A recent Facebook post in a group for midlife women asked members to comment with their term for the phase in life between ages 45 and 55. For the record, the author of the post prefers midlife meltdown. Up to this point I hadn’t thought of anything original until I read the post and subsequent comments. I let it marinate.
First I reflected on this phase as a work in progress with more self acceptance than prior decades. Some members were elegant – metamorphosis, renewal and awakening were tossed out like flower petals on a soft meadow. One of my favorite responses was the “F*ck it phase”. I gave it some more thought and landed on the title of this post – “Demanding to be Seen & Heard While Wrapped in the Cloak of Invisibility”.
I recently turned 50 so I am in the sweet spot of the poster’s demographic. I find myself balancing opposite ends of the spectrum – acceptance/discontent, reclamation/ surrender, clumsiness/grace. In short, it’s a mixed bag. I am aware of my short comings, of the finite amount of time we all have and yet there is this spark, indeed a renewal of sorts.
In collective society I have become less visible. This happens to women as the radiance of youth is replaced by the fine lines of wisdom. Once the skin suit we inhabit becomes less appealing to the masses, we blend in until we are barely visible.
Here’s an example, our family used to frequent a local restaurant where they immediately recognized us and would (without asking) bring our favorite appetizers. It was our Italian version of Cheers (everyone knew our name). The same people that owned the restaurant also owned a pizzeria. I would stop in from time to time for take out. The owner rarely recognized me when I was by myself. In fact, it happened so often that he actually acknowledged the oversight. I suspect it happened because I wasn’t attractive to the point where I would stand out or unattractive enough to register in this man’s memory without my family to provide cues. I simply blended into the woodwork.
That never happened in my 20’s or 30’s. It’s a jagged pill to swallow especially if you relied on your looks in your youth. I was aware of the perks of being an attractive young woman but I never fully appreciated the power, I miss it.
Like a lot of women, I fell into a bit of a cliché. I was a upwardly mobile career girl who transitioned into a SAHM in my mid 30’s. When my kids were headed toward middle school the internal panic started.
1) What have I done?
You put your family first, not yourself. That bit about putting your oxygen mask on first in the event of an airplane emergency….you didn’t do that. Tsk, tsk, too late to dwell on it.
2) What will I do now?
Should I go back to school? I already have my BA…what industries are hiring? If I spend X amount on education how long will it take to recoup that and do I have time? Will I go back to school, incur debt and be unable to get a job? What contacts do I have from 2003?
This cycle of self-doubt and reflective reasoning is the stuff of insomnia and panic attacks. It’s painful and no one can walk you through it. People can make suggestions and offer guidance but it’s your brain on the hamster wheel at 3am.
3) Will anyone hire me now?
Maybe, maybe not. Another Facebook group of women were recently discussing ageism in job interviews. One women was considering dying her hair because she thought it would help her odds of getting hired. Others try cosmetic surgery, injectables and most shave decades of experience off their resumes to make the math more difficult for a potential employer. Ageism is real, combine that with a large gap of employment and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture. I volunteered for a local hospital for 10 years and could not even get an interview for a data entry job. Eventually I started my own business because it was that or retail.
Many of us wake up at some point and wonder all of the “what ifs” and decide some changes need to be made. I’ve noticed this in myself and others, there is a certain burst of energy and creativity that comes at midlife. Whether it’s writing, painting, sculpture or throwing yourself into a charitable cause or activism, ladies tend to get revved up in the middle. I don’t know if it springs from a new well or one that was previously blocked by fear and expectation. I suppose it doesn’t matter because I jumped in without knowing the answer. That has been the gift of this phase, the willingness to dive into previously uncharted waters.
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