Real Life

Last laugh: Midlife chrysalis

Is the desire for drastic change in your mid-40s really a crisis? Perhaps it’s something far more positive...
Last laugh

I have been feeling a bit wiggy lately, and doing out-of-character stuff. I bought an expensive wetsuit and went surfing in 6 degree water. Spent a night out dancing to ‘doof doof’ music, listened while someone else was talking, and had a Brazilian. The late night took three days to get over and I don’t recommend the last one if you value your dignity or have a low pain threshold.

All this foolishness and lost-youth seeking no doubt because it’s suddenly occurred to me my life is half over, may even be almost finished, thanks to extreme accident-prone-ness. Cue periodic bursts of wanting to burn my entire existence to the ground and start again, behaviour so wacky it makes Miley Cyrus look like a librarian, and unexpected crushes on people I’ll never meet. It’s safe to say I might be having just a teensy midlife crisis.

“You’re only a baby!” say my mother’s friends, shaking their jewellery (rather, it moves when they do) and of course 45 is still young, hardly Shakespeare’s ‘bare ruin’d choirs’, but the bloom is off the rose – and you wouldn’t want to put it in a vase in case the petals fell everywhere. I’m not complaining; given the alternative, there’s nothing better than making old bones. It’s just having grown up with the punk adage ‘live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse,’ it rankles to be living slow and leaving a desiccated visage.

Revising one’s use-by date, you kick yourself for all the years you frittered away in useless activities like dieting and caring what people think and count the few remaining like a miser. In the ensuing panic, most of us hoover up experiences, property and resources, get new boobs and bucket list all over the place while practising mindfulness. Welcome to crazy town.

The female midlife crisis is, like Queen Street at 3am, a place few feel comfortable treading. Plus, it’s sometimes hard to tell when we’re actually having one, due to our natural sophistication and an absence of embarrassing accoutrements. Studies suggest our triggers are different, that men tend to look outwards (‘where’s my Harley/hot girlfriend?’), women inwards (‘why do I feel unfulfilled?’) and earlier, round the 33-45 mark: having realised we’ll never ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in our hair – or at least, never again.

It is a time of more questions than answers: ‘Is that all there is? Who am I, really?’ The part of your life where you say, hang on, this isn’t where I thought I’d be right now, and what in God’s name happened to my neck? Maybe it’s the shock of the closing fertility window, finding yourself at a career impasse, a lack of adventure or savings because you never thought you’d live this long; whatever it is, psychologist Robyn Vickers-Willis says, blindsided by a rush of uncomfortable emotions, it’s not uncommon to feel unmoored by feelings of depression, emptiness, bewilderment and a desire for change. Bring on the dancing horses, skydiving, musical theatre, divorce lawyers. Some women cut all their hair off, get Botox, bonk the beer-goggled. Some only know they’ve had a midlife crisis when they’re picking up the pieces of an exploded marriage.

But hang on a minute, my fine fellow foxes. Aside from the need to acknowledge life’s elevator has only one destination, isn’t ‘crisis’ an old-fashioned, hysterical and just plain wrong term for a period spent transitioning from an identity based on how others expect you to be, to a more real you? People don’t say a caterpillar is having a crisis when it’s turning into a butterfly. Which is why I’m going to call this a ‘Midlife Wonderful’ and make the most of the surprising surge in bravery, energy and lunacy. One thing’s for sure, I won’t be coming back this way.

Having earned the right to reflect, to spiritually align and find a way to love myself afresh, I’m going to imagine my life as a beautiful room in need of some renovation, or a dress saved for a special occasion, which is now. It’s never a bad thing to want to learn new things and broaden horizons, and even if you make mistakes, I’m saying it’s wonderful. And while the changes that result from this adjustment of goal posts can look like a crisis from the outside, it might just be, as my wise friend Dallas says, a shedding of old skin.

So I’m getting ready to emerge as someone different, appreciating that reaching mid-way is a luxury not granted to all. Just be glad you made it.

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