Midlife and Menopause
Exploration and Growth
With the advent of menopause, children leaving home, or the decline of a parent, we come to the end of familiar roles and ways of being and begin a different way of life.
|All my life I was a secretary. Finally, at age 57, I took a year to attend school and become a licensed practical nurse. Seven years later, at age 65, I am happily employed as an LPN--my lifelong dream.
Midlife can bring a surge of energy or restlessness. Those of us whose children are grown may feel satisfaction with a job well done, or at least finished. This transition is harder for some than others. Even when you have other interests, your house may feel empty, with some essential vitality departed. Then again, you might feel wonderfully free. We can use this time to refocus, to acquire new skills, to refine old ones, to spend more time with our partner or friends, to work harder at a present job, or to find a job. As one woman put it, “It’s getting ourselves back.”
|I just want more! More time free of kids to focus on my work; more time to myself; more passion in my marriage or from somewhere else.
Attitudes toward the middle years vary from one community to another and also by economic situation. If you work at a physically demanding job, you may experience an earlier onset of chronic conditions associated with aging that require you to slow down, while women who have had less stressful working conditions may be more interested in new outlets for activity.
Perspectives often change with a heightened awareness of time passing and the value of the time that remains.
|I want to use my time well and live in a way that is true to my values. Some women face this question in college. For me, I just wanted to get married and have children. What do I want to do now? I want to feel I am leaving a legacy. It hit me full force at mid-life.
|It was a shock when a friend of ours, a middle-aged man, died suddenly. It got me thinking that I don’t know how many years Dan and I have left together…Work is still very important to me, but I no longer want it to absorb my whole life. I want to spend time together and have fun.
Coming to terms with life raises questions: What do I want to do? What am I not able to do? What can I control? Now that I know myself pretty well, how can I live as authentically as possible? What would I like to learn? How shall I balance my life? Midlife offers opportunities to reexamine your values, relationships, self-image, and health practices.
Losses, Gains, and Challenges
Women face age discrimination at earlier ages than men do, sometimes even in our thirties. Western society overvalues youth and beauty, setting them as a sexist standard for measuring women’s value, along with sexuality and reproductive ability. This devaluation and ageist attitude can make it more difficult for us to deal with losses that occur in the middle years.
Our biologic capacity to reproduce definitively ends at menopause, at the average age of fifty-one. Some of us who do not have biological children have to accept that we never will. Signs of aging can be upsetting and may challenge us to develop a new body image.
|The most important signs of midlife for me were the physical changes that made me realize that I was not young; vision loss, lack of sexual appetite, hair texture thinning, skin changes, and some wrinkles. I couldn’t count on my looks anymore. My body was changing; what was the rest of my life going to be like?
We become prime targets for often risky “anti-aging” treatments, from wrinkle creams and Botox to face-lifts and liposuction.
If we have children, they may be toddlers or adolescents, or they may be leaving home or raising children of their own. Sometimes they have trouble becoming adults. They may return home to save money, or after an illness, divorce, job loss, or other troubles. They may bring their children with them or move on and leave the grandchildren with us. They may die early in an accident or from disease, which may be devastating.
Other important relationships may change or end: Your partner or close friend may die, or you may divorce. Parents become ill or die. We become susceptible to chronic illnesses, such as arthritis, and to life-threatening conditions, such as heart disease.
These pressures can cause considerable emotional, physical, and financial stresses. They may bring us a heightened awareness of the passage of time and of human mortality.
Excerpted from the 2005 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, © 2005, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.
|When my father died this month, for the first time I really recognized that death is around the corner. It definitely makes me treasure life more than ever…I try to slow down and force myself to feel and see and enjoy the world.
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