Mid-life crisis

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It’s a cliché, I know, but like most clichés, there’s some truth in it.clip art - stress image

Mid-life is tough. And it’s particularly tough – I think – if you’re female, single, without children and unsure of where you’re heading or what the future holds.

Of course, as I write this, it occurs to me that mid-life as a single, professional woman without children could be a real dream – all those opportunities, all that travel, the world is your oyster, and all that.

But what if you’ve already travelled the world and are looking for something different, something more permanent, more meaningful? And what if you’re tired of travelling the world alone?

So, without ignoring all the potential upsides of this age and stage, I need to be open about some of the downsides, based on recent experience.

One of those downsides is an unexpected physical deterioration, which is particularly hard to take if, like me, you’ve always been very active, physical, strong and fit.

Of course, as I write this, it occurs to me that mid-life as a single, professional woman without children could be a real dream – all those opportunities, all that travel, the world is your oyster, and all that.

I’ve really struggled over the past few months. I injured my right hand (it’s still not better) and it’s been painful to write or do any of the activities I love (swim, cycle and so forth). I tried running to lift my spirits but soon realised my weak ankle – the result of an old injury – wasn’t going to cooperate. That compounded my sense of helplessness and added to my worry about my aching joints.

Physical limitations are hard, especially if you’ve always relished pushing your physical boundaries or used exercise to cope with stress or low mood.

Such limitations also have a habit of shining a spotlight on your singleness. Simple tasks like closing the windows, chopping vegetables or vacuuming the flat were extremely challenging. Where’s the partner to lend a helping hand? And if I can’t write, who’s going to support me until I can?

Then there are all the questions around dating when the statistics say you’re on the cusp of infertility. You meet a man who’d like kids but you’re not sure you can give him what he wants. You meet a guy who doesn’t want children and you wonder whether to give that relationship a shot, on the understanding that it may already be too late to reproduce naturally so why worry about it.

Then there’s the career. If we haven’t done so already, many of us around this age start to take a good look at how we’re spending our time and what we’re giving our heart and soul too. Are we in a job we love? Are we honouring our dreams and putting our true talents to use?

I’ve definitely moved closer to doing that over the years but I know I’m not there yet, and that can be a little depressing, especially if you’re eager to move forward but something – fear, financial insecurity, low self-esteem or whatever – holds you back.

The word ‘depressing’ may seem like an exaggeration but my recent experience of mid-life has been just that – the injury, the singleness, the dating dilemmas, the career frustrations, the questions over motherhood (will it happen, will it not, would I be OK if it didn’t or would I feel lost?). It all got too much.

I began in earnest on Friday, taking myself to the beach for the day when a meeting in London got cancelled. My head told me it was a crazy idea (too late, too far, on my own and all that) but my heart skipped at the thought of the sand and the sea so I followed that feeling to the East Sussex coast and reminded myself that sometimes, just sometimes, I make amazing decisions and that life is good.

Lost for answers and feeling stuck, I opted to take my first ever antidepressant – a path I’ve considered a few times in the past. But I took two pills and then gave up. It’s not what I want to do. I respect those who make that decision and understand that for many, it feels like there isn’t a choice, but I know I have it in me to get myself out of this hole, without the aid of drugs. Or at least I want to try.

So I’ve resolved to practice extreme self-care for the next month and then see how I feel. What do I mean by extreme self-care? Cheryl Richardson has written a book about it (The Art of Extreme Self-Care), which I’ve found really useful. But I’ve decided to come up with my own plan in a bid to avoid the medication route.

I began in earnest on Friday, taking myself to the beach for the day when a meeting in London got cancelled. My head told me it was a crazy idea (too late, too far, on my own and all that) but my heart skipped at the thought of the sand and the sea so I followed that feeling to the East Sussex coast and reminded myself that sometimes, just sometimes, I make amazing decisions and that life is good.

I followed up that natural serotonin boost with a swim (or a float on my back, due to my sore wrist) in Kenwood Ladies Pond – a favourite spot where I find absolute peace and also get a rush of feel-good hormones, particularly if the water’s really cold.

What else have I got on my self-care plan?

I’m going to set some time boundaries with a client around work that I do that’s been getting me down. I’m going to take a few weeks off to get out of London and write my book in the countryside. And I’m going to start planning a one-year experiment living by the seaside. I’ve thought about it for a good while (and announced my departure on my blog a year ago!), but for the sake of my mental and emotional health, I know it’s now time to give it a shot.

Mid-life can be tough but rock bottoms can also force us to make big changes and to put our happiness first. I’m feeling good again and looking forward to whatever comes next.

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