Can we avoid change in midlife? Well, technically the answer is no. Physically, we know there are changes happening to our bodies as hormones decline. We can see it and feel it.
But, beyond menopause, there are life stage changes that occur as well. I have not met one person who doesn’t have a story about this stage of life. By this point, we have all been through something.
What experiences in midlife have changed you?
A friend has died leaving us sad but shaken by the frailty of life, parents need superhuman amounts of care severely upending our scheduled lives, we decided we need a career shift only to find ourselves lost with no sense of identity, our spouse decides he/she has had enough and wants out or our bodies have begun to change leaving us frustrated and unsure who’s staring back in the mirror.
Change is inevitable.
Such was my experience 9 years ago when both parents passed, my spouse and I divorced and I ended a 25-year workaholic career all within 8 months. This. In the middle of perimenopause. The culmination was a decision to change my life completely: I sold almost everything, put the rest in storage, and took off to travel to unknown parts, in a minimalist way (translation: super low budget with sparse accommodations), undertaking extreme physical feats with my polar opposite: a former UK pro-athlete.
My learnings, after 4 years of this lifestyle, were profound. Both physical and mental. One key learning was that it is possible to regain a fitness level that you had in (way) younger years or possibly never had. I also learned that change, even in the fall season of our lives, is possible.
The result was feeling the most alive I’ve ever felt, at an age when many times we don’t feel so great. Midlife happens to all of us (if we’re lucky) and we have an opportunity to either view it in the rearview mirror with sadness and regret or embrace it with optimism for what we might have a chance to become and how we choose to live. Breaking out of our current lifestyle, accepting change, and making the most of it can be the best thing you can do for yourself.
Here’s a starting point for an event that changed my view of myself in midlife and why b-untethered came to be. My hope – much like the song “I hope you dance” by Lee Ann Womack, is that you choose to LIVE and look forward to conquering midlife and thriving on the empowerment that this new age can bring.
Storytime… I’m at 17k feet of elevation, somewhere in the Himalayas. My feet feel like they have glass shards sticking through them. I am freezing and exhausted. I’ve been hiking for 12 hours, carrying 30 lbs in a 40% reduced-oxygen atmosphere, which has wreaked havoc on my ability to reason. I have been climbing for 28 miles. In one day. At high altitude. I’m alone. And I’m still two miles from my destination for the night. It’s pitch black and all around me are local bandits passing by in open-air jeeps hooting and cat-calling, on the single-track path I am traveling.
Death, rape, theft… these all cross my mind as possibilities. I have never been this scared in my entire 52 years. I can feel my heart surging in my chest from adrenaline. it is the only thing keeping me upright. yet, I am at such a level of exhaustion that, if something horrible happened, I’m afraid I wouldn’t have the energy or even the will to fight back.
I am at my breaking point. I carry on, feeling like an ant crossing a desert; every step taking me mere millimeters forward. After an eternity, I reach a “safe” destination, off the path with the jeeps. I stop moving and let my body drop against a fence post for support. Here, I involuntarily break into a complete body-heaving sob.
A lifetime of emotion pours out all at once. I have never experienced this level of physical and mental exhaustion before. It is not like me to break down. But I am literally there, on the edge of my mental cliff. Like a 2-year-old at the end of a late-night Ice-Capades show, I want to just cry for someone to pick me up and carry me home. I want… no, NEED… help. But I know that help is not coming. I’m not in a bad section of town, where a phone call, taxi cab, or helpful street vendor is going to solve the problem. Phones don’t work at 17k feet. There are no towns, street lights, or people I can call on or reach out to. It is me and the mountain now.
I need to find the will and the physical ability to continue on. ALL.BY.MY.SELF. Every cell in my body wants to quit. But the reality of the situation is that I still have 2 miles to go before reaching my shelter for the night.
So, instead, I do what I have learned to do over the past 4 years, which is to stop, refocus and move forward. The crying ends and I focus on what has to be done. I need to keep moving or I very likely could die, here on a mountain in Nepal. Two miles doesn’t seem all that far in broad daylight, at sea level with friendly faces passing by. But two miles, in sub-20 degrees, in pitch black, alone is another matter.
And so it goes. Head-lamp lighting the way, I begin moving forward, one very slow step at a time. After another hour, I finally see lights in the distance, like an oasis in the middle of the desert, which suggest life and the end to this soul-testing day. The “oasis” is essentially a lean-to with no heat, hot water or comforts. But I have never been happier to push open the door to my unheated room, featuring one wooden, handmade cot with a wool blanket. Bathrooms, rather outhouses, were down the path.
Today, there have been definite trauma to my body. This is THE hardest physical thing I have ever done, above and beyond a full Ironman, climbing Kilimanjaro straight up the vertical route and running an Ultra. I am broken. For once, I fear I may not recover. It’s that level of sheer whole-body fatigue. But somehow, at the core of my being, as I finally settle into my down-filled sleeping bag, I find a sense of pleasure in myself.
Out of this intense pain, I have found a new level of self-respect. I am capable of more than I ever thought. And at age 52.
This is a part of my midlife transition.
Ask yourself: What is MY story? What experiences have I had in perimenopause or midlife that have changed me? What am I proud of myself for having undertaken? Or if I haven’t yet, is there something I’m considering?
Now pat yourself on the back. This aging thing is hard. But you are taking control (by virtue of being here) and you will THRIVE!
We’d love to hear what you’re up to (or nominate a girlfriend!) – your goals & achievements or even your struggles because we all have them. Please send us your mid-life story at firstname.lastname@example.org!