When was the first time you realised that you were getting older. I mean like really getting older... Do you know what made you realise and how did it make you feel? Let me tell you a tale of getting on in years and why I'm ok with it.
This - small, chubby toddler person is me, or rather was me 40 something years ago. When I was this age, I lived in the moment, I had no thoughts about age. I'm not really sure I thought about much really.
I was a very happy child and although I don't recall thinking much, I do have a couple of memories of wondering what growing up was like. I remember thinking "I want hair like Miss Anderton" (she had a Farah Fawcett type style), "I want to wear a silver dress" and "I want to stay up late and eat peanuts". This last thought was triggered by the fact that on the rare occasions that my parents had a party, dishes of peanuts were dotted around the living room. It would seem that I was an easily pleased child.
Fast forward a few years and I'm pretty sure that those deep thoughts about growing up stayed with me. Although I may have changed my mind about the hair! I grew up in terms of years, physical development, brain development. Milestones were achieved.
This is me when I was about 10. I remember thinking that the prefects (girls maybe aged about 16) were absolute goddesses, role models whom I could only hope to emulate sometime in the future. Hopefully I also aspired to better hair, but seeing as this was the early 80's I'm pretty sure I didn't.
It stands out to me that this was the time where things started to change. I became aware of my body changing, and that I was growing older, mostly signified by that fact that we had 'the talk'. It was happening - I was aging - puberty kicked in. And then... Then, I wanted to be older, to have more freedom, to be a 'grown up'.
I navigated growing up reasonably well for the most part until just before uni. I may have gone a bit off the rails during university. In fact I enjoyed uni so much, I did another three years to train as a nurse. It was all fine. Life trundled on, I didn't worry about the future too much. I never really worried about it. It was all good.
Then it hit me, I was an adult, with responsibilities. I was married, over 30 and I had two babies - what did I want to do with my life? Eventually I found my groove again, we moved to Calgary and we got on with life.
Hitting 40 was fine - really not as bad as I anticipated and I didn't give midlife a second thought. Until I was about 43 and this strange feeling struck me. I was half way (hopefully) through my life and what had I achieved? I was in a job that bored me, I felt generally restless and that nothing really seemed to 'fit'. I felt really quite lost and worse of all - I was middle-aged!
I did some DEEP introspection work, and realised that I needed to do something for me. I had to find myself again. To remind me who I am, of what I've done, and to think about what I'm going to do. I had to remind myself that I was a capable, worthwhile, valid human being. So I started an MSc in pyschology and I focused on midlife, because I wanted to know if it was just me.
Was I having a midlife crisis,?
Was feeling like this 'normal'?
Was this feeling that was eating me up ever going to go away?
So I asked people about their experiences of midlife.
What I discovered
I spoke to 12 people aged between 40 and 60 who lived in Canada, the UK, US, and Europe about their experiences of midlife. I discovered that they experienced midlife as a time of empowerment, strength and growth. They told me that it took some time to adjust to midlife, that in some ways it was like doing puberty again, but with more experience and more freedom! Perhaps more importantly they spoke with great pride and joy about learning that they had the tools, confidence and ability to make decisions and adapt to whatever comes their way!
A common factor about feeling positive about midlife was that they all recognised the importance of the emotional and social support that they gained from family and friends. Peer support was huge! They didn't necessarily have to seek help from professionals, when they were struggling with something - but when they wanted help, they got it.
When I asked them about resources and supports they thought might be helpful, they proposed peer support, informal education about midlife, and coping with perimenopause and menopause would be helpful. They all sought a safe space where they could trust others with their experiences.
Oh the relief! It wasn't just me!
It was ok, I was ok, midlife was ok!
And I want to let YOU know, its ok to feel a bit anxious about this transition called midlife. It is something new for each of us, we all experience it in different ways. There will always be tough times, and you have made it through them before. Hold on to that. Know that we all struggle some days.Breathe. Take it one step at a time. Talk about it when you feel good to do so. Do midlife in your own way. Be you.
And remember - it even Brene Brown was affected by it, so you're in good company :)