The year the world turned 2000, I was 46. Midlife was upon me.
A few people were stockpiling water and supplies, zealous about the world coming to an end, while others were impatiently awaiting spectacular fireworks on New Years Eve, toasting one another gaily with Dom Perignon (or perhaps a less pricey variety of the same beverage).
I made sure I had three months’ supply of Lexapro — just in case the first group was on to something.
Perimenopause was governing my world. I managed at work but my husband couldn’t do anything right, and my mood could turn melancholy or dark. Lexapro was a godsend for all that.
I’d been clinically depressed only once in my life; three weeks after my first wedding (not a good sign). I overcame that period with therapy and medication (and ultimately a divorce). But this was entirely different. I was happy in my marriage, delighted to be parenting our child, and working in a career that I I loved.
Menopause, depression, or both?
So ,how much of this change was due to menopause and how much to depression? I could argue for either. The obvious things, like hot flashes, were undoubtably signs my body was going through change, as well as other telltale signs of aging. The need for bifocals. Having to work out harder to get a similar result. While some physicians say that menopause doesn’t cause depression, the hormonal shifts are real.
But on the depression side, I had the same nagging anxieties about becoming older in our culture as so many women do — and was beginning to handle fears about how I might be perceived as an “older” woman. My parents’ lives grew smaller and smaller, so the foundation of our family was changing. Friendships came and went. Responsibilities increased and decreased. Parenting shifted with every year, as I watched my son grow and learn to handle his own struggles and nurture his own strengths.
Whatever the reason, it’s can’t be denied that women aged forty to fifty-nine have more depression than any other demographic. And what’s even more attention-getting and frightening, women between the ages of forty-five and fifty-nine had the highest suicide rate increase of all ages of people in the US between the years of 2000 and 2016, a rate hike of 60%.
The issues that midlife can bring seems to be getting harder for women to cope with – and even survive. So what can women do who are either approaching midlife or are right in the thick of it?
Five steps toward a healthy midlife…
You already know the basic ones — exercise, good nutrition, not isolating, and keeping up with friends and family. But what are others that may be less obvious?
Learn a new skill…
This may seem crazy-making. “When am I supposed to learn to something new when I’m taking care of aging parents, am the chauffeur to my youngest kid, and have to make sure my oldest does the stuff he needs to do?” Here’s the idea. There’s much letting go that happens in midlife — letting go of parents on one end of the spectrum, letting go of kids on the other, and letting go of youth right in the thick of it.
So if you’re also moving toward something fresh and new, even if you take tiny baby steps, it can balance out the loss you may feel. Take an online course. Sign up for a newsletter. Listen to a podcast. Start writing your memoir. Pick up a paintbrush, or a hammer. Dust off those running shoes, or purchase a tennis racket. You’ll be empowered by knowing your life is growing.
Find a mentor…
Many of us may not have a woman who we look up to — someone who we see handling aging powerfully and well. But if you look around, you can generally find someone. Perhaps she is in the women’s business club or she’s your neighbor who’s always out walking. And if your friends are frantic about aging, find others that aren’t and who instead are handling the challenges in way that’s optimistic. If you surround yourself with women who are afraid and fighting aging in an unhealthy way, then it will rub off on you. Instead, listen to and seek women who are taking the opportunities to flourish as they age.
Journaling and meditating…
This can be a ten-minute activity, but if you take the time to express and honor how you feel and write about how your thinking is changing, it often can be key to moving through sadness or loss. Or you can spend that tie learning to focus your mind through meditation as well. It’s amazing the difference you can make by expressing emotions and growing more mind power.
Finding purpose and confronting fear…
This is huge. Especially if your life has been centered on your children, then beginning to reinterpret how you’re going to use your time can be fun — if you don’t fear it. Sometimes you have to work to discover it, or set out to carve this meaning from something that you value. A good question to ask? “What have I enjoyed or been drawn to that I’ve never had time to investigate?” Or, “Is there a part of me – maybe my spiritual side, maybe my physical side — that I’ve ignored and would love to connect with more?”
Consider confronting whatever childhood issues may still be haunting you…
Therapy can help all of the above, as you process and talk about how you want to handle midlife. But part of that journey can be looking at what you’ve been carrying around — and not addressing. Moving into midlife happily may very well mean letting go of shame or grieving what you need to. You can’t confidently step into what’s next if you don’t let go of what’s holding you back.
You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
My new book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression has arrived and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.
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Originally published on Midlife Boulevard; revised and posted on February 18, 2017 and further revised and republished on June 8, 2019 and again on June 6, 2021.