So, this is not one of those ‘how to’ blogs, or ‘ways to’ do something. This is about midlife and it’s about me being in the middle of it. While I do pride myself on having some pragmatic and effective tools (a few of which ARE mentioned in this writing) to cope and to understand this transitional process, there still is the fact that I get to deal with it, to accept that I am in this transition myself, and lean into it…into the messiness, into the not-knowing, into the bewilderment at the changes in my body, into the physical frustrations, into the sense of tolerating less and into the mystery of it all.
Let me share with you the passing internal dialogue just this morning. As I was putting lotion on my skin, I noticed the changes in the texture of my skin (as I do often these days) and when I noticed the .07 second of negative judgement I had around it, I went immediately into gratitude for the parts of my body that I was rubbing this lotion into and I even thought briefly about that horrible flesh eating bacteria (Necrotising fasciitis) and then became acutely aware of how grateful I was for this skin and for this mostly able body. Gratitude is a most useful tool!
Then, another passing thought occurred while on the highway driving from meeting with a client and to my home office. Working for myself allows for this type of flexibility and freedom which I highly value. I thought about the rest of the day- the upcoming client that was scheduled and the work I needed to do. I thought about dinner and naturally I thought about my son who will eat with his team and go straight to his game. I thought about how I was looking forward to the game and how he has two games this week- (these games have filled a good part of our lives for the past 10 years!). It was then that a sense of dread moved through my entire body. Again, as it often happens these days, I was reminded that this will all come to an end soon. And, the prospect of me working from home, balancing my work life with home life will drastically change. I thought it was jolting enough when my oldest went away to college but the void that the second and last one will leave me with just brings a sense of foreboding gloom. So many of my waking hours and energy have been around the well-being of my children. It’s not just been the ‘doing’ part of parenting – the errands, the schlepping, the providing for – it’s also been about being present, being available, and being curious about who they are and who they are becoming. And that dread, that angst, comes from a huge sense of emptiness that I anticipate. Even as they begin separating more during their high school years, for the most part, they are sleeping in their beds every night and there’s daily interaction. The emptiness of a house without my children makes me question what I will do and who I will be without this habitual sense of purpose. Sure, I know my ‘purpose’ of being a mom will still be there, but anyone going through this—especially those who have worked around the schedules of their children–can sympathize with this shift in prioritizing one’s day and one’s thoughts. In addition, it conjures my (in)abilities in the workplace, and, at least for me, the idea that working from home might be too isolating, along with feeling like I don’t have what it takes anymore to find full time (meaningful) work. I also question if work will really give me the depth of purpose I’m accustomed to (just) by being a mom.
What I notice most about this is not the obvious fear based projection, or future tripping, and ‘catastrophizing’, as I know to remedy that with becoming very, very present. I can breathe and highlight all my senses and ground myself. Yes, another tool. It’s even when I do that, or BECAUSE I do that, like today, that being present meant being sad and allowing myself to feel this sense of loss – even if it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t need anyone -myself included- to remind me to think of what I can gain or to envision possibilities to fill the seeming void. I don’t need to be reminded that this is normal and a part of life (seems rather dismissive). I don’t even need someone to empathize with me. What I need, and needed, is to let myself have a little space to acknowledge the sadness and the sense of loss I feel. During these years, of such tremendous change, I must allow myself a wider berth to accommodate these fleeting, powerful, and poignant feelings. No longer willing to sweep anything under the rug anymore, I get to have these feelings.
Midlife, no doubt, presents many opportunities for a plethora of little passing thoughts like I had today. While sometimes we’re so caught up in the routine autopilot of living that we barely give these thoughts any credence, in my experience, these feelings and thoughts get louder if ignored. And, as they get louder or more incessant, we find (mostly unhealthy) ways to escape to quiet the noise or to avoid the discomfort. Previously, I spoke about “triggers”, how our brain chemistry is affected, and how we can respond to these triggers in healthy and healing ways. These feelings I speak about today are similar to triggers but they seem more subtle. Some of these are fleeting thoughts that barely register on a conscious level. However, there are so many different transitions that come with aging and around midlife that we must make room for them. The transitions unique to midlife give rise to grief in varying forms. And, for me, grief must be allowed to express itself and be allowed to move through us. It’s hard to allow for new things in life to emerge if we’re stuck and holding onto what was. While I propose that midlife is about rebirth, it is also a time to get closure, to say goodbye, and to acknowledge our feelings with honor, with gratitude, and with reverence for what was. What a gift it was to be able to have these children in my daily life! What a gift it was to have such a strong and able body! What a gift it was to have so many dreams and aspirations that helped me feel hopeful—whether or not they all manifested. What a gift it was to experience so much! What if we took the time to honor all these things we’ve so often taken for granted, including our time on earth? What if we became more aware and conscious of these changing times? What if we gave ourselves a little extra space to be with our confusing or sad feelings? Would it render our life more beautiful now? Would it enable us to live more freely and intentionally as we move further into the years ahead and create what’s next for us? Would it give us a more solid foundation to stand upon as a proud, wise, and compassionate deserving elder? As for me, I think so.