Midlife Mix-Master: Overwhelmed, Underwhelmed, and Worried Sick

It’s not that I’m not busy. I am.

It’s not that each day’s checklist doesn’t overflow with tasks. It does.

It’s not that I don’t see progress – toward something. I do.

And I’m a woman who requires a sense of forward movement, of working toward goals, of achievement. When my head hits that pillow at night and I review my state of affairs (so to speak), I’m either tired and satisfied, or tired and disappointed.

But lately it’s the latter, not the former.

I wonder if I should chalk it up to midlife, to the extra pounds around my middle, to the empty nest I have yet to adjust to. Or better yet, lack of income as compared to the abundance of expenses.

I imagine it’s all of the above, and its umbrella – a sensation of being overwhelmed by a lifestyle that seems increasingly underwhelming.

Daily Dance of Duties

My checklists sit by the computer and often by my bed; always growing, and priorities reshuffling frequently.

As a single or solo mother, everything was clear: whatever it took to raise the kids, end of story.

But now?

I feel worn out and winding down more quickly than I like, though I’m constantly convincing myself I can – and must – get up and out, and be productive at something that matters: bringing in revenues, staying healthy, increasing focus with all this so-called “free time” now that active parenting isn’t part of every day.

But there is no free time. Only tasks, and frustration that I can’t pursue them with my usual relentless determination.

Midlife Madness After All?

This is maddening, though I doubt it’s madness. Perhaps it’s the single woman’s version of a peculiar pity party, especially painful when empty nest occurs coincident with a striking lack of funds.

And the result? Not madness.

Inertia on the good days, and on the bad, paralysis.

I want to think of myself as 50 and fabulous, and in many ways I do. Yet the conviction of my worth shares the stage with a brooding lack of significance each morning when I wake, and each night when I attempt to sleep.

I feel overwhelmed (and guilty) at everything I’m supposed to want to do, but that my body (in its burnout) and my finances (in their depletion) simply won’t accommodate.

And no one’s talking about these feelings. No one I know, anyway.

Women, Relationships, Money

This is futility. This is a sense of falling off a cliff. This is transition – sort of – but then again, it’s not.

This isn’t about menopause or mothering, dating or relationships. I’m in a relationships and it’s good, very good. This is about my relationship with me. Your relationship with you. Our relationship with society, with expectations of its women, a need to redefine who we are at midlife just as we have at other points in time, when we were likely so busy nurturing partners and offspring and co-workers that we were overwhelmed with overwhelmed, not overwhelmed and underwhelmed.

It’s also about money or its absence. Something else that no one will speak about. Not openly.

My Mirror, My Self; My Ability to Provide

What makes up a woman’s mental health, or a man’s for that matter?

Here’s my take: satisfaction with an evolving self, satisfaction in relationships with others, satisfaction at work which feels like it matters in some way. Feeling like we matter, as reflected in each of these aspects of our lives.

And emotional health? Would that be a balance of acceptable, non-harming feelings and behaviors – their appropriate access, expression, and coping mechanisms for each?

What else?

For those of us who played the role of breadwinner for years, the ability to provide for ourselves and our families. And without that, stress is broad and deep and festering and devastating. We may find love, but it won’t pay the rent, the taxes, the doctor’s visits, the grocery bill.

Past accomplishments? We may have plenty, and gazing in the mirror, we are well aware of them and proud. As we should be.

But that isn’t enough, if we’re sinking fast in the present, and cannot even imagine the future.

Single Mother Health

I came across an article from June of this year concerning a study reflecting that single mothers are more likely to have health problems after age 40.

While I consider the focus of the study grossly incomplete (as reported) – low-income mothers bearing children out of wedlock – its conclusions hardly come as news to any single or solo mother.

Of more interest, and perhaps relevance, is this, from the same article:

“The health effects seen in this study were probably largely a result of the single mothers’ economic disadvantage… If a large percentage of single mothers today had the family and financial support they needed to raise a child, then they might face fewer health problems.

Amen.

Healthy Heart, Healthy Head

In search of meatier musings on midlife experience, I came across an excellent piece at HealthyWomen.org, on why we’re stressed.

It offers a laundry list of reasons as to why any contemporary woman would feel overwhelmed – all the elements of the “having it all and doing it all” syndrome, along with caring for elderly parents, and possibly supporting adult children financially. Yet it seems to me the situation is exacerbated by our expectations that we ought to be able to do it gracefully – and that adds to the stress, with its deleterious health effects.

But I take exception to this:

“As women, we may be hardwired to be less able to cope with stress. It could be just a matter of brain chemistry. According to the National Institute of Mental Health: “A study in rats has revealed striking gender differences in the brain’s stress response…

Stress activates something called the corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) in your brain (which lets it know that something is wrong), and men’s brains need a lot more CRF than ours do before they become highly agitated. (Others theorize differently, claiming that due to the female hormone oxytocin, women seek out other women to talk to when they need help.)”

I disagree with the premise. I disagree with excluding the millions of women who carry untenable stress loads for years – unmarried, widowed, or divorced – frequently raising their families until they reach the place where I find myself, simultaneously solid, cast adrift, and just plain scared.

Reinvention Means Reshaping Purpose

Reinvention is all well and good, but it involves more than the superficial – a new haircut, a more veggie-friendly diet, taking up yoga to stay fit. It means redefining our purpose. But purpose, like survival, requires money. 

So which comes first – purpose or money? Does it matter, if you’re overwhelmed and under-financed?

Why are so few women willing to talk about these issues – in particular the fear of less income, or no income at all? Don’t we need to speak out?

Fighting Stereotypes

Perhaps it’s more logical than I realize, than we realize, those of us who find ourselves in this place without a name or category, often banished from the prettier discussions of aging (gracefully), yet still convinced that we can – and do understand what that means: certain of our capacity for contribution (though needing a rest), aware of our beauty (even as it changes), fighting stereotypes (of all sorts), and lost without too little work for pay – while slammed against ageism in a dreadful economy.

Are we willing to express this version of midlife? The more complete experience – beyond hormones, beyond an extra inch at the waistline, beyond the inevitable let-down once the job of child-rearing is done? Can we believe in renewal and rejuvenation, while admitting that we’re hanging on by our fingernails?

Money Worries + Midlife = Stress (+ Opportunity?)

Surely, I’m not the only 50-year-old woman not worried about hot flashes, not preoccupied with children, not fretting over skinny jeans, but worried sick – literally – over an emaciated budget and the ability to survive.

Stress and its health impacts?

You betcha.

Then again, a woman’s stamina is an inspiring phenomenon or I doubt that most of us would still be here. And we are – fighting for our present and increasingly aware that we must fight for our future – one which requires recreating a realistic, resilient, and evolutionary sense of self; a country in which we own a voice; communities and partners that value us for our skills, knowledge and hearts; each and every one of us, able to earn our way back into the game.