Midlife – why label it a crisis?

Midlife – why label it a crisis?

Is Midlife Crisis an Accurate Label?

Look up midlife in any search engine and the top 10 or more results say Midlife Crisis. Why is that, when all the midlifers like myself are happy, secure and leading productive, full lives? Midlife is a time when we have passed the stage of striving for self improvement and career change, and are confident and happy with ourselves. We know ourselves well and have come to terms with our life choices. To me that’s not a crisis. Definitely not a crisis of identity. We’re not comparing ourselves to the younger generation enviously because we’ve been there, we’ve lived through it, and we don’t want to relive a time of developing our character and climbing the career ladder. We’re already established and are looking ahead to retirement, an empty nest and freedom from a lot of the responsibilities of our younger years.

The Labels we Grew Up With

I do not like the term midlife crisis. Come to think of it, I don’t like to label anyone at all. It stems from my youth, when I was labelled a geek, a nerd, a shy girl – all accurate but not fully describing me and pigeonholing me into this boring person. I brought my sons up with the message that they shouldn’t label themselves because it doesn’t allow them to fully express their identity. That didn’t stop them though, as I will explain later.

Hurtful nicknames hurled at me like gingernut (red hair) probably made me acutely aware of features that I was already insecure of. My self image plummeted in my younger years and I think there was too much emphasis placed on our appearance in our family. My dad was the worst – pointing out features like one crooked tooth or acne, and making us hate our bodies. He tried to lecture my sister about her outfit one day when she was over 40 and had her in tears with his cutting words. I jumped to her defense and told him he had no right to comment on our looks. No right to even comment on his wife’s looks either. I don’t think he realised how much his comments had affected my sister and I over the years.

I’ve never found a label to fully describe me – star signs are way off, I never fitted into the Catholic school girl mould even though we were brought up with those views. In my nursing training we had a seminar on Myers Briggs and that was the first time I ever came close to having a label that fitted me. My personality is rare – INFJ, and it describes me as introverted. Yep, that’s me. But I’m still much more than that. My new label is Previvor – because I have BRCA2, a genetic mutation that gives me an increased risk of cancer, I can now identify with that group of people who seem to wave the label around with pride.

Raising Children with a Strong Sense of Identity.  Photo shows young adults
Raising Children with a Strong Sense of Identity

Raising Children with a Strong Identity

Being aware of the damage it could cause their self esteem, I tried very hard to bring my sons up with a strong identity. It didn’t always work though as I’m not the only one to influence their self identity. Even though I’ve tried to bring my sons up without the limitations of a label, that approach hasn’t always had the positive outcome that I would have wished for. I found some old school photos not long ago and the change between one year to the next showed a marked difference in my son. He went from an innocent smiling boy to a sullen sneering pre-teen with black dyed hair and an ear-ring. I was brought to tears because I know that was brought about by my sudden separation from his father. He really struggled with it, and turned his angst into writing lyrics and starting a punk band. That was the start of his writing and his ability to turn his emotions and thoughts into the written word, which was eventually a good outcome but in it’s early days a reflection of the anger he was feeling.

He chose some pretty sketchy friends at that time and I could only sit back and hope he would eventually come to the realisation that these kids were no good. He has always been the type of kid you can’t push in one direction because he’s likely to go the other way. I was very relieved when he decided to go Straight Edge in his teens – they follow a death metal band called Parkway Drive and vow to abstain from drugs, alcohol and sex, so I thought “great, at least he’ll stay away from drugs!” That stage lasted a while, and his self image improved over the years. His first foray into university was a complete letdown. I was hoping that he would benefit from all that university life has to offer, including the social aspects, but he felt incredibly out of place. The Gold Coast is very “clicky” and it’s hard to fit in unless you have a buff, toned body, are into the beach, surfy lifestyle and the gym. My sons are definitely not that way inclined and they find it hard to fit in here so they both dropped out of uni in their first year. That was so disappointing for me, but I completely understand as it would be hard to enjoy it if they’re constantly alone.

Struggling with Identity as an Adult

They’ve found their own way much easier as they’ve aged, and both identify strongly with the group of friends they now find them selves part of. My urging them to not label themselves worked in some ways as they’ve been able to mould themselves into confident adults. My older son is very secure in his identity, and even though he is heavily involved in the music industry, he hasn’t gone down the path of drugs and alcohol and is very staunch on that fact. He’s had a lot of pressure to conform over the years but it hasn’t swayed him at all. His music has taken him all over the world on band tours and he’s very much a part of that community. I’m very proud of the fact that he has such strong self image that he sticks to his principles and doesn’t care what people think.

My younger son still struggles with self doubt at times. He likes to express himself by his clothes and his eclectic music taste but he struggles to pick one path in life for his career. My family growing up was extremely conservative and there was often damnation if you tried to break away from the Catholic nuclear traditional mould. God help us if we turn out gay, get divorced or believe in something other than the Catholic religion. My dad was praying for us till he died because he was genuinely worried about our chances of making it into heaven – me, because I’m a lapsed Catholic and divorced, and my son because he’s an atheist.

I don’t want to go too much into my views on that because I fully respect everyone’s right to their opinions, but I feel sad for my dad that he could not see any other view from his own. Watching my kids grow up into adults with their strongly held beliefs and ability to verbalise those beliefs and express themselves has been a wonderful gift to me. I wanted them to grow up into adults with their own beliefs – I didn’t feel it was my place to impose my beliefs on to them and condemn them if their beliefs were different to mine. Who am I to say my beliefs are right? I don’t want my sons to become mini-me’s!

I do think it’s a shame that my son felt he had to move out to be able to express his sexuality freely. I’ve been waiting for the big “coming out” talk to happen for years but it never has. I think he’s still trying to figure it all out but he couldn’t do that while living here. It’s not my opinion that made him feel like that. My husband did not vote “Yes” in the vote for gays’ rights to be married. Obviously for someone who may identify as gay or bi, that would upset them even if there’s no outward animosity towards them. Time will tell, as my son will declare himself soon enough. We’ve talked around the issue many times but I don’t think he really knows the answer and he’s still trying to work it all out himself. My extended family is not very open-minded on this issue and it would be hard to fit into unless you’re straight.

Midlife is a time when we are secure about our identity

We are all individuals but we like to identify with others as a way of finding community. Our sense of self is increased when we find like-minded members of our group. It strengthens our sense of self worth because we’re having reflected back at us the validity of our values and beliefs. It’s character building in one way, as long as we don’t lose part of ourselves in order to conform to other peoples expectations of us. Our self esteem should be strong enough that we don’t care what other people think.

A person’s midlife “crisis” is probably brought about by them finally getting to the stage in their life when they no longer care what other people think, and they’re sick of living a way that keeps other people happy. They finally want to be and do what they’ve known in their hearts is right for them. It happens in midlife because we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as our children are leaving home, we’re more financially secure and we’ve probably got as far as we can in our careers. I just think “crisis” is the wrong word to use. It’s too negative and doesn’t express the positives that can come out of finally expressing their true selves. I sincerely hope that the next generation can break out of the barriers that were built in front of our generation, and they won’t need a midlife crisis to be able to express their identity.

If you enjoyed this you may also enjoy:

Midlife or Prime of our Lives?

The Half Empty Nest

Letter to Myself, Aged 17

Please leave a comment, I would love to hear readers’ feedback on this.

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Living the Healthiest Version of Your Life

Living the Healthiest Version of Your Life

I was asked to contribute a guest post by Sue Loncaric for her Website Sizzling toward sixty. Sue’s passion is “helping and encouraging women in midlife to reach their full potential living a healthy & active lifestyle”. I encourage my readers to have a look at her website because it has so many resources for women in their midlife to inspire and guide them to live a healthy life. Sue lives on the Gold Coast and we’ve never met in person but I look forward to having a coffee and a chat with her when we are no longer social distancing.

This was my first guest post and I feel very honoured to have been invited to take part in her series Aging Well Living Well. I talked about some of the challenges I have faced in my life and how I overcame them to arrive at this point in my life. Here is an excerpt:

I want my remaining years to be as healthy as possible so I strive to overcome my health issues and live the healthiest version of my life as I canNo matter what your issues are, whether they are physical or mental, a lack of money or support, it is possible to live the healthiest version of yourself. Do what you can rather than focusing on what you can’t.

Christina Henry 2020

Take a look at my guest post at this link:

Living the Healthiest Version of Your Life

How to be Self-Sufficient as a Sustainable Future

How to be Self-Sufficient as a Sustainable Future

Investigating Self-sufficiency as a Retirement Goal

My husband and I are in our early 50s so we’re not at the official retirement age and won’t be for over 10 years (67yrs in Australia for those of us born in the mid 60’s). The prospect of working for the next 13 years is daunting for me. I have chronic back pain caused by several back injuries and general wear and tear from over 30 years as a nurse. I’ve already reduced my work hours but the writing is on the wall – I know I won’t be able to work as a nurse for much longer.

I have been looking towards retirement for the last few years. Our current situation is that we have a large mortgage on a big property in a very busy city. It’s a rat-race and we feel like we are just rats in a wheel, chasing our tails – working long hours in jobs that aren’t easy, often not seeing each other for days at a time. Quality time together is limited. Our overheads and cost of living are huge. Living here is not sustainable in the long term, either financially or practically. So we must look at alternatives to our current lifestyle.

We have been considering downsizing as the first obvious choice. Once my older son leaves home and there’s just the two of us, continuing to live in our large house would be silly. It’s not designed so that we could create a self-contained unit to rent out so that’s not an option. So our first step would be to sell it and buy a smaller house on a smaller block – one that is easier to maintain.

We would still have a mortgage, however. To be able to buy a house mortgage-free we will have to sell up and move to a regional area where the cost of housing is much lower. The drawback is that we would probably be too far from medical services to be able to do it. That is why we are looking into becoming self-sufficient.

Being self-sufficient to us would mean being able to provide for most of our needs ourselves. It would mean that we would have to set up a property with energy, water and food supplies so that we didn’t have to rely on outside sources.

How to meet our basic needs

Basic needs for self sufficiency – water, food, energy, shelter.

Here is what we’re considering as our options:

Shelter – a small house on a small block. If we can afford it, a separate dwelling to rent out for income.

Energy – solar power, with a generator for back-up.

Water – rain tanks, with town supply as a back-up

Food – gardens with a variety of food such as vegetables and fruit. Chickens for eggs. A beehive for honey. Any surplus can be sold, or swapped with other gardeners. Any food that we can’t grow ourselves would be bought in bulk from bulk food supplies, or from local producers to inject money back into the economy. We love fishing so we could catch our own fish. I’ll be learning how to make my own preserves, bread, etc. – going back to skills my mother had like bottling fruit, making jam and sauces and cooking everything from scratch. It’ll be healthier as well as cheaper.

Other Considerations

Waste – Recycling and reusing everything we can. Septic tank for waste. Compost and worm farm to use our garden and food waste up and improve the growing conditions for the soil in our garden. We already have those in our current property.

Community – You need to have a network of people who are willing to share their expertise when you are starting on this type of venture, especially if you’re moving to a new area to set up your self sufficient household. Our future plans include being close to my brother so that we have support and can help each other. Getting involved with the local community is also important – being self-sufficient doesn’t mean isolating yourself behind a wall. Just the opposite – you need to be connected to the community in which you live. We’re no doomsday preppers!

Suitable property – My brother has been researching self-sufficiency for over 30 years and much of his knowledge stems from our parents. They researched much of this in their life-time, incorporating vast knowledge of using your property to provide most of the food you will need. They were avid gardeners and often experimented with alternative growing techniques – the first hydroponic system in New Zealand was set up by my father. I’m lucky to have this knowledge base to assist me.

He has stressed the importance of choosing land that is rich and fertile and slopes or faces North. We currently live in an area where the soil is very sandy and doesn’t hold water or nutrients which poses a huge problem for growing plants. We’ve dealt with this by having raised garden beds and containers, and choosing the right type of plants for our climate.

Our raised garden beds

Town planning / Council Restrictions – we would have to ensure that the property we buy is in a Council area that allows us to use tank water, keep chickens etc. Most Councils have restrictions on keeping animals, dwelling size and use of the dwelling for commercial purposes, for example.

The Benefits of Becoming Self-sufficient

Self-sufficiency makes a lot of sense to me, both financially and as a way of being more environmentally friendly and reducing our footprint globally. It comes as no surprise that it’s a cheaper lifestyle and it appeals to me to not have to pay large energy bills and rely on the government to supply our every need.

The initial costs will be the house and land, solar system, water tank, gardens, and septic tank. If we purchase a dwelling that has the basics, we can supply the rest initially or over time.

Comparing ourselves to our parents, my husband and I will probably have at least 30 years of retirement because most of our predecessors lived to at least 80. Our superannuation will not stretch that far and the Government pension will not be enough to live comfortably on, so reducing our cost of living is essential. Providing most of our own needs will save money in the long run, even if the initial set-up costs are high.

I’d love to hear other ideas that my readers may have for self-sufficiency or reducing their living costs. Please feel free to comment.

Our goals for retirement include being as self-sufficient as possible in order to create a sustainable lifestyle

The Half-Empty Nest

The Half-Empty Nest

A week ago my son moved out of home. I knew it was coming – he’s nearly 25, but it still caused an upheaval in my life all the same. I have my other son at home still, so the nest is only half-empty, but I’m feeling a sense of loss akin to grief that only another mother could relate to.

This is the son who I bonded with immediately after birth when he latched on in the delivery suite. It was complete love at first sight with my second baby. My first baby had been born three years earlier when I was mourning the death of my mother, and this meant my bonding with him was affected by post natal depression and anxiety, and from not having the one person there for me – my mum, whose presence would have made such a difference to a new mother. He had colic as well so he cried a lot. In contrast, my second baby was a calm, relaxed and cuddly child, and I was a more experienced and confident mum.

For years my second son was my shadow – he clung to me. As he grew our bond was strengthened by our similar sense of humour and enjoyment of banter where we fed off each other, talking about diverse subjects at great length to the bemusement of the rest of the family who didn’t really ‘get’ us. Our mutual love of animals and our taste in music, our enjoyment of cooking together, and our daily walks with the dogs meant that we spent a lot of time together over the years.

My son went through a period of depression a few years back and he dropped out of university. 18 months later he decided to re-enroll in a different course in another university. I told him then that I would be keeping a close eye on him to make sure his mental state didn’t suffer by taking on another course of study. Our conversations became more in depth as I didn’t hold back with communication – I needed to make sure he was ok this time around, and that the pressure of studying, working and internships didn’t impact his mental health.

To my absolute joy he thrived under pressure, and was able to take on a heavy study load while working almost full-time and doing two internships at the same time. He was more motivated to accomplish his goals when his schedule was full. He completed his degree in communications, public relations and journalism in just over two years.

He applied for jobs all over Australia in his chosen fields, and was keen to start his new career and get out of the crappy retail position he’d held since the age of 14. He struggled to get so much as a reply to his application, and the few interviews that he attended did not even bother to let him know he’d been unsuccessful. After six months of knock-backs we were both disheartened and incredibly disappointed. For me as a mother, it was like a stab in the heart to watch him go through this. Honestly, I do not know what is wrong with employers these days – they do not even send out an email to let applicants know they’ve been unsuccessful. No wonder young people struggle to find a job, and when they do, there’s not the sense of loyalty that we had to our employers. I’m disgusted by how rude it is – the least they could do is send out a polite email thanking them for their application and telling them they have been unsuccessful.

So my son stayed in his retail position, stayed living at home and gave up on applying for jobs. My husband and I went on holiday and while we were there my son rang me to tell me he’d quit his job. He couldn’t work there anymore – it was making him ill, both physically and mentally. He was getting migraines nearly every day and spiralling into depression again. Of course I was stressed about this and begged him to reconsider. His employers met with him and pleaded with him to stay as he is a hard worker and reliable employee, so he dropped back to casual and took on another job (retail as well!).

Then he decided to go back to university and do his Masters Degree in Secondary Education – he’d be able to teach high-school English and History. I wrote about it in my last blog post Don’t Hold Back . He was all set to start university this month and then out of the blue he decided to move out of home and take on a full time position in his new workplace. Just when I thought he was set on one path, he did a 360 and has now put off going back to university just so he could move out of home.

Our household has been in turmoil for the last few weeks – quite a few deep discussions have occurred between my son and I as I attempt to persuade him to reconsider this decision. But he was set on this path and has now moved out. My main concern is that he’ll regret this down the track, and that he won’t be fulfilled in his current job as I know it won’t be challenging enough for him mentally. He needs a job that will stimulate him intellectually for his own well-being, and he acknowledges that but is still keen to spread his wings and become a fully functioning adult by cutting the apron strings.

I was fine until I drove toward our house the evening before he was due to move out, and I realised it would be the last time our family of four would sleep in the same house together. The floodgates opened and I couldn’t control the tears for the next 12 hours until I had to show up for work again. It felt like I was grieving for my father again – he’d passed away 18 months prior. That’s understandable because it is a loss, just like all the other losses I’d experienced in my life. I’d had the same reaction when my mother and sister had passed away, and when I separated from my ex-husband. No-one died obviously but I was losing a massive part of myself all the same.

I was prepared to be emotional because my son and I had been together during several of the hardest periods of my life, and despite his youth, he had proved to be an incredibly resilient person and very supportive, emotionally mature and caring. When my father was suffering from cancer and spent the last few months in and out of hospital, it was my son who came with me to New Zealand to see him. I leaned on him more than what a mother would normally do with their son but his strength of character showed that he could handle this. He did it willingly and generously, not holding back from seeing the brutality of his grandfather dying from pancreatic cancer. We grew even closer from that shared experience. We both felt honoured to have spent that time with my father, who, despite being in pain and hallucinating from his condition, displayed utter peace at being so close to dying. He was praying that God would take him and he had incredible faith right until his last breath.

If my son had moved out a year ago I would not have coped as well as what I have, because I was still grieving my father. For anyone who has lost someone that close, you know that the acute stage of grief varies. It has been different for each person I’ve lost – my mum when I was 24, my sister when I was 45 and my dad when I was 52. But eventually it becomes easier to bear. So in no way do I feel that my son moving out is in any way as bad as losing someone who has died – I still see my son, he’s only 20 minutes drive away. But it won’t be the same without our daily walks, our cooking sessions and our nightly banter at the dinner table.

I’d love to hear from you, my readers – how was the empty nest for you? What helped you to adjust to the gap left in your life? Do you still miss your children or are you enjoying the freedom of not having dependents at home? My immediate way to adjust was to clean out his room and turn it into a study for me. A space where I can write freely without interruption, and decorate it according to my taste, in soothing colours. I write surrounded by my pets who are great company.

My New Writing Space
My pets keep me company as I write

What’s with the Middle Aged Spread?

What’s with the Middle Aged Spread?

We’ve all heard about the middle aged spread. Many of us in our 40’s and 50’s start to put on weight which seems to cling to our abdomen, hips and thighs. But why is that, and what can we do about it?

I’ve always put weight straight on to my tummy. Looking at photos of my family, we all have a “pot gut” which we inherited from our father! So it is sometimes from hereditary factors, and sometimes from just learning about food from our families. We’re all foodies in my family – we love our food, we talk about food in detail, and love to experiment with cooking. Being good cooks means we enjoy it just a little too much at times and all our social occasions are based on lavish feasts. All well and good when you’re young and fit and can keep your weight down with exercise and eating well the rest of the week.

But after the age of 40, the reduction in sex hormones in both men and women (yes there is a “manopause”!) can lead to excess body fat being stored around the stomach for men and the buttocks and thighs of women. Women and men store fat differently and it can change due to aging.

I went into a sudden and severe menopause when I was about 46 where my ovaries switched off overnight. I suffered hot flushes every 5 to 10 minutes, severe anxiety and insomnia. For me, going on to hormone replacement therapy was vital for my health. I started to put on weight at the same age, but put it down to lifestyle factors. It wasn’t until this year, at the age of 53, that I managed to slowly wean myself off HRT over the course of about 6 months. It’s only been since then that I’ve been able to lose weight more easily than before. Scientific studies dispute the link between weight gain and HRT, but for me, I believe HRT made it harder for me to control my weight.

Because weight gain in middle age is so common, it is important to look at what we can control, especially our diet. I genuinely did not know that the recommended number of servings of protein and grains is lower after the age of 50. Here was I, eating the same amount of food as my sons who are in their 20’s, and wondering why I was putting on weight! It wasn’t until the dietician told me this that I had a light-bulb moment and realised that I needed to change not only how many servings I was eating, but the amount of food per serving as well.

Once I did this, the weight actually came off easily. I could no longer eat 3 stalks of broccoli and call it a serving, and 200g of red meat and think that that was a reasonable amount for dinner. Here are the recommended amounts of servings per age group:

Recommended number of Servings per Day

You can see from this table, the number of servings drops after the age of 50, so it’s important to adjust our eating habits accordingly. I had assumed that my diet was full of healthy fruit and vegetables, but when I looked more closely at it, I realised that I really wasn’t eating many vegetables at all. It was easy to fix – I just started eating a large salad or some homemade vegetable soup for lunch, and loaded extra vegetables into my night time meals. My serve of meat is now much smaller, and I’ve started incorporating legumes with my meals. My son went vegetarian at the beginning of this year and we’ve really enjoyed cooking sessions where we experiment with different recipes. He’s becoming a good cook as well. His meals look far nicer than our carnivorous ones!

A healthy diet should contain 2 serves of fruit and 5-6 serves of vegetables per day
A healthy diet should contain 2 serves of fruit and 5-6 serves of vegetables per day

There are some great resources on the internet about serving numbers and sizes. The one I use is an Australian Government website:

https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/

It really is as simple as that: keep to the recommended guidelines for your age and sex, and you will begin to lose weight. Add in exercise, and you’ll not only lose weight, you’ll feel so much better too.

About Me

About Me

I first came up with the concept of writing this blog about 6 years ago, but never got around to starting it because it always seemed to be in the too-hard basket. In the meantime, I came up with many ideas for articles, so I wrote them in journals and always thought “one day I’ll get around to starting that blog”. I never really had the confidence to put it into action. Then this year I succeeded in losing a lot of excess weight, my confidence was restored, and I finally felt like I had something to back up what I was writing. I felt like I had gained enough insight into changing my lifestyle to actually advise other people. It’s no point in giving people lifestyle advice if you yourself aren’t living a healthy lifestyle. The turning point for me was being able to lose 17kg and keep it off.

I’ve been writing all my adult life. I’ve had two other blogs – This is Who We Are, which is about my family history, and My Healthy Heart, which was a journal about my heart condition. The idea for this blog has been in the pipeline for 6 years, and in that time I’ve married for the second time, renovated two homes, battled some health conditions, and gone through some major life challenges.

This blog is for people like me: people in the prime of their lives. I’m also a Registered Nurse and mother of two adult sons in their 20’s who still live with us. Our blended family also consists of 2 border collies, three cats, a budgie and a pond full of goldfish. My husband and I love to travel, eat good food and have started growing our own vegetables.

To read my previous blogs, go to http://chill777.wordpress.com and http://myhealthyheartjournal.blogspot.com

Midlife or Prime of our Lives?

Midlife or Prime of our Lives?

Post updated 24 June 2020

At our age (40’s and 50’s), we have friends who are having their first baby, as well as friends who have grandchildren. We can be in different stages of life – you may have chosen career first, or just not found the right person to settle down with earlier, so are just starting off married life together. Fertility problems may have delayed that first child too. On the other hand your kids might be off your hands and you’re experiencing freedom from school fees and weekend sports for the first time, also have more cash to spend on travel, yourself and your home.

Midlife is an exciting time and one which brings challenges too. Some of us may have to care for aging parents, or even have some health problems ourselves. We’re looking at retirement in the no-too-distant future and funding that so that our finances support a lifestyle that lasts 20 or more years.

The Midlifestylist blog covers some of the challenges and joys of this period in our lives. I have experienced many of them – health issues, divorce and remarriage, work-life balance, loss and grief, traveling, creating a home, and many more. I hope this resonates with my readers and would love to hear of some of the challenges and joys they experience in their lives.

You may enjoy these articles on Midlife:

For a comprehensive list of all midlife articles, click this link.

Please feel free to comment if you are facing different issues to the ones mentioned, and you may see an article about it in the future!