Is It A Midlife Crisis Or A Midlife Unraveling?

Is It A Midlife Crisis Or A Midlife Unraveling?

When you hear the term “midlife crisis”, what comes to mind?  

If you’re like most people I ask, and me prior to mid-2018, you’d envision some variation of the following cliche.  

In the usual scenario we see some 50-plus year old guy in a red corvette with a 20-something blond in the seat next to him.  He’s got the whole shebang working for him:  combover, gold chain, and an expensive watch that cost him more than he’s got in his savings.  He doesn’t have time nor energy for sweating the small stuff (like his dwindling savings), he’s got to keep up pretenses (amongst other things) to keep the blond and his deepening delusion that he’s “still got it” intact.  That last part is negotiable because he’s fooled himself just enough into thinking he can be forever young by association, firmly planted behind the wheel of his leased hotrod.  

This silly but all-too-common scenario has been implanted into our collective psyche by Hollywood and that guy down the street, we’ll call him Cliff.  Sounds like a good stereotypical midlife crisis guy name, doesn’t it?  (Nothing personal to the Cliffs of the world.  I had to choose a name, so no “hate mail” from the Cliff Club…mmmmkay?)

Dr. Sam Graber Quote: "Do you ever picture a woman when you hear the term “midlife crisis”?  Me neither."

Now I ask you this:  Do you ever picture a woman when you hear the term “midlife crisis”?  

Me neither.  

In fact until I read a seminal piece by my virtual-BFF Brené Brown, I couldn’t relate to anything remotely similar to Cliff and his hot babe in the passenger seat.  

Even when I was smack dab in the middle of something between what I then understood a midlife crisis to be and a total freaking mental breakdown, I didn’t see anything anywhere that described even a glimmer of what I was going through.  

I was in a midlife freefall of sorts until I read a May 2018 blog post from Brené titled “The Midlife Unraveling”.  After then, the freefall descent slowed a bit and I got my bearings somewhat back.   

In that blog post, she described perfectly what I was going through. (Doesn’t she always?)  And as a result, she forever changed the way I viewed myself and what I was experiencing for the better part of the previous two years.  The following excerpts sum it up:.

“As it turns out, I was right about one thing—to call what happens at midlife ‘a crisis’ is bullshit. A crisis is an intense, short-lived, acute, easily identifiable, and defining event that can be controlled and managed.  

Midlife is not a crisis. Midlife is an unraveling.  By definition, you can’t control or manage an unraveling.”

Brene Brown Quote: "Midlife is not a crisis. Midlife is an unraveling.  By definition, you can’t control or manage an unraveling.”

“Whatever the issue, it seems as if we spend the first half of our lives shutting down feelings to stop the hurt and the second half trying to open everything back up to heal the hurt.” 

It was as if my heart was literally breaking open and all the past hurt was seeping out.  

I couldn’t stop it.  

I tried to triage it myself, yet all attempts failed…miserably.  Nobody I knew was talking about these kinds of feelings or the physical changes that rode shotgun.  When and if they were, they were leaning on me to help process their emotions and vulnerabilities.  In my circles, I’m “that gal”.  

When everyone leans on you, who do you turn to?  

My friends and clients call me “The Strong One”.  Even as I was in a tailspin, I kept up the facade.  There was no room not to.  When I exposed my vulnerability to someone their discomfort was palpable.  That shut me right up, right quick! 

“The Strong One”…pssshht…if they only knew how much of a friggin’ mess I was on the inside.   

Why do we feel like we need to keep up the charade even when our hearts are breaking open?  Is “strong” really the end goal?  

At that point in my life I was exhausted; emotionally, physically, and spiritually drained.  I had nothing left in me.  And I was marinating in shame because I “should” power through it like I did every other thing in my life.  Just like a modern, independent Wonder Woman. To add to my “should-fest”, I am a seasoned holistic doc with (then) 25 years of patient care under my belt, though expanding at that time…and I was totally blindsided by what started happening to my own body and brain (not to mention my emotions) right around the 45 year marker.  

Quote: "Despite all the physiology and psychology education I had under my belt, I was ignorant to my own cries for help."

Despite all the physiology and psychology education I had under my belt, I was ignorant to my own cries for help.  I wasn’t familiar with their tone, nor their tempo.  I’d fallen deaf to them after decades of ignoring them to serve everyone else.  I didn’t piece together my up-and-down emotions with my changing periods, the rapid heartbeat that visited at the most inopportune moments, and the flushing of my neck and cheeks wherever I had a rise or fall in my emotional experience.  

That phrase “Hindsight is 20/20” is a well-known phrase for a reason.  And I am a walking, talking example of how it applies to perimenopause.  

I’d not even thought perimenopause could be the cause for my pending breakdown as well as the other things I was newly experiencing.  I thought I was literally losing it.  In all honesty, and I hate to admit it now, all I could manage to think was, “I don’t have the luxury of a breakdown for crying out loud.  I’ve got too much sh*t to get done!”  

So, like everything else in my life, I put my head down, stuffed my emotions, and got to work.  

That is until I hit rock bottom and found myself in a real mess.  

You see, there is no powering through perimenopause.  Oh you can try, but good luck pulling it off.  In fact, in my experience, the more we try to power through, the more peri pushes back.  

During one of my spiritual pleadings early on in this transition, I vowed that I would not let another woman suffer through perimenopause like I was, if I just made it through it!  Ever pray to the porcelain gods?  It was like that but the nauseating head-spinning feeling did not end in 24 hours or less…

I was having a very difficult go at it and looking back, I’m not sure how I held on in the beginning.  I’m still in the throes of peri, but I am no longer suffering, nor am I going it alone.  And you don’t have to either.

I found that the source of my suffering was awash in stress, wading in past trauma, and clinging for dear life to the side of the hormone pool.  

Once I dialed in a workable approach to all three aspects at the core of my suffering, I began to heal, really heal.  I’ve experienced, and continue to experience, the kind of healing I’d only flirted with before.  I thought I was “doing the work” by attending seminar after seminar, reading book after book, and taking course after course.  I was just massaging the surface.  

If I only knew then what I know now.  

Though Brené Brown says you cannot manage an unraveling, I believe you can minimize the fallout.

Quote:  "When I got my head, my heart, and my body into congruence, the suffering stopped."

When I got my head, my heart, and my body into congruence, the suffering stopped. It took a few years to match up the seemingly unrelated pieces. And when they lined up, I had an original keepsake much like a patchwork quilt that tells my story and keeps my past where it belongs.  In the past.   

Once I found the underlying pattern for unraveling myself, the suffering had no place to take up residence.  There is no suffering when we understand what is happening to us and unfolding for us in midlife.  We still experience a whole range of emotions, but suffering doesn’t register as one of them. There’s this underlying feeling of peace despite what transpires around me.  It’s the most beautiful feeling I’d never knew existed until I worked through what needed working through.

In my experienced opinion, we have two ways to approach our midlife unraveling: proactively and reactively.  

I did the reactive way, so I can tell you that doesn’t work, not in the least. 

The proactive approach is the way to go.  

Whether you’re in the throes of peri or she’s on the horizon, you can make a proactive shift.  If menopause is behind you and you’re still reeling from some of the emotional fallout, you can proactively unravel what remains.  

Walking alongside other women as they set about on their proactive unraveling is where you’ll find me now. 

My spiritual pleadings and cosmic agreement led me to create a unique community in which women can roll up their sleeves and do their inner work.  Until we better understand what makes us tick and what makes us a ticking time bomb, we have little hope of true connection with others.  

The way Brené hones right in on the spirit of the experience I was having back in the two year blur from 2016 – 2018 is why she is among my short list of virtual BFFs.  (Mel Robbins is right up there with her.) Brené inspires me on many levels, and that is why I pay homage to her by naming this community, “Unraveling Together”.

Learn more about this growing community of rebellious midlife women at https://www.unravelingtogether.com/.  If you jive with our vibe, join us!  Every woman is welcome at our collective table. 

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