Beliefnet
The Queen of My Self

By Anna Moore, London Daily Mail

…continued from Monday….

It’s easy to sneer, but according to experts, it’s quite natural to take stock at ‘half-time’. ‘It’s when your focus shifts from your CV – status, job, house, possessions – to your eulogy: who you really are and what gives your life meaning,’ says therapist Andrew G Marshall, author of It’s Not a Midlife Crisis, It’s an Opportunity. For most of us, it isn’t really about toyboys, tattoos or motorbikes – those are just common shortcuts we take to soothe our unease and avoid the bigger questions.

For journalist Miranda Sawyer, 49, the crisis hit when she was 43, and it lasted five years. ‘It felt traumatic,’ she says. ‘You wake up in the middle of your life and think, “I’ve been doing it all wrong.” Midlife puts your choices under the spotlight, and mine seemed rubbish.’

Miranda’s unease grew in the gap between what she’d expected from life as a younger woman and what now looked likely to unfold. ‘We all have dreams, and many of them are hard to fulfil,’ says Miranda, who is married to the actor Michael Smiley and has two children.

‘Then you reach a point when you realise those dreams are beyond you – you’re never going to write that great novel or play for Manchester United. Maybe you expected to be madly in love with your partner, look amazing at 49, have a fantastic house and children who are doing well. Women are susceptible to setting themselves impossible standards.

‘Mine started with wanting something quite basic – a garden – and realising we couldn’t afford one in the area we live and where our children go to school. That started me obsessing over all the things I’d done wrong in my life, and what I should have done differently.’

An Oxford graduate with a successful career, Miranda was gripped by an unfamiliar panic. She felt hopeless, bored and sad. ‘At the same time, I was restricted in what I could do,’ she says. ‘I didn’t want to leave my family, and my days were full with work and the children. My midlife crisis happened at night. I would regularly wake gripped with panic and despair.’

Miranda’s decision to write a book, Out of Time, exploring her experience, was possibly a life-saver, because the best way through a midlife crisis, says Marshall, is to turn and face it.

Happiness – according to research – is ‘U-shaped’. We tend to start on a high, but in middle age happiness dives as we build a life, struggle to provide and have little time left for fun. (One piece of research found that happiness hits lowest levels between 40 and 42.) A midlife crisis may strike at this moment, but if we listen and learn from it, the second half of our life can raise happiness levels again.

For this to happen, though, we must avoid common mistakes. The first is to ignore unhappiness or drown it in drink. ‘If you do this you risk drifting into depression, and you may become bitter and closed off,’ says Marshall.

The second is to seize on hits of instant gratification. ‘Throwing yourself into an affair may feel good in the moment, but does it answer your questions? Will the same feelings return a few years later, when you are struggling to maintain relationships with an angry ex and estranged children, while juggling commitments and finances?

‘The answer is to take the time to listen to your feelings,’ says Marshall. ‘You need to ask yourself three questions: “Who am I?”, “What gives my life meaning?” and “What are my values?”’ Pause and take stock before you do anything hasty and irreversible (which might hurt others), such as selling your home or declaring time on your marriage.

Exploring passions that you may have put on the back burner and looking at activities that nourished you in the past is key. Have you allowed important friendships to fall away? Finding ways to build meaning and pleasure into your life – whether it’s a career change, education or a hobby – takes time.

To be continued on Friday….

 

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

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