Midlife crisis. What exactly is it? And doesn’t it only happen to men? Men who start losing weight, dressing fancy and chasing younger women on their new Harley Davidson that the family budget can’t afford? Sadly, this is a misconception, and women can, and do, experience what is known as the “midlife crisis”. It is merely a transition from young adulthood to midlife.

It may or may not end up being an actual crisis (depending on the decisions you end up making and your ability or inability to cope with life), but it certainly leads to deep soul-searching for both men and women. The search for meaning in your life, when you compare where you are at midlife to where you expected to be.

Men experience a drop in testosterone which may lead to a calming down effect and a softening of emotions, but it may also cause them to fear aging, losing attractiveness to the opposite sex (hence the Harley), a fear of not having attained the goals they set for themselves, and a fear of illness and death. 

Women experience a loss of estrogen, which leads into menopause and a host of physical symptoms which our grandmothers called “change of life”. Hot flashes, night sweats, dry skin (and other dry areas!) leads to discomfort and mood swings. Menstruation ceases, which is a happy event for most women. Emotionally, you are on a roller coaster caused by wildly fluctuating female hormones. You may be experiencing an “empty nest” when the children you’ve poured so many years into, leave home. You may feel either: lonely and useless without children to care for, or exhilarated, feeling that you at last have some time for yourself to do what you want to do.

For both men and women, it’s a time of reflection of your life so far, and evaluating whether you have achieved your life goals. The more that you have achieved the goals you’ve set for yourself, the less likely you are to experience a midlife crisis and the happier you will be. 

The thing to remember is that midlife is a part of life, the same as puberty is, and it cannot be prevented. People differ in the way they cope with these life transitions, much like as teenagers have to cope with adolescence. It’s easier for some than others.

Factors which may lead you to have a midlife crisis

  1. You poured your life into raising children, and now they’ve gone you feel empty and lonely. Your children were your life, you never went anywhere without them (if you were invited to a wedding without them, you did not go). You sacrificed deeply (beyond what is considered “normal”) to give your children everything. You did not cultivate friendships, or your own interests. Even if you work, it’s a means to an end, until you could get back to the children.

2. If you are married, you may not feel very close to your husband, because the children came first, or you drifted apart. Now you have an indifferent, or even bad marriage with no “buffer” of children in between you. You feel alone and unneeded. 

3. Your job is dead-end, or you don’t have a job. You may be financially dependent on a man who now is a stranger to you as you have nothing to talk about anymore. You may feel that you have no skills for the workplace, or feel that you’re too old to get a job, or maybe you can’t find a job.

4. You have no interests or hobbies – your interests and hobbies revolved around the children and THEIR interests and hobbies. You have not flexed your creative (or academic) muscles in forever!

5. Perhaps bad financial decisions or indulging the children too much has left the family finances in dire straights. Now when you should be looking towards retirement and being better off, you’re stressing about never being able to retire. (This may be especially true of those midlife people born into the Generation Jones period between 1956 and 1964, whose reality and opportunities in life were not as rosy as the Baby Boomer generation). You consequently dread the future as the rose-colored glasses are scratched and battered.

6. You have an introverted personality which has always been prone to worry and depression. This transition, especially if there are several unpleasant realities attached, will be hard for you. You may feel that there is nothing much to look forward to in life anymore and that your purpose (in rearing children), is finished. This leads to poor sleep (along with the night sweats), so you’re struggling in this area.

7. You have no, or few, close relationships with family or female friends. Perhaps you’ve always felt alienated from your family, or have just had a difficult relationship with them, and now you feel alone. 

8. Your personality is such that you’ve always been very hard on yourself. Now you’re overthinking and regretting every decision you’ve ever made and feeling guilty about things that you should not feel guilty about.

9. You feel “hard done by” and have a deep sense of loss or regret over everything that you feel your life is not, or things that you don’t have. You feel that you should’ve been in a different position in life now, and you feel that you should be “happy” even though you can’t define what “happy” is. Just not what the reality of your life is… Conversely, you may feel that you’ve achieved everything you wanted to achieve, now what?

10. You lack energy and feel that everything is too much effort, including taking care of your appearance beyond general hygiene (this may also point towards depression, so be mindful of the lethargy). You feel old and like your best years are behind you.

11. You feel that society has no place for middle-aged women, everything is geared towards younger, child-bearing women, and that life has no purpose. You feel aimless.

Do you know how fabulous you are?

You really are. Only you don’t see it. You’ve done so much, cared so much. You’ve worked inside and outside a home, you’ve planned menu’s and fed people, managed business dinners and family dinners, scheduled appointments, ferried kids to sports events, ballet, drama, chess and the like. You’ve supported a husband’s career. Your body has taken a battering from childbirth, labor and now menopause. You’ve nursed sick kids and sick men, covered for sick people at work, cared for sick pets. Cared for every sick thing in society, but you’ve failed to care for yourself. 

Can you not see that society has been built, in large part, on your efforts? And society needs you today, in midlife, as much as it ever has.

Realize that now, in midlife, you are facing a change, as you have many times before. That’s all it is, a change! And it may seem harder – you’re older, and you are tired. It’s time to stand up and create, lead, encourage, plan and support. Practically speaking, it’s going to take courage. Spades of it. But you have courage! Remember all you’ve already been through.

Some things to do

Use the time now that you don’t have small children (or big children who act like small children) around. Do that painting class you’ve always wanted to do. Learn to play the violin or the piano. Go to dance classes (for you this time, not your daughter). Become a soccer ref. Study again – something you’ve always wanted to study but never had the chance! It’s never too late. 

Work on your relationship with your hubby. Unless he is abusive, now is the time to stick together. It’s astounding to see how many midlife divorces there are. Couples have stayed together “for the children”, and now they’re gone, the marriage breaks up. Yes, it will take work to restore your marriage, especially if you’ve neglected it for years. It will also take work (and a whole lot of heartache to divorce), and second marriages are even more prone to divorce than first marriages. Travel together, or start a hobby or sport together. Cultivate fun…now’s the time you can waylay him at the front door without fear of the children walking in:)

Change your career if you are working, or upskill yourself and take on a job, even part-time. If you can afford not to earn a salary, volunteer at a shelter or charity organization as they’re always looking for people to help out. 

If finances are tight, you will need to set up an action plan to overcome the situation. Meet up with a financial planner or a wise friend to assist you. Take on a job if you’re not working, even on a part-time basis. Use a skill or hobby that you have to work from home.

Get help for your menopause symptoms. You don’t have to suffer in silence. See your doctor or clinic who may prescribe supplements. Take steps to deal with the effects so that you can get some sleep. Things look a little more positive when you can get some good sleep.

If you think that you may be depressed, please seek help. There is always hope and a brighter tomorrow. I know. I’ve been there.

Try to reconnect with old friends or family members that you’ve not seen in a while. If you have no friends, volunteering at a church or charity will give you access to like-minded (probably kind) people who may just become your friends. Join a local church – many have women’s groups associated.

Leave the past in the past. Regret serves no one well. Drop the guilt. You deserve better than that. What you cannot change, leave it behind. Practice gratitude by using a gratitude journal – think of all the blessings you have, we all do, even though when we’re miserable, it’s hard to see sometimes. There is always someone worse off than you. Help THAT person. Encourage THAT person. Of course, if you are THAT person (you’re in an abusive relationship; you’re struggling and don’t know where your next meal is coming from, or something like that), please reach out to your family, a local church or a counselor or counseling hotline. I’m a firm believer that something can ALWAYS be done. People sometimes don’t know your pain. Reach out. There are genuine, kind people still to be found in the world. 

Define YOUR “happy”. What does it look like for you? Put down some steps, change some things. If you lack energy, exercise works wonders!

As for your life lacking purpose – you are a powerhouse who has already achieved so much. Pass some of that on to the younger women in your family or community. They have yet to go through all the experiences that you’ve been through. Life will sometimes be tough for them in ways you’ve already survived. Your purpose now is to mentor the young ones – some are teachable. Those that are not, will bump their heads badly along life’s path. Your purpose is to continue offering your “special sauce” to the world as you always have. Only now, it’s more potent! It has a scarce ingredient called WISDOM!

Have you experienced any of these issues in your life – can you relate? Or perhaps some other aspects not mentioned here… Is “midlife crisis” an actual thing? Please feel free to drop a comment or question here and share your thoughts…