Beliefnet
The Queen of My Self

By Mama Donna Henes 

The Queen Heals Her Wounds and Draws Strength From Her Scars

I loved the mothering years of my thirties. I did not bear children, but we don’t need to have given birth to be a mother. The archetypal Mother is not only a biological parent, She is a Mother of Invention, as well. She produces and reproduces — be it children, enterprises, careers or political causes. She then labors endlessly to nourish and sustain the fruits of Her passion: Her family, Her business, Her home, Her job, Her projects, Her clients, Her students, Her community.

That was me. After my Maiden years of youthful exploration and adventure — both geographical and psychological — I felt pulled by the Mother’s instinctual need to nest, and settled into a more sedentary, domestic life. Daughter of Mother Earth Herself, I created a ceremonial center from which I lavished love and nurturing spiritual support on everyone around me.

I extended my affection and protection to a number of young people whose presence enlivened my heart and home. My dear foster son moved in with me when he was ten, and I mentored student interns and assistants at what I came to call the Mama Donna Auntie Mame School of Life. Through these nourishing connections, I claimed my Mother power.

But by the time I was forty, my golden days of Motherhood had turned tragic. Death invaded my life, and family members, friends, students and pets all fell ill around me. Mama Donna to my extended clan, I held the hands and rubbed the feet of the sick and the scared. I read, talked and chanted to the dying and sat with them in long silence. I laid out the bodies of the dead and counseled the grief stricken. I wrote obituaries and officiated at funerals. Hard circumstances forced me to become Mother Courage.

I spent a fifteen-year eternity in the hospice zone, losing nearly everyone and everything that I had loved —family, friends, animals, home, community, income, monthly blood, hormones, equilibrium, confidence, and what ever control I thought I had over my life.

My own needs relinquished, all of my energy was lavished on others. Sometime during that interminable period, somewhere between making Jell-O, changing invalid diapers and scattering ashes, I lost my center. I was off kilter and shaky, preoccupied with the process of disease, decline, death and decay. Menopause with its interminable insomnia, mood swings and hormonal surprise attacks definitely did not help. I was a walking wreck.

To top it off, I was all but celibate for long patches of time, totally disinclined to engage sexually. Surely sex could have been a salve in such hard times, but I refused the comforts that were offered and retreated like a turtle into the shell of my sad self. And the people in my most intimate life, friends and lover alike — those who were still standing — fled from me, frightened by my hands-on association with so much pain and suffering as if death were a contagious disease. All I managed to attract was trouble.

Caught in the quicksand of despair, I gradually became completely paralyzed, unable to help myself, too heartbroken even to lick my own wounds. Resentment and bitterness began to singe the edges of my anguish. In the end, I was no Mother Teresa. And it was not pretty. I made myself sick in every sense of the word.

Then, one day, I’d had enough. “Get a grip.” I scolded myself. “Enough is enough, already.” I was finally and completely disgusted with my sorry ass martyr self. “Yes, some terrible things have happened. OK, lots of terrible things happened. Life happened. Why should I be exempt? Get over it and move on already.”

Resolute, I began my struggle to repossess all of the body-mind-heart-spirit support skills that I had so recklessly tossed aside during my tortured deathwatch. I craved quiet time and serious sustenance to help me process all that I had seen, done and felt. I call this discipline Sitting in the Shadows.

Grieving is an active practice, a conscious engagement that comes from a place of tenderness, compassion and love, and not the same thing as wallowing in formless self-pity, bitterness and anger. As I mourned, I began to open to my pain and started to understand that to acknowledge grief and suffering, fears and foibles, vulnerability and weakness, is ultimately the best hope for maturation, expansion and wisdom.

Determined to process my experiences and emotions, I drew in on myself. Out came my neglected journal, which I embraced as a long-lost friend. I sought council between its covers and lost myself in its pages, seeking to find the way back to my misaligned center, my sanity and my true Self.

Yes, it is true, I realized, I had been called to an appalling task. Yes, I did rise to meet it. Yes, I had succeeded in being of some considerable help. I also acknowledged my feelings of helplessness. I had been to hell and back — alone with no one to support me, which, in retrospect, was precisely the lesson that I had been meant to learn: to be able to rely on myself alone.

In looking back with honesty, I realized that this excruciating transition was a proficiency test in the academy of life. Unless we are challenged, how could we ever expand our capabilities beyond our assumed capacities? Gradually over time, I grew to embrace the difficult circumstances that had been forced upon me, as well as the hard changes wrought from within, for the invaluable opportunities for growth and spiritual development that they offered.

By day I continued to do what I must, and at night I tried to write. Like Penelope, I spent my evenings alone in the dark, spinning yarns, weaving a comforting sense of order, pattern, and systematic interconnectivity around myself like a shawl, a silk cocoon. I sat in its embrace quietly quilting my own experience into the intricate complexity, the enduring continuity of That Which Is, looking for meaning, direction, and perception.

Like Madame Lafarge, I was knitting a running commentary on my duel with death, as a way to interpret the rules of engagement and the lessons of the fray. By handling the threads and passing the shuttle, I was attempting to re-weave what had been broken, and to repair the damage that I had both endured and inflicted as a result of my pain.

My era of selfless mothering of others was coming to an end and I began to direct my ministering attentions toward my own bruised and battered Self. Now that I was motherless, it was time to claim the responsibility for my own care and feeding, my own growth and comfort, my own self-healing. To be my own caring best friend, sister, daughter, mother and devoted advocate.

Slowly I learned — and am still learning — how to mother myself, to lavish upon myself that same unconditional loving kindness, encouragement, support and solace that I have always given so freely to others. To nurture my own well being. To hold my deepest needs in tender trust. To care for my personal concerns and inspire and encourage the development of my best potential. To honor my purpose. To celebrate my passion. And to embrace my power.

Eventually I realized that though not unscathed, I had endured the onslaught of trials by fire and survived my middle passage of the soul, and I began to feel good about what I had achieved. I felt that I could do anything, because, in fact, I already had.

Finally my circumstances were calming down and my prospects were, for the first time in a very long time, looking up. Through my own intentions and concerted efforts, by constantly questioning and reconfiguring, by struggling to mourn and then release what was irrevocably lost, I was recovering my own misplaced vitality, interest and energy — and then some.

I was beginning to feel the tiniest inkling of the exhilarating force that I had been reading about, PMZ or Post Menopausal Zest (a cheery phrase coined by the anthropologist Margaret Mead) and to believe the promise of renewed vim and vigor displayed by my women friends who are in their sixth, seventh, eighth, and even ninth decades. And suddenly, miraculously, after all that anguish, I began to find my easy stride again and was soon trotting along with new authority, enjoyment and aplomb.

By the time I reached my mid-fifties, I was finally ready and able, and for the first time in my life, actually, consciously, conscientiously willing to accept the responsibility for my own life and living and the truth and complete consequences of my own dreams, decisions and actions.

I was a maturing monarch prepared to regulate all of the inner and outer realms of my own domain. At long last, I knew myself to be the uncontested mistress of my own fate. I had succeeded against all odds in turning my midlife crisis into my crowning achievement. And now here I am, standing in my full sovereignty, Queen Mama Donna, Queen of My Self.

 

* ***
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.

Crisis? What midlife crisis? How women are seeing it as a rebirth
Forty was once the age we died. But middle age has been redefined for many women

By Alana Kirk in The Irish Times

Middle age is now being redefined by a new generation of women not ready to hang up their high heels or retreat to the background of society, demoted and desexualised.

We only have to look at the sudden sea change in TV and cinema to notice that middle-aged women are finally being given a place on the stage, albeit still too little.

The old-fashioned notion that women of a certain age retreat into the background, desexualised and irrelevant once the breeding years are done, is no longer borne out in real life.

In fact, for this generation of women, their middle years are some of their most productive.

In just four generations we have doubled our life expectancy. And while we think those extra years might naturally be given over to old age, it seems, in fact, that we have extended, and redefined middle age.

A century and a half ago, 40 was the age we died. Today, for many, 40 is the age we seem to start really living.  Middle age used to be the slow road to old age, but now it is more likely to be considered later youth, and we are seeing it as a freeing time to explore ourselves and our potential.

While my 40s have been the most difficult time of my life with young babies, parent-care and marriage break-up, they have also been my most prolific. I ran my first marathon at 44, wrote my first book at 45, and eat healthier than I have in the previous four decades. And I am not unusual.

Middle age is now being redefined by a new generation of women not ready to hang up their high heels or retreat to the background of society, demoted and desexualised.

So why have things changed so much, and how are we responding? While far from equal, huge strides have taken place to reduce domestic drudgery for women and open up options for them in careers, arts and lifestyle.

Society is slowly letting go of ageist attitudes that render older women irrelevant.  While we are likely to be covering up the grey roots, underneath, our silver years are enjoying a golden age.

I talked to three women who see their mid-age years as a new beginning.

Vanessa Fox-O’Loughlin, who is 47, has become a best-selling author in the last couple of years as the crime writer Sam Blake.

“I believe this is my age; I’m at my creative best. I couldn’t have written these books when I was younger because I think you need the life experience to feed into the books.”

“I had an ambition to write all my life, and I started writing years ago. But life and career took over, and it was only when family and work started to settle and function that I could get back to the writing and take it seriously.

“I just couldn’t have written the book when my kids were younger, but now that they can feed themselves, I finally had the space. I still have to work my day job as a literary scout, and have to find the time to write late into the evenings and all weekend.

“When I was starting to write, my youngest had a childminder and my eldest was at nursery school, but even then I didn’t have the space to keep at it. It’s only now that my children are in their teens that it happened for me.

I feel like I did when I was 23 when I got my first job and the world was my oyster and I have that feeling of youthful enthusiasm again

“But also I believe this is my age; I’m at my creative best. I couldn’t have written these books when I was younger because I think you need the life experience to feed into the books.

“I feel I’m in the best place I’ve ever been. In fact, I feel like I did when I was 23 when I got my first job and the world was my oyster and I have that feeling of youthful enthusiasm again.

“It’s so different from what I expected. I was really depressed coming up to my 40th birthday and I didn’t want a party or to celebrate because I felt I hadn’t achieved the things I had wanted to achieve, and really thought it was all downhill. But the exact reverse happened. Lots of things started to come together after that and I genuinely feel better, and look better and have more confidence than I did was I was younger.

“It’s great! I’m not thinking in terms of life expectancy at all. In fact the exact opposite: I believe it’s the start, and that my life is now full of opportunity and potential.

“The turning point was a car accident I had when I was 42, and it gave me that moment to take stock. Don’t be a victim and let stuff happen to you. You have to go out there make things happen. I feel out of sync with the traditional concept of middle age because that is not were I am now. We are redefining the culture.”

Frances Carter is 48 and is just finalising a PhD in contemporary Dubai-Irish migration. She hopes to continue a new career in academia.

Frances Carter: “Going back to college was challenging as I was the oldest student in our master’s group and being viewed as a mother and an older woman was sometimes difficult.”

“I could never have imaged my life now, when I was younger. I dropped out of college and worked as a secretary for many years. My husband’s job took us to Dubai and I think for a long number of years I just cruised with the children, not really engaged with life. The life I have now, though, it’s the most fulfilled I have ever been.

“When my last child went to school, I completed an undergraduate degree with the Open Education Unit at DCU and followed this with a master’s within the discipline of geography at NUIG.

“A fortunate chain of events meant that the opportunity arose for me to apply for a PhD scholarship, which I am currently working on.

I feel at 48 my life is stretching out with infinite choices that I can make

“At that time I was 44, right on the cusp of middle age. It was a combination of things that made me accept the challenge. I always knew I’d go back to work when the children settled in school and I wanted to do something different from my earlier life, and college seemed to give me the opportunity to reinvent myself.

“Going back to college was challenging as I was the oldest student in our master’s group and being viewed as a mother and an older woman was sometimes difficult. Some of my lecturers are younger than me! But I experience the same insecurities as other students, and having the extra layer of being a mum can make it stressful.

“I made some conscious decisions about combining motherhood with being a student and I was confident enough to use the supports that are available within NUIG and my student peer group, especially asking for help when I need it. I love the buzz and it makes me employable, gives me confidence as I am constantly challenged outside my comfort zone.

“I feel at 48 my life is stretching out with infinite choices that I can make. I feel very empowered. My life is my own, and apart from my children obviously, I don’t have to consider anyone else. It’s so liberating to know I can do whatever I want as long I can manage to make it work – and I always make it work.

“When I was younger, middle-aged women were invisible. But I don’t feel that now that I am here. I feel very visible in front of students and I know I am redefining their expectation of what a middle-aged woman can do. Our experience and wisdom is appreciated and opportunities are open now to women like me that may have not been there before.

“A lot of my work is building resilience in others, including students and my children, and I hope this builds a path for them to have a rewarding personal and professional life. There is no doubt that I am busy, but I have 24 hours a day like everyone else. I see the value for making time for my relationships and take ownership of my responsibilities to my children and other students.

“You owe it to yourself to live well, and I am grateful that I can have it all now that my priorities are better aligned in a way that has a positive effect on all around me.”

Niamh Sheeran Ennis, who is 49, left a 25-year career in fundraising to retrain and build a business as a change coach

Niamh Sheeran Ennis: “I began to strongly feel that I should be working more on myself. I wasn’t the same person who had made all those career decisions in my 20s. So I knew I needed to do something different.”

“My life changed in lots of ways in the last few years. After a series of close bereavements and getting married, I took stock of where I was at. In particular, my mum’s death made me realise I had been living on autopilot for several years.

“Despite having a wonderful career I really felt in myself I was no longer working from purpose. Much as I loved it, I realised work takes up so much of my life and I wanted something more fulfilling. I had a real sense of getting older, had lost both my parents, and that too many changes were happening to me and not enough by me.

“I began to strongly feel that I should be working more on myself. I wasn’t the same person who had made all those career decisions in my 20s. So I knew I needed to do something different, but had no idea what that was.

I feel like I’m on the edge of a whole new beginning with my career

“I’m not a risk taker at all, but at the age of 47 I decided to take a sabbatical from my job for a year. My husband and I moved to Spain and I spent that time working out what I felt I could give the most to and get the most out of.

“I had already started a certificate in counselling and psychotherapy, and that led me to executive coaching. And when I started that that, I realised immediately that this is what I should be doing. I could be a benefit to others and share my experiences.

“So next I had to work out what the business model could be so that I could make a decent living.

“I did look back and wonder why I went through all that grief of losing a partner and both my parents so close together, and if there was a reason, what was it?If I was to take anything good out of it, it helped me understand the experiences I went through and if I could share this and help others.

“That’s why I really honed in on the change aspect. There are two types of change – the change we select and the change that is forced on us. I had experienced both. I feel now that I’m at the start of something, and it was a conscious decision to put myself at this place at the start of something. I see clients in a similar age bracket weighted down with regret.

“I’m approaching my 50th birthday next year and I felt if I don’t do this now I will always wonder that’s what could have been. That is what propels me forward. I don’t want to be older and wished I’d done it.

“In my 20s it was so important to be seen and visible. Now in my late 40s I don’t have that stress, because that sense of presence comes from inside me.

“I don’t believe middle-age is when we stop and become invisible. And while that might happen to some, it won’t happen to me! I think what changes in your 40s is that your values change and the things that were important before just aren’t the same. You have to see the experiences you have been through, have learned from and know you are stronger, wiser, and even more resilient.

“I feel like I’m on the edge of a whole new beginning with my career and my own potential. I have a huge amount to offer, the world is at my feet, and my future is all finally within my control.”

 

* ***
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.

Maeve Haran

Here is a new Voice of liberation! From the Daily Mail

London – For her 60th birthday last October, Theresa May probably splashed out on some more of those nice leopard-skin shoes. For my own 60th, I did something much more earth-shattering. I bought myself a silver sports car.

A sporty convertible is becoming a status symbol for affluent middle-class women who reward themselves for years of toil

It is, for those who care about these things, a £20 000 (R330 0000) Volvo C70 GT Auto convertible with a 2.5 litre engine, capable of 210km/h.

It’s a familiar cliché that when men hit the midlife crisis and existential angst, plus baldness, sets in, rather than contemplate their mortality, they buy a Porsche 911 and have an affair with their secretary. But what about women?

Figures show that soft-top cars are now most likely to be bought by women in their 50s, with seven percent of this female age group driving them. Sales have quadrupled in just 15 years.

A sporty convertible is a status symbol for affluent middle-class women who reward themselves for years of toil – maybe illness, divorce or simply the long slog of bringing up a family.

My car was bought not because I was fretting over grey hairs and middle-age spread but simply because, after a lifetime of ferrying children in battered old people carriers, I thought it was time I had a car for me.

My attitude to cars has always been one of supreme uninterest. Actually, that’s not quite true: when I look at the photo of me taken in the 1980s, during my ‘smouldering period’, all hair and kohl eyes, wearing a red flying suit that matched my red Fiesta, I remember how proud I was of it.

Then there was a photo of me taken in the early 1990s, leaning on my Renault estate — a car I would spend the next decade filling with baby seats, cricket bats, musical instruments (including a double bass) and the contents of several university flats. The car that would follow was a Mitsubishi people carrier, a small bus that no one could possibly love. Sexy, it wasn’t.

So by 60 I thought it was time to get a car that would make my heart zing. I am, of course, part of the ‘me’ generation, one of those wicked baby boomer beneficiaries of cheap housing and stable employment. Buying a fast car would no doubt add to the list of my sins. But what the hell, I love it. I’m proud to be a silver racer.

So why should a sports car appeal to women, who – unlike men – aren’t trying to compensate for the size of their equipment or ward off the Grim Reaper?

Well, there is nothing quite as wonderful, I have discovered, as putting the roof down, feeling the sun on your skin and actually feeling part of your surroundings. Driving ceases to be a chore and becomes fun; a pleasure.

Is there also an element of vanity? A fellow convertible driver asked me if I check out my reflection in shop windows at traffic lights. No, actually, but I confess I do like putting on my sunglasses and getting the occasional second look.

But, most importantly, it’s about financial independence. Things have changed a lot for women, and I can afford to buy it myself.

I’m not one for Prada handbags or Burberry outfits, but now and then I like to splurge. Because I can. Because I’ve made the money myself. When I went to look at the car in the showroom, the salesman actually asked me if I needed to discuss buying it with my husband! I was so angry, I got out my cheque book on the spot.

When it comes to the technical aspect, I can only repeat what a friend of mine once said: ‘I love cars but have no interest in what happens under the bonnet.’

There is one exception. I adore the sound of my car. When you put your foot down, it has this fantastic throaty roar which would even impress Jeremy Clarkson.

“I didn’t know your mum was a boy racer,” said my daughter’s boyfriend when I gave them a lift.

I have to put up with a lot of ribbing from my children. They don’t entirely approve of this transformation from invisible mum into sunglass-wearing sports car driver. My son wouldn’t even let me pick him up from sixth form if I had the roof down.

Another complaint is that there isn’t enough room in the back. My reply is, at least I bought a four-seater. A man in the grip of a midlife crisis would have opted for a two-seater.

What about the environment, they demand. My main defence is that it has a petrol engine – and besides, I argue, I do sometimes travel by train. Women don’t tend to go for the silly cars, the Maseratis and Ferraris. More the convertible Renaults and Saabs, or maybe BMWs or Audis for the more daring.

Hilariously, recent research has shown that men driving fast cars get a testosterone surge, especially in towns when other men might be looking at them. I just get to Sainsbury’s more quickly.

I think it’s great that older women are rewarding themselves with cars they always wanted. But the writing may be on the wall for some silver speedsters.

Car manufacturers, it seems, are worried about the ageing profile of sports car drivers. Baby boomer males, who have been the mainstay of the fast car market, are now getting too old to climb into low-slung vehicles.

One car website even warned: ‘the Sports Car Market Will Be Atrocious After the Baby Boomers Die’. But that is ignoring the fact that baby boomer women are in much better health than their male counterparts. Finally all that yoga will pay off and we can go on climbing into sports cars until we’re 80.

And, everyone knows women are safer on the roads. Sensible, financially savvy, looking for a dignified good time, we older women are the perfect market. We don’t even break the speed limits.

But one factor may put the brake on: grandchildren. I don’t have any yet, but I worry that if I did, I might have to get myself a nice, sensible hatchback instead.

But then I remember the role model of my friend’s mum, Anne, who used to bowl about in an open-topped Vauxhall, the back stuffed with grandchildren. As far as I know, they all survived.

Life, after all, should be about fun. And after all those years of responsibility, that’s exactly what we deserve.

 

* ***
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.

I have been inundated lately by article, poems and stories about the so-called “Midlife Crisis.” Clearly it is subject very much on the minds of many, many women.

Mid Life Crisis: What is it? Is it inevitable? Is it even a real phenomenon? Or is it an invention of the media — that is, corporate advertising trying to sell us things we don’t need? (Not only do we not need these cosmetic and quasi-medical accoutrements, they are downright insulting and sometimes even dangerous.)  

These writings cover the gamut of opinions, ideas, and suggestions about

coping with a Midlife Crisis, ours or someone else’s. I offer them up to you to for your interest and edification.

As always, I invite you to send me your stories — experiences, advice, and inspiration to share with our community of Midlife Queens.

Midlife Crisis or Midlife Consciousness? You choose!

xxQueen Mama Donna

 

I Turned 50 Today
By Fawn Germer

 

When I was 29, I went to a therapist

And told her

I felt old.

I turned 50 today,

under the towers of Zion

where I cycled and hiked and laughed until

the day ended in darkness

under the watch of a million desert stars.

Sometimes, I am officially irrelevant,

A middle-aged woman,

Invisible.

Yes!

Don’t tell, but I sneaked into the pool of a five-star resort

Just put my beach bag on a real nice lounger and when I put on my sunscreen,

A server brought me a glass of champagne,

Because she thought I belonged there…

Free champagne, I am so free.

I can wear whatever bathing suit and show off all kinds of cellulite because,

At this point,

No one is looking to criticize

The middle-aged woman.

Let the world ignore me while I ignore the expectations

Every day,

I will look up to God and

kiss warm light.

I choose not to dream,

But to live.

 

* ***
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.