To my beloved fellow quadragenarians, pull up a chair, grab your favorite beverage (for which you will most likely never be carded again), put your swollen, achy feet up and sit with me a spell.
This is an invite to take a break from our usual Facebook political ranting, swapping tales of the hardships of life before the internet, or bemoaning the depravity of Miley Cyrus and how far the VMA’s have strayed from the wholesome days of Madonna. Let’s stop for just a moment to reflect and check in with each other.
How the heck are you? For reals…how are you?
Can you believe we’re here already solidly in the middle-aged demographic? Does life look anything at all like you imagined it would be? Or rather, do you think the teenage you (who had much more exciting things to do than contemplate the future harsh realities of adulthood) would be overall happy or horrified if they could see you now? I don’t know about you, but I am not as old as my parents were at this age, though I hope to be as young as them at 70.
Have you navigated your midlife crisis yet? Maybe you are smack dab in the thick of it. If you haven’t had at least one yet, you are either overdue or in denial, my friend. Come on now, take another swig of your beverage and get honest with me. Maybe you were lucky enough to have a very mild version that was easy to pass off and move on from, but I don’t see how any of us get through these middle years without some kind of forced reflection and spiritual restructuring. I actually feel quite sorry for anyone who denies their humanity enough to resist such a natural life progression.
I was an early bloomer and got my first adulting-is-impossibly-hard breakdown out of the way in my early thirties in the midst of a health crisis when some trauma I’d experienced in my twenties took advantage of the situation to catch up with me.
I’m just now fresh on the other side of another particularly debilitating emotional/spiritual derailing that defined my early 40s. Now at 44, I sincerely hope (and do believe I am) done with crisis mode. Ain’t no peri-menopausal woman got time for that.
We’ve all got a significant chunk of life, love and loss under our belts resulting in a mixed bag of dreams. Some materialized beyond our wildest imagination, others fell short of our expectations. By far the hardest thing to come to terms with are the dreams that will either never be reality or have been permanently ripped from us. That is reality for us all.
Time, that heartless beast, just doesn’t seem to care one bit about you or me or our desires and dreams. It relentlessly marches forward and takes us with it whether we go somewhat gracefully or dragged kicking and screaming.
Our forties are prime wrestling years, juggling all the responsibilities of maintaining the good stuff we’ve built up over 4 decades while simultaneously being forced to deal with all-to-real, in-our-face losses and limits. I’m certainly no expert, but I’m a big believer in sharing lessons learned. Somebody somewhere can relate and find value. So, here are a few survival tips I’ve learned through my own ungraceful navigation of my midlife crises.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Being kind to yourself while in crisis is hard to do as it is overwhelmingly tempting to despise ourselves in our weakness. The most unsettling thing about a MLC is when everything we’ve depended on that had worked well for us to that point grinds to a halt. Working harder, pushing back, stuffing things deeper just – doesn’t – work – anymore. In our panic, rather than look at and deal with the painful realities being forced to the surface, we get mad at ourselves for being weak and allowing the security breach at all; mad at the loss of control as our failures and weakness break loose for all to see and judge. “Stupid self! How could you let this happen?”
Be kind to yourself because there is nothing new under the sun. You are not alone in your failures, losses, disappointments, and you are certainly not alone in your desperate desire to present a got-it-together, smiley-faced imposter version of yourself to the world. When the mask gets ripped off, no matter how disoriented and terrified you feel, remember above all else to be kind to yourself. The real you being exposed is neither failure nor freak. You are sharing in one of the most common human experiences. Though this process initially feels like death, it is actually a great gift of enrichment of your humanity. The ultimate act of self-kindness is in allowing yourself to receive this painfully precious gift rather than resisting it.
It is a process. Remember the relentless Beast of Time. Not only can you not turn it back, but it also cannot be rushed. You’ve got 40+ years of patterns of thinking and behaving that are being unraveled and rewired. It’s going to feel horrible for a while before it feels better. That’s just reality. Again, remember to be kind to yourself as you move through a tortuously slow-moving and unwanted season of life. You aren’t going to be able to MacGyver yourself out of this one. Remind yourself that important restructuring is happening to enable to you move forward into something new even though you feel intractably stuck.
CLING TO HOPE
My mantra upon waking up every Sunday morning starting Easter 2012 was, “It’s not always going to be like this.” I had no idea for how long I’d be mucking through severe anxiety and depression related to our church saga, but I did know whether through “failure” or “success” (hard to tell which is which anymore) there was a day in the future waiting for me when I could look back and say, “Well done, Chicka. So worth it.” That day, 3-1/2 years later, is now.
As long as you are given one more day, cling to a future hope that it won’t always be like it is now. Whether your circumstances fluctuate between good, bad, tragic or meh, you will be different 6 months from now – 3 years from now – 10 years from now. The you of the future will have a unique and invaluable perspective because of exactly what you are experiencing right now. Today’s grief and confusion is the crucible in which fine gold is being refined. Endure the process. Hold out for the day you’ll be able to look back at this time and comprehend its value. You’ll get there, and you’ll know it when you do.
There is a lot of strength and power in your forties. You’re not done yet. No matter how colossal your failures to this point have been, you’ve got a relative amount of health and energy to accomplish big things along with some hard-earned wisdom that a 20-something couldn’t touch. Do you need to make some changes in your life to optimize your health? Do you need to finally say “no” to career/things/people who suck soul and “yes” to what builds you up and makes you fully alive? Well, I’m with Shia on this one…
There’s never been a better time for you to take direction of your life as well as so much opportunity in each day to experience peace NOW while building a future worth looking forward to. Take advantage of the sweet spot you are in even if it feels anything but sweet right now. Balls to the wall while you’ve still got ’em, you fierce Forty-Somethings. If you are being kind to yourself and clinging to hope, you will have the necessary courage to just DO IT!!
CONNECT, CONNECT, CONNECT
This is by far the most important. As humans, we are all hard wired for connection. A midlife crisis is a significant dis-connect as we wrestle with our losses and limitations to come up with a new way forward. The gift of the MLC is that the disconnect is not permanent or without purpose. The old system is in process of being re-wired for optimal emotional/spiritual functioning as we transition into the second half of life.
It is critical that we stay connected with others as this disruptive process does its work in us. Part of remaining connected is allowing ourselves to be completely honest, first and foremost with ourselves. We need to be honest about just how much we hate where we are, how scary it is, and how isolated and overwhelmed we feel. For the very real love of God for you – Let those closest to you, those you love and trust, see and hear it all. No matter how strong the instinct may be, do not push people away and go it alone, whether it be a matter of pride or reluctance to disrupt the status quo or inconvenience anyone. Your life IS disrupted. Be honest about it or you will lose the most critical connections in your life at a time when you most desperately need them.
If at all possible, seek professional help. If you can afford a therapist, DO IT NOW! If you can afford one but won’t, then give to Four Creeks Church and earmark your donation to go to me so I can afford professional therapy. I’m only half kidding. As it is, I do a fair amount of leaching off my friends’ therapy sessions and their breakthroughs and insights and healing. You don’t have to be in full-blown breakdown to benefit from therapy. Every single one of us, just by virtue of being human, needs help and connection and tools and encouragement. A professional therapist is skilled specifically to give you the necessary tools and support to navigate and work through emotional crisis and dysfunction as well as help you communicate effectively with the safe, vital connections in your life. They can also identify if you might require medical intervention to aid in achieving health and balance. Do it. Do it now.
All relational dysfunction is rooted in rejecting reality in favor of an easier, more comforting lie. Breakdowns happen when the facade inevitably crumbles and we’re forced to deal with reality but are ill-equipped to do so. Breakthroughs happen when we learn how to embrace and live in absolute reality.
Reality is, no Forty-Something actually knows if they are truly middle aged. For all I know, I could have just eaten my last meal and kissed my children goodnight forever. That’s not a reality we ever look ahead to for ourselves when we’re 17. It’s hard enough to accept even when tragically experiencing it numerous times as we get older.
Reality is, we had a mini high school reunion over the summer and it was a spiritual renewal of sorts for me. We’d all long since grown out of cliques. We’d all been beaten up by life enough to have nothing left to prove to anyone. We were simply glad to have made it, thankful to have each other to share the journey, making the most of what became a sacred opportunity to hug the necks of dear old friends and even dear new ones (social media rocks, don’t it?) and to be able to express face-to-face what we mean to each other.
Reality is, I saw one of my most cherished friends struggling, obviously entrenched in a whopper of a midlife crisis. You know who you are and you know this is for you. Don’t make me go Shia LaBeouf on you again. You know I love you enough to be that pain in your ass until my last breath.
Reality is, I was moved to write this after searching through my high school yearbook for a picture for a friend’s memorial earlier today. He’s frozen in my mind as that skinny kid with the brilliant smile and gentle soul. Reality is, he died not being able to perceive the reality of just how much he was loved and needed and mattered.
Reality is, Forty-Something Friends – You do infinitely matter. You are infinitely loved. You are accepted and wanted, completely and unconditionally simply because YOU ARE. Each day with you on this planet is a precious gift.
Reality is, most days are a struggle for any of us to perceive and accept that reality.
Reality is, reality doesn’t stop being reality even though we may lose our ability to perceive it.
Reality is, we’re all in the same boat and no one needs to go it alone. Link arms, pull in tight, and let’s rock tomorrow and the next day together, connected and strong, fierce Forty-Somethings.