Last week we asked about the best part about being in these middle years. You said things like “not worrying about what people think” or “trusting myself” or “finally being able to say no.” Today we are asking: What’s the hardest part of midlife for you?
Right now for me it's coming to terms with the need to keep growing. I had a belief that I had done "enough" work on myself. I'm now accepting I have more to do to come to peace with myself and childhood trauma. I'm disappointed but also hopeful.
For me it is difficult sometimes because so many people I love have passed away. During covid years I had 17 friends and family and neighbors die. Every death brought a new grief and even though I have strong faith sometimes it is difficult. All of the grandparents have passed away and two of my aunties have Alzheimer's. Sometimes I just miss everybody. I have worked many years in child protection and sometimes it is difficult to see how much still needs to be done.
Right now, the hardest things are: 1. finding full-time work (no one wants to hire a 50-something who has been out of the workforce for 15 years because she was the sole caretaker for her father); 2. dating (two reasons: I think I've turned feral from being isolated for so long and the pool of contestants has developed a toxic algal bloom); 3. being my own support system is exhausting (having no family or partner to help me deal with the multitude of challenges that have been thrust at me in the last 5 years has taken a toll); and 4. coming to grips with my own mortality (I think most people can relate to that).
Why has it taken me 6 years of menopause sweating, graying and hair-thinning with an additional post-menopausal weight gain to realize I'm not 38 anymore? I've not been 38 for 17 years. I have 50 more pounds to lose added to the 25 that took me six months to lose. It's taken me at least 3 years of those 6 years + 1 Pandemic Pilates pulled groin to realize I have to warm up for at least a quarter of my life to do anything anymore. 2 of those 3 years have me arguing with my no longer estrogen-fed muscles for boycotting me after working for me happily for ALL OF MY LIFE. For the last year, I take glutamine and creatine and ice and heat and Advil my muscle pulls that come from oh, it's anybody's guess.
My feeble neural pathways need Noom, Crossfit, hours of calls with galpals fishing for their undisclosed pains and pulls, a few doctors visits, angry city walks against the pain, and, at the very least, 5 grand in orthopedic shoes and stretchy work jackets to adjust for these changes. And yet, I still reflexively yell to everyone, "I'M NOT 38 ANYMORE!" like that's an explanation for letting myself go and do what it's biologically supposed to do.
I think it's the math of midlife that is the hardest. I was never that great at it to begin with and now, I have to budget Aging alongside gas, utilities and rent because who wants a mortgage anymore.
This sounds like griping. It's mostly enlightenment, I swear - A LOT of enlightenment.
Oh, gosh. My answer is I think tainted by the fact that I was treated for breast cancer in 2022. I am lucky; it was caught early and surgery (mastectomy and reconstruction) and radiation was my course of action and all my doctors say I can call myself cancer free now. Thing is, you're never free of cancer, in terms of what it does to you emotionally. A year out of my life for surgery and recovery was like 5 years. I was 55 at diagnosis, and 57 now, but everything got accelerated. I'm not sure what a non-cancer 57 would feel like. But, to actually answer, the worst part of this phase of life is missing my children and watching my parents age, and feeling myself age, and wondering what's left.
As a woman recently and very unexpectedly divorced, it’s being single at 45. I wasn’t able to have children and my ex husband had grown children when we met so adoption wasn’t a discussion. Now I feel particularly alone in the world, starting over.
The hardest part for me is the learning to let go. I’m 54 and finally empty nesting (it’s been delayed due to Covid and kids sticking around) but our last dog passed a few weeks ago and our last kid moved out in July. So it’s this transition in general to actual empty nesting. I’m realizing I can let go of so many things that I was such a part of for so many years. Re-thinking what really matters and getting rid of the old habits of “holding” things for my kids and family that aren’t mine to hold anymore. That’s the hardest part du jour. I’m sure it will be different next month or even tomorrow. :-)
My challenges range, body, aspirations, wrinkles, and mid life husband, the latter my three decades best friend who now admits he is in an existential mid life crisis. Not with me, with himself.
This means my generally chill confident husband is often irritable and clingy/needy in ways I'm not familiar, nor do I like (sorry but true). New relationship terrain for us, strained marriage. I sent him an article and we're discussing, because we're fighting a lot. It's like I'm married to a different person.
Accepting that my endurance is lower, that my body, despite working out 5-6x a week,is rebelling. Actuality she's trying to tell me to cool it a bit, but I rebel. Then my adrenal fatigue rears and I crash. And now I'm sick as a dog in bed with a bad cold because I didn't read my body sooner.
I accept my age number, (58) never hide it, but I don't accept my wrinkles and flab . Not popular to admit, but true. We are as feminists called to label these stretch marks and droopings as "beautiful and earned" True, but I'm not one for pretending that they feel like badges of honor. It's just, aging
I grapple with my admitted vanity. Then say screw it. Vanity checked, does not make a woman shallow. Unless she ACTS shallow. Ambivalence is the cruxt of much of my writing.
Career, that I have not achieved enough in my second career (writing) for someone with more time than most. Paralyzed, until recently, to write and submit. Plagued by guilt that I should and could be more, if I did more.
And finally, like my husband, the hard reality that more than half our life is over. I try not to focus on creeping death, but my body changes remind me. Despite being on every bio identical hormone (medical issues).
What I can't change I must embrace? So I try to control as much change as I can.
I'm 47 and the hardest part, so far, has been my body giving me the finger when I ask it to do things it has always done. Case in point: the elliptical. I was a regular at the gym in my 20s. I held those heart rate sensors and I knew my range of heart rates that felt good/exercisey or too high. I stopped going when my kids were born. So it had been 13 years when I finally got on an elliptical at a hotel gym and felt like I was dying and then realized something: you know that graph on the machine that shows the target heart rate plummeting downward with older age? THAT'S ME NOW. Joy! But that's not all. My periods used to come every 35 days like clockwork. Now they come as randomly as storms or earthquakes, but with less warning and no friendly weatherman. Sleeping late? What's that? I'm rapidly becoming the cliche of the old person who needs a nap every afternoon to live their best life. My skin and hair are drier than a desert, and I might as well buy stock in E.T. Browne because I have a bottle of Palmer's cocoa butter lotion in every room of the house. And let's not even talk about the mirror. There's really nothing we can do about that neck, no matter what the Facebook ads say. I have to keep reminding myself that I WANT to become an old lady. It's far better than the alternative, after all!
I was diagnosed with an incurable parasitic illness when I was 47. I am partially blind as a result, but I’m also lucky. An activation in any other organ means dementia or death.
It was harder to deal with treatment. Short story: It changed my personality. I woke up one morning and felt like aliens scraped out my soul and replaced it with garbage. For 3 years, I groped through this state, bewildered and scared and at times suicidal. (I had never been depressed in my life.)
But I looked fine. So everyone thought I was making it up. I lost friends and walked away from relationships and avoided people. It was the toughest three years of my life.
I realized life isn’t guaranteed. Every time I blink, a black hole reminds me I may not see tomorrow, either literally or because I’ll drop dead from a parasitic activation.
So I wring every ounce of wonder out of my life. Yes, my body is changing. Yes, relationships and people leave. Yes, people take me for granted and say no and hurt me sometimes. Yes, I can’t see as well as I’d like. But none of that matters if I’m dead tomorrow. I’m working on 2 book proposals. I’m considering finally starting a Substack to talk about a specific topic. I’m learning to speak and write in Spanish. I do not accept that it is too late for me to do anything, because it’s only too late when I’m dead.
Thanks, Jen. I like your candor. Gravity she's a bitch, and joints wear out on some (husband got a hip replacement last year, went very well but understandably made him feel vulnerable.....
I know many of us are "letting go" in midlife, and I am in certain areas. But the hardest part of this time is "holding on" -- to my growing kids (and all their activities), to my husband, to my career, to our family, to my aging dad/in-laws, opening my arms so wide, and being crushed by the management of all this holding. People say sandwiched, but I feel like string cheese! It feels so urgent at this midpoint to CHERISH every moment, to LIVE IT UP, to foster real intimacy, and maximize my happiness. When, sometimes, I'm miserable because I feel like I'm missing the joy. Guilt, anyone? Oy.
Regret isn't quite the right word, but I guess it's the grief of the things in life that didn't go the way I hoped, or turn out the way I thought they would, and it's too late to change it now. My kids are almost grown. As a young mom of young kids I was so idealistic and thought I'd be amazing at parenting and my kids would turn out happy and healthy, but it turns out I'm not in control of any of that as much as I thought. Some things happen outside of my control, and other things I made decisions about with good intentions, but it just wasn't what I thought it was. And now I my kids are young adults who get together and "talk about their childhood trauma", and it makes me so sad. Even though for the most part our current relationships are pretty good and healthy - which is something to be grateful for sure - I'm still really sad that life effed them over like it does most everyone.
I think the hardest thing for me is trying to rewire myself. I realized that I have been living in a state of grief for a really, really long time. Not having children, wasting years of my life on an asshat, learning of the family dynamics that drove me into his arms. It's been a hard road. I've lost friends over trivial matters. I've learned that my choices in life have come from a seat of intractable co-dependency. I'm trying to learn to let go of those people and things. Trying to overcome innate behaviors is exhausting.
I miss the frivolity of my youth.
For me, it's living with a hunger that I can't satiate.
The hunger is, in short, to be able to be my true self. Like others have described, I have now learned a lot about who I am and what I really want and need from life - particularly after my marriage ended three years ago.
However, much of it is out of reach. Various circumstances mean that I cannot have much support with childcare (including from my ex), have very limited capacity for work, consequently tight finances, few in-person social opportunities, and no feasibility of another relationship. I have a lot in my life to be grateful for. I am busy. There is beauty. But I am constantly longing to be the me I found.
I've grasped at various ways to bring a little of the things I crave into my life and they feed me a bit but don't honestly satiate. They feel like quick snacks when really I'm starving for a good square hot meal.
Although my kids bring me so much magic and fulfilment, motherhood/caregiving is not all of me. Yet I have to accept that the rest is an unworn outfit suited to places I cannot go to , a play I have no stage for, an indefinately blocked-off road.
I try to hold hope that, one day, there will be a place, a stage, a road. But I worry (a lot) that there won't be.