come to their senses.  They try to be something they are not.  They will never be twenty-five again.

Actually, other than more aches and pains, I don’t really mind older.  My great-grandmother, Sadie, always said something to the tune of you are only as old as you think.  She was in her nineties when she would say this.  My grandmother, her daughter, would go to church in her eighties in high heels and skirts just above the knee then come home and talk about “all the old people at church.”  In her mind, she was never old.  Age is a reality creeping up on our bodies.  We don’t recover as fast, we get hurt easier, we have more health issues in general usually but not always, but mostly you are only as old as you think.

I walk around most days and think I’m in my late 20’s.  My mind is stuck there, my body however is mid-40’s.  There are wrinkles, those weird lines you get in your chest skin, my skin is starting to do that crepe-like thing no matter how much I moisturize.  But my heart is young.  I’m a goofball, I don’t shy away from things because of my age.  I do not; however, wear clothes made for teenagers but I do not prescribe to old notions of you cut your hair short when you reach a certain age or you have to start wearing polyester pastel-colored pants with elastic waistbands either.  There are ways to age gracefully and appear timeless.  Trust me, if I wear anything deemed ‘old lady’, I hear it from my youngest daughter.   Not that I am any fashion trendsetter.  I tend to stick with the basics that I like.   In reality, I would live in t-shirts and yoga pants because they are comfy.

The other side of midlife is that many times you have reached a pinnacle, then a valley.  My therapist said this is normal around this time of our life.  She says you gather your bearings, rest a bit and then tackle the next part of your life with usually a completely different attitude and outlook than in your 20’s.  Makes sense.  You want to learn from your previous years and definitely not repeat your past mistakes.  Also, you realize you don’t have all the time in the world left on this earth and you want to start making more of a difference.  Usually, not always.  Everyone is different.  Everyone’s journey is unique to them.

I’m in that valley point.  I’m tired, not particularly motivated to run out and conquer the world.  I don’t even know what I would want to do to conquer the world anyway.  I still want to publish a novel and I still want to become physically fitter.  There are some places I want to travel to but nothing that extravagant.  Anything that involves long hours in an airplane just does not appeal right now.  I am not feeling very adventurous.  Ten years ago, I would want to fly all over the world.  Now I just want a nap.  The valley.  When you regroup and refresh.

With my personality, one which always feels like it must be accomplishing something, this is a weird point for me.  I’m not great at relaxing but yet now that is all I want to do.  Curl up with a book in my hammock.  Sleep.  Ride my bike.  Read some more.  Maybe write a little.  I haven’t even really put much time and effort into my blog lately.  I simply do not have anything much to share or write about.  I don’t have anything tersely emotional to pick apart or dwell on.  Not that is a bad thing, it’s actually positive.  A place of contentment.  Which is odd for me, but I am not going to complain at my good fortune.

This ‘valley’ is a place to regroup, rest, re-energize and evaluate what it is I want out of life.  Sometimes though now, I suspect that my goals may not be as lofty as they once were.  When you are younger, you feel like you can take on the world.  And maybe once I get through this valley point, I will feel that again or not.  If not, I am fine with that.  The one thing I am going to focus on is what I truly want out of life.  Not what everyone else tells me I should want or do.  I have spent so much of my life living up to other people’s expectations.  I can look back on my life and see where I have let too many external things influence my decisions.  Follow your heart.  Follow your gut.  My new mantra.

One thing I do want to do is have more fun.  Enjoy my life more.  I tend to think I have to be working or accomplishing something every moment of every day whether it’s my job, taking care of the house, some project or whatever.  But tragedy in life tells me that love is the most important thing in life.  Giving love, receiving love and doing things, big or small, for others to show them that they are loved.  To spend time with the people who are most important to you.  They won’t always be there, you won’t always be here.  You don’t take much with you when you leave this earth, but I believe the love you have in your life transcends life itself.  You take love with you.

Midlife isn’t as bad as people make it out to be.  You stop caring what people think so much.  You start really focusing on what’s important to you.  You have a bit of wisdom under your belt and it really hits you that those things people have told you over the years, the ones you rolled your eyes at, are really true.  I actually like this point of my life.  I would trade for my 25-year old body but I would not go back in time and actually be 25 again.  Financially I am in a good place and can do many more things than if I was 25.  My daughters seem happy and healthy which is really all I can ask.  Especially when you see on social media every day a child fighting cancer or a terminal illness.  What more could I ask for?  Nothing.  Simply nothing.  I am the luckiest woman on the planet at this very moment.

Sometimes I wonder what I will think when I am in my 60’s.  What would I want to tell my 40-something self?  What would I wish I had done?  Get into shape and do all those things I haven’t but want to?  Instead of carrying around essentially an extra small person on my frame?  Or does that even matter so much?  If only I had a crystal ball right?  But we don’t.  We just muddle through the best that we can.

For me, I am going to listen to my heart, my gut, and my body.  I am going to be swayed by less winds and people’s opinions.  I am going to let me just be me even if it doesn’t fit into how other people think you should be.  I no longer have to prove myself to anyone.  I just have to live my life to the best of my ability, to pursue my own happiness and spend time with those people who really matter.  Life is too short to waste it doing things you don’t want to do.  Granted there are several things you have to do in order to survive and take care of yourself (mammograms – ugh).  There are a lot we do that we don’t have to do.  We can say no, I do not want this in my life, I do not want to do this.

So be brave.  Follow your heart and gut in life.  Don’t be afraid to live differently.  Don’t be afraid to reach for what really makes you happy and what you really love.

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Time for Change…

The quandary with being mid-life is that you’ve lived a lot of years but also you (hopefully) have a lot of years ahead of you.  You also realize though that you don’t have your entire life in front of you either and that your days must start counting for more.  I think this is sometimes called a mid-life crisis but I think for most people it’s just a time to really stop and check the path they are on.  Stop running on autopilot, step back and say, is this the life I want? Is this what I should be spending my precious time doing?  It’s a self-check moreso usually than a crisis.  I have yet to want to buy a sports car, get a really young husband and well, I guess the female version to the combover is to dress and try to look like a teenager to the point you look ridiculous.  I think a lot of older women are not accepting looking like little old ladies and that’s great but you have to do it with finesse and style, not copy your 16-year old daughter.  

Yesterday, a young girl in our community died days after her attempt at suicide.  Thousands of people had been praying for her and her family but it was not enough to bring upon a miracle.  This girl is part of my family doctor’s family, his two older sons graduated with my daughters and since he’s been my doctor for ages, his kids essentially grew up with mine.  Not that we were close, they didn’t invite me over for dinner but in a small community like ours, everyone knows everything and you interact through many different channels.  

I can remember her as a baby, toddler, young girl and a teenager.  She was a beautiful sweet girl with seemingly everything a girl could want at least from the outside but yet this tragedy occurred.  Of course the rumor mill is running rampant with why she may have done it, but the only person that truly knows is gone.  People will judge her parents and make assumptions but the real truth is, this could happen in anyone’s family.   So sit down and focus on what is your life.  Say a prayer of peace and comfort for the family instead of stirring up the gossip. 

Suicide is the one thing, unless you’ve been on the verge of committing it yourself, it’s easy to stand there and say “how could she do this?” Essentially for many different reasons, you come to a point where everything feels hopeless and you feel the only way out, the only way for peace is death.  This could be from a mental cause such as depression, chemical imbalance in your brain, drugs (both prescription and illegal) and so on.  The Cherokee Indians had a saying that roughly was “Do not judge a man without walking in his moccasins” or the more modern “walk a mile in his/her shoes”.  Have some empathy, don’t just stand there and judge.  Try to see what it might have been from someone’s view. 

In my mid 30’s, I had a bought of depression so bad that I would wake up and then curse the fact I hadn’t died in my sleep.  It scared me enough to get treatment which was prescribed by this very Doctor.  He gave me Zoloft and finally that urge to die subsided.  It’s not always “just in your head”, mental illness many times is physiological and not just psychological.    You can’t “snap out of” depression.  It’s like telling someone with a broken leg to just think positive and it will heal.  Yeah it may heal but maybe not heal right. You may walk with a limp the rest of your life because it needed set.  You get the idea.

On the news yesterday that this girl passed away, I was sitting there thinking about my life.  Yesterday was also the two-year anniversary of my mom’s death.  I was feeling reflective anyway but this tragic news pushed me even deeper into thought.  The last few years especially, I have had time to work on myself, things that happened to me years ago and their effect on me today was forefront in my life.  If you read my blog consistently, you know I’ve talked about self-esteem issues, body image, mid-life, grief and a whole host of topics that are relevant to me as well as many other people’s lives.  The greatest complement I have received from my writing is when someone thanks me for being candid enough to write about a hard subject because they feel less alone and I’ve helped them in some small way. 

The thing about death is that it reminds you to live.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years working out my grief, working out issues from years ago because I either pushed it down or I simply didn’t have time for myself.  This is the first time in my life since I was a teenager that I have been able to really focus on myself because I was no longer actively taking care of someone else.  Having all this time to think was both good and bad.  Just the other day I wrote something about a traumatic experience that happened when I was 14.  It was one of those times where I started writing it in my head first and I needed to get it down on “paper”.  When I told a friend about it, they said why do you keep reliving this stuff?  Me being me, I was annoyed at first with what they said.  I am a stubborn learner at time and yesterday it finally clicked with me what they were trying to tell me.  

Yes I could use my traumatic experience to reach others and help someone else but by doing so, I was keeping the past in the present.   The beauty of youth is you don’t have years of the past to ruminate on.  You live each day looking to just that day and sometimes toward the future.  I try to be mindful of each day and live in the present but I tend to be all over the board.  I have no clue what I want in my future to be other than a happy, healthy family, be able to live comfortably, finish my degree and publish a book.  I don’t have the fiery, motivated goals of my youth and sometimes that bothers me.  I have no idea why, maybe because I feel like I am not “doing enough”.  It seems even more imperative now at the age of 46 that I should be “reaching for some big dream” before it’s too late.  

As I sat there alone thinking about my mom and this young girl’s life being cut too short, I realized I need to live for today and stop worrying so much about the future or achieving some great thing.  I simply need to follow my heart and stop worrying so damned much.  I need to let go of the past, I have worked hard to get where I am today and be the person I’ve become.  I’m proud of the person I am today even if I’m not always proud of my past life.  I’ve made many mistakes, my life was a train wreck when I was younger but so what?  As the 1000 memes going around social media say,  you get a new start every day or something to that effect.  Really all I need is a change in focus and attitude.  It’s that simple. 

In the effort to live each day to the fullest and live in the present, I’ve decided to suspend my blog for the time being.  I need some time to refocus myself and just live my life by embracing each day as a new opportunity.  Focus on spending time with the people that I love the most and make me the happiest rather than putting energy into those relationships that do not add much if anything to my life.  I am going to let go of the “should of’s” as well.  I should do this, be this or achieve this.  This is a lot of white noise that confuses me and makes it difficult for me to enjoy life.  In essence, I’m going to hit the “reset” button and start new again.   Maybe I will pick up my blog again with a different goal in my writing.  We will see.  

Go live for today, do what makes you happy and don’t look back.  Find your passion, take a chance and live your dreams.  There is never going to be the perfect day for it, do it today, start today.  Live for today, you have no guarantee there is a tomorrow.  Be prepared to fail and hear “no” many times over, but don’t give up.  The one difference between the people who achieve their dreams and the ones who don’t is usually the fact they didn’t give up and not because they nailed it right from the start.  

So in conclusion, this blog has been a wonderful journey which forced me to get myself and my writing out in the public eye.  I am grateful to all that have read it, who have commented on it and who might miss it just a little bit.  I am going to focus on my dream of publishing a novel.  Wish me luck!  Or better yet, wish me tenacity to stick it out and get over or around all the challenges I will face (mostly being too self-critical of my writing – ha…).  Deep breath and first steps…