I’ve been doing some quiet reflection lately. And now it’s time to voice what I’ve realized — life in the messy middle is really fucking hard and absolutely exhausting. While seeing my doctor the other day, I mentioned my shoulder had been bothering me recently, that I’ve gained a little bit of weight around my middle that I can’t seem to lose, and that I haven’t been sleeping well. Her response was so unimpressive, “How old are you… 45? Your stress levels are high? This is what it’s like to be middle-aged,” and I thought… “The hell it is.”
Many of us are literally smack dab in the middle of the midlife dream. We’re raising our own families while simultaneously tending to our aging parents. I’ve discovered a term that describes this uncomfortable space in time perfectly — “The Sandwich Generation.” We’re the peanut butter and jelly keeping the slices of bread together. Some days, it’s delicious and sweet, and others it’s like taking a bite into a shit on whole wheat.
Right now, it’s mostly my generation, Gen X, sandwiched in the middle. We’re the forgotten ones – the last generation who knows how to be bored, how to manage it without complaining, and like it because that’s what we were told to do. Except now, we can’t be bored because our plates are overflowing. And, like good Gen Xers, we lick our plates clean because we don’t want to deal with the consequence of hearing about all those starving children in __________. (Go ahead and insert whatever country your parents would have used to guilt you into eating a plate of food you didn’t want because they sure as hell weren’t going to let it go to waste.) Here are just few things I’ve noted as a woman in the midlife: MY BRAIN NEVER FULLY SHUTS DOWN Maybe it’s just me or maybe I have an attention deficit that’s only come to light later in life… whatever it is, don’t ask me to complete a task without sending me an email, text or by leaving me a note in all caps because my brain is constantly on overdrive, and I will forget. If I don’t do the thing immediately, I will start a different task and then pivot to another and then another and then another. At night I’m sleepy, but when I get into bed and close my eyes, sleep dangles like a carrot in front of me that I will never catch. It’s not always like this, but when it is… my mind starts to do somersaults conjuring thoughts and scenarios that will probably never happen, but now that it’s in my head, I can’t stop worrying about it... Oh, and I need to add getting milk to my list of to-dos for tomorrow. And, if I wake up past 3AM, forget going back to bed. I might as well just get up and start my day because if (and that’s a big if) I get back to sleep, I’ll be a hot mess entire day. EVERYTHING STARTS TO HURT AND FALL APART IN YOUR FORTIES Random body aches are normal, my ankles sound like popcorn popping when I go down the steps in the morning, sneezing not only causes me to pee a little bit but also can put me in traction, and I say, “Where did that bruise come from?” all the time. Plus, there’s a list of rather invasive screenings you start to add to your health regiment like colonoscopies, mammograms, and bone density checks, not to mention keeping up with your cholesterol levels, pap smears, and eye exams (Be honest, you know you’re teetering on the edge of needing readers or progressive lenses). Being proactive about my health is something that I’ve always been aware of, but now I feel like it’s screaming for attention and ignoring it isn’t an option because I can’t imagine not doing all the things I want to do (like walking) later in life. It’s a scared straight situation. MENOPAUSE AND HER FRIEND, PERI, HAVE FOLLOWED YOU ON INSTA You’ve heard about “the change” from your mom and grandmother, but you never thought it would happen to you because that’s for old women. Well, guess what – the time has come, and these so-called friends are relentlessly knocking on the door. Ignoring them won’t make them go away, so it’s time to face them. You notice your hair texture is changing, your skin looks dull, your boobs are beginning to sag, you’re tired in the middle of the day, you wake up drenched in sweat, you’re more irritable than normal and your adult acne is out of control. I mean this is just about enough to drive a woman to the edge. I read during the Victorian Era, they used to send menopausal women to asylums because they were considered crazy. Can you imagine? (Hey, I wonder if I could turn a stint there into a vacation.) MY LIFE ROLES ARE CHANGING AND I DON'T KNOW WHAT'S COMING NEXT I still have loads of responsibility in my life, but one area in particular looks different these days. I’m no longer in the trenches of raising little kids. My children are teenagers, and while it’s still my job to keep them alive by providing love, support, education, shelter, and food, they’re pretty sure they can do it by themselves — if they have a steady stream of cash… too bad they’re both broke as a joke. Instead of trying to teach them their ABCs, I’m trying to help them navigate life choices and early adulthood. This shifting role has freed up more of my time and has allowed me to pursue things I couldn’t have imagined in the past. But there’s a part of me that’s grieving the loss of now being needed on a different level by my children, and I’m trying to figure out how I fit into and continue to be part of their developing lives without being a raging nag. Conversely, I’m having to be more involved in the lives of my parents which hasn’t been an easy transition. I always feel like I'm pissing them off, but when you live 5000 miles away and are still needed to help... you do what you have to do because it comes from a place of love, and well... I know how to work the internet without locking myself out of an account. REDEFINING MIDLIFE When it comes to being the current Sandwich Generation, I think we’re doing better than the generation before us, and my hope is that the next generation will do better than we do… but the emotions of being in the middle of it are going to be raw and real for each generation, so I doubt anyone will ever get it exactly right.
When I entered “midlife” into my internet browser, I was a little surprised to see that nearly all the results produced articles and blog posts about “Am I having a midlife crisis?” I’m positive I’m not having a midlife crisis; I’m just living through the messy middle. To me, the term crisis signifies that shit is out of control and is being thrown around way too easily. I mean, my daughter thinks not being able to find her favorite hoodie before the school bus arrives is a crisis... when she has six more up in her closet. Also, I’m curious, does a midlife crisis have a specific length? Like a month or year, or can it be a one-day event? Because if that’s the case… maybe I am having midlife crises. Most of the time, my crazy train is making its way down the track pretty well and then BAM — shit goes off the rails. I’m all, “The sky is falling! What am I doing with my life? The good years have passed me by… blah, blah, blah,” and the next day, I’m back to killing it even though I’ve been up since 4:30 AM because as you know, I can’t sleep. If you look at symptoms of a midlife crisis, they resemble a lot of what I mention above. Big life transitions [parenting big kids and your parents, becoming an empty nester, losing a parent, getting separated or divorced, changing careers, dealing with health issues, retirement] can really mess with your mind and body. Keep in mind, historically, middle age is when these sorts of events happen. So, if you’ve got your wits about you, and no one throws you in an asylum because your crankier than your normal level of bitchy… I believe we can get through this. HERE'S MY THEORY...
While I’m living through the midlife, I don’t want to settle for just getting through it. This chapter doesn’t have to be pre-determined by society pigeonholing me into thinking I’m having a crisis. I may be dealing with crises, but my life is not in crisis. I’m a smart, capable, and resilient woman who’s done a lot of hard things. So, don’t underestimate me. I may not be able to reverse the hands of time (not that I really want to), but I also don’t give up easily. This is an opportunity to redefine what being middle-aged looks and feels like for each of us. I’ve been having to shift my thinking when it comes to being in the middle. It’s hard as fuck, and that’s not going to change, so I must take control of what I can control in the mucked-up middle – my thoughts, my actions, my reactions, my attitude, and my choices. If I try to control things outside of my sphere of influence, I’ll be chasing my tail, wasting my energy, and causing myself trouble, doubt, and worry that I don’t need in my life. While I’m sad my little girls (they will forever be 2 and 4 in my mind) no longer call me momma, I enjoy watching them become good and kind humans, who on occasion still want to hang out with their mom (or bruh as I’m often referred). When the stars align, I take advantage of these moments and try to hold on to them for as long as I can. I’m learning to listen to my body – I discovered that I don’t sleep well if I drink red wine (it’s a tragedy), and I’ve learned that magnesium really helps me sleep better especially before my period (whenever she decides to show up). Being aware of the choices that I make helps me to fire on all cylinders, or at least most of them. I know weight training is exactly what I need to do to build strong muscles and bones, and I’ve come to realize that resting and stretching are also essential to keeping my body strong. The combination of the two helps to manage my anxiety and stress levels too, so I make time for them each week. (Trust me, this not only benefits me but anyone else who must come in contact with me.) When my mind is racing, I dump it out… every task, every errand, every thought, and every worry. Then I try being still. I’m terrible at meditating, but I figure quietly laying on the floor with Paco, my dog, has got to be a good start. These are just a few examples of how I’m managing my messy middle. There isn’t a secret recipe for successfully navigating midlife moments. If there was, I wouldn’t be writing this, now, would I? This roller coaster will be ridden by each of us differently, and the day to day will have contrasting highs and lows. But doing all these things I mentioned, helps me smooth out the peaks and valleys when life in the middle decides to present me with new challenges.
Self-reflection of your own might be a good place for you to start when it comes to figuring out strategies for dealing with your own midlife moment. Working with someone like a coach can also help you get clear on what you want that journey to look like. Oh, one last little bit of wisdom — Don’t forget to check on your fellow midlife friends. Sometimes they need to be reassured they’re not the only one carrying the weight of the midlife world. Doing this will create a sisterhood of hope and empowerment. Alone we are strong, together we are unstoppable.