Have I mentioned I am circumnavigating midlife? Yep, I greet the 42-years mark at the end of the month, and, according to the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy for U.S. women is sitting at 81 years.
In looking up the numbers, I found that in 1971 — the year I was born — the life expectancy for a U.S. woman was only about 76 years (CDC). So, whomever calculates these things has raised the age over the decades, and I get five more years!
In reality, the number 81 is just an average. I could die today in myriad manners. I could live to 112. Either way, it’s safe to say, statistically speaking, I’m about halfway through my years on earth.
So what? Well, I’ll tell you.
BEFORE I USE the term, I should note that “crisis” does not, unilaterally, mean trauma or tragedy or especially grievous conditions. A “crisis” can be, simply, a turning point or transition to a radical change.
So you might say I had a midlife crisis.
Somewhere around 40, it hit me: I am, likely, closer to the end than to the beginning. After all, at least twice a week the coffee ladies on my college campus ask me if I’m faculty or student when I order that very tall cup of joe.
During my “crisis,” I realized things like grandchildren, more complicated health issues and “retirement” will be actual, real issues for me and not just vague concepts saved for my parents and other “old” people.
And sooner, now, rather than later.
Grandchildren? Weird. Then I considered I could be a widow or my husband, a widower. For sure, both of us are guaranteed to die sometime. Would I marry again? Would he?
AS I TRAVERSED those many issues, I wound my way to this ultimate question, the first of my list of five things a woman might do in a midlife crisis:
1. I asked: What do I want the last half of my life to look like? This is an important milestone in midlife crisis management because the answer will point your feet one direction or another. In my case, I decided I hope the last half of my life is characterized by vibrancy, by having accomplished things that leave legacies for those behind me. I hope to emulate perseverance. I hope to exemplify health and wellness, humility, service. I want to DO something — lots of things — and be proactive toward, not just reactive to physical, emotional and social changes later life can bring.
2. Embrace changes rather than fighting them. Find what’s good about what’s coming rather than grieve the youth you’ll never recapture. A most unsightly woman is a middle-ager trying to look or act like a 20-something. For myself, I began to think about what strengths middle-aged women have and how to accentuate them. There’s a more classy beauty, for one, a maternal-ish wisdom and compassion, more confidence and less insecurity. So my clothes say “curvy” in the sizing and the “skinny jeans” are for the young ones? Curvy perimenopausal women are beautiful. Embrace that.
3. Make a “bucket list” of some kind — maybe big, maybe small — and start working on getting things done. My own “bucket list,” a list of stuff I want to do is not all that grandiose. For me, there’s nothing about sailing around the world or swimming with dolphins. My bucket list is about taking my children to as many interesting places as we can afford to, earning a midwifery degree and license and catching babies and, no kidding, being able to do pull-ups at the gym. Go ahead and dream big, but you’ll need to be able to plan how you’ll accomplish your goals.
4. Clean up your relationships and focus on the ones that matter. One thing you’re sure to discover during a midlife crisis: The days are short, and you’ll want to make everything count. That means this: “Ain’t nobody got time for that” when it comes to drama or toxic relationships or meaningless, purposeless interactions. I’m not one to have a slew of “friends” anyway, but I’ve tightened up even more in the past couple of years. I don’t answer every e-mail. I’m not obligated to attend every function to which someone invites me. I have the three or four things in my life that matter most, and those things come first. Everything else is marginal at best.
5. Absolutely, positively, make your physical health a priority. I’ve become convinced there’s a need for a kind-of “health-care coach” in people’s overall health and wellness management. Find one. Don’t wait until you’re sick to seek out attention. I recently had labs drawn to check in and see how I’m doing overall, looking at those things you hear about like cholesterol, blood sugar and thyroid function. (I’m doing well, by the way.) I also found the best way for me to eat for optimal health and committed to an exercise program I really like and am able to maintain. Even when other things get missed, I work hard at maintaining diet and exercise. Health and wellness, for the middle-aged woman, simply must be a priority.
ENJOY YOUR MIDLIFE crisis if you have one. I did. Now, I am not so sure about the hot flashes I’m just starting to have … So, talk about perimenopause next time, I guess.
Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, doula, midwife’s assistant and student nurse pursuing a minor in complementary health. She is from Elkhart. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”
On the web• World Health Organization stats about the U.S.: http://www.who.int/countries/usa/en/
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention life expectancy tables: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_09.pdf
• From wedMB about midlife crises: http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/midlife-crisis-opportunity