I’m not alone in all of this, or am I?
The stories around midlife are becoming more and diverse. I like reading them! I like the information I get, the tips and hacks to help you get through, the comfort of finding out that the ghosts haunting me are quite common and normal for this time in life, this uplifting feeling from hearing or reading about personal success, and most of all the assurance that I’m not alone in all this. Or am I?
I'm very lucky in that I’ve hardly had any age-related physical problems (yet). Some bloating, swollen ankles, sometimes a bit of breathlessness, dryness in certain places and incontinence -I'm familiar with them, but most of them are under control.
Battling the Dementors
However, I'm battling Dementors! I've been struggling with mood swings, dark moods, a feeling of hopelessness. My family is amazing! My husband just gets on with things, leaves me to it and loves me the way I am, sometimes teases me, that I'm always angry anyway (so basically. I'm the Hulk!). My teenage, young adult, sons have been going through hormonal changes themselves, so they sort of know what's going on.
My issue is the other big part of my life: WORK! When I'd finished school, my dad told me that I could study anything I liked, but not arts - the one thing that I've always wanted to do! He thought there was no money in arts. So instead, I studied social work, because I felt (and others told me) that I was "good with people". But later, after a couple of jobs, I decided that what I really wanted to do, was to work with children - and so I did.
First in my native Germany with 3 - 6-year-olds, then I had my own children and moved to England. I consider myself very lucky, as I was able to stay at home with my children until they had nearly finished primary school before I had to go back to work to contribute to our income. I continued where I'd left off: started with childminding from home, then started working in a nursery – SNAP! The trap closed!
I like being in control.
This job is my personal mirror that has helped me to find out who really am, in a rather harsh way. Midlife has changed me: I'm not as patient as I used to be, neither as tolerant nor empathetic with others. My mood swings caused a lot of inner frustration, anger, and irritation, then frustration with myself for not being able to control those feelings. (Ahhh, CONTROL! I like being in control)
Knowledge is Power
I was becoming aware that all of these were quite common signs of menopause, and on the background that my niece was developing an app supporting women through menopause. I started asking a lot of questions, I've been reading a lot about the various symptoms, picking up tips, tricks, hacks, and exercises to cope with them. I read up on midlife in general, how it changes women and their way of thinking about themselves, researched different personality types and trades to find out mine, and learned more and more about myself.
So, who am I?
First: I'm a true introvert. I’ve always been happy in my own company, having just a few close friends, and enjoying going to clubs and parties, but usually making sure that I could leave whenever I wanted. I remember leaving family gatherings without an explanation, to go for a walk-in solitude, before returning, ready for another dose of social interaction. When I became a mum, I struggled with having to be completely devoted to these little creatures that now depended on me, with my husband at work and no social network, in a foreign country, having nowhere in space or time to escape to.
Facing the hormonal rollercoaster
So why on earth would I go back into childcare? To generate income - it was what I knew! At least these children would go back to their parents at the end of the day, right? Little did I know then, how the experiences from work would still spin round and round in my head at home in my supposed safe place, causing me to snap at my kids thereby generating mum guilt to add to the load. The hormonal rollercoaster made what had once been a hard but enjoyable joy unbearable.
Everything has since felt intensified: the noise of the children, the "feel good" music in the background. the structure and pace of daily routines. some people's voices. the brightness of the lights. I tried my best to block out what wasn't needed, and to concentrate on one child or a small group at a time, which led to me missing announcements or when colleagues were talking to me. Sometimes, I couldn't even listen to someone who was talking to my face; I would stare at them in concentration. but somehow the words didn't reach my brain. I went for a hearing test, but everything was fine.
Building a mental health toolkit
So, I decided that it must be the mental effects of menopause and started to establish a daily routine: some mild exercise, a walk with the dog in the morning. Practising mindfulness during my dinner breaks, changing my diet (less caffeine, less alcohol, more plant-based food).
I'd write my gratitude journal , after work on the couch (while binge eating sweets, chocolates, and crisps) before falling asleep in front of the television. The things outside the last brackets have become an invaluable help on my journey!
They are some of the tools in my mental health toolbox.
Exploring the medical route
I also tried the medical route. This resulted in one Dr prescribing me anti-depressants over the phone, because I had confirmed to sometimes having "dark thoughts".
I had been asking about a blood test to check my hormone levels, but he just told me "Well, why check them? We already know that your hormone levels are low!". I did pick up the pills, but I never took them. This was not my way of dealing with my problems! The next GP, this time face to face about a year later, had me trying hormone patches, based on what I had told her about the way I was feeling. I stopped using them, because they didn't feel right either (I felt empty, and I started bleeding again, which I'd stopped about two and a half years earlier). However, these experiences were my eye opener!
I am not ill, I don’t need fixing, I’m absolutely fine!
Using my mental health tool kit and the app and following different life coaches and other amazing people on social media. Reading their stories, posts, and lots of empowering quotes, helped established one thing: I am not ill, I don't need fixing, I'm absolutely fine!
I am an introvert and work best on my own; I work best when I'm not being rushed, left to do things at my own pace (slowly but thoroughly); I work with passion when I'm following my own ideas; I am creative, a maker; I'm strong headed, independent, and determined - That's me!
Falling down the comparison trap
That's not bad material for a self-employed power woman, right? So, why am I not?
And now comes the part that I don't really want to write about, because it makes me feel weak, makes me feel like I'm making excuses, makes me feel Inadequate: first, I want financial security! Then, because my job is too fast paced for me, too full of sensual experiences, of changes and things out of my control, too intensely filled with social interaction, I desperately need winding down time. When I'm at work, I use my toolbox to keep my head over water, but it's at home, where I recharge my batteries. That takes time!
Then, I need time to do fun things and be creative. Can you hear my voice go quieter? Because now, my inner life coach is telling me "Well, if you want to get out of this job, you need to do something about it! No pain, no gain!" And I whisper "Yeah, but if I prepare for self-employment, it'll be another thing on my To Do list, another chore! ... and I don't even know which way to go..." and then I shut up, lost, and confused, comparing myself to all these amazing and interesting power women I'm reading about and meeting online; wondering, where I fit in. This is also me!
The chrysalis inside the cocoon!
Who I really am is the chrysalis inside the cocoon!
I am leaving my caterpillar life behind and slowly transforming, in my own time. I'm chaos, inside, not really knowing where I'II be going or what's going on, but not sleeping or standing still. I'm not sure when I’ll hatch, but I'm busy creating, trying new things, meeting new people, and growing ... into a beautiful butterfly!
I believe in Love, Life,
and the Evolution of the Self!
Words by Claudia Stringfellow