The Mid-Life Crisis and Menopause
It seems hard to believe, but before 1965, the ‘midlife crisis’ didn’t exist...at least officially!
Then Elliott Jaques studied a number of artists, writers and musicians and concluded that over the age of 40, these individuals went through a period of more introspection, searching for greater meaning. According to Jaques, this was as a result of an increasing awareness of their own mortality, which made them examine their lives more closely.
I'm not sure whether Elliot Jaques was really focusing on the role of the menopause in his studies, but it seems to me that it adds another dimension to what can become a phenomenally busy period in our lives.
So why do so many people feel heightened stress and anxiety in their 40s? There are several key points in our lives where we go through challenging transitions, but at this particular stage there are much more likely to be a number of pressures coming from different directions. Being in a particular career for a long time and then feeling increasingly trapped can take its toll. Maybe in our personal lives, we are questioning how our relationships with others have panned out. What happened to our marriage or our friendships? If we have children, they are often going through their own challenges as emerging adults and so there is also the desire to be emotionally available for them. We may feel a lack of fulfilment, or have a sense that what we've always done or how we are used to living our lives doesn’t have the same meaning it used to. Physical illness or symptoms, particularly the menopause, can aggravate that sense of helplessness and leave us feeling out of control and less able to cope with life’s ups and downs. No wonder so many people in their 40s are exhausted!
The current ‘sandwich generation’ are faced with a unique set of pressures from a number of angles. Women are having children later in life and pursuing careers, whilst grown-up children are living at home for longer. Carers UK estimates around a fifth of 45 to 60 year olds are also providing substantial support for their parents whilst looking after their own children. If I am sounding biased towards the weight of all this being on women, that is not so much a bias as an accurate depiction of how things are right now. Women bear the brunt, and this has not been helped by a two year long pandemic.
We can often overcome these hurdles as we have done with other challenges throughout our lives – but sometimes we can feel completely overwhelmed, wondering how our lives reached this point. This is completely understandable and often the first step is to simply recognise that there is a huge amount going on. As with pretty much any problem, reaching out to others can help reduce that anxiety. The old adage ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ has a lot of truth in it. Confiding in someone doesn’t necessarily eliminate the problem but is does make it feel more manageable.
Watersheds in our lives can be terrifying and isolating. The process of realising that we are stuck and have been for some time can be an extremely painful one, yet, I believe, a valuable one. I have seen how much good can come from it, however uncomfortable it can feel at the time. It's an opportunity to reassess what is important to us, to look again at what fulfils us and what means most to us. When we do that we have the chance to feel reenergised and on the path to feeling 'ourselves' again.
If any of this sounds familiar to you and you'd like to reach out for some help, you can get in touch by email or phone, or go to my online booking system on my homepage.
Jaques, Elliott. 1965. Death and the mid-life crisis. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 46, 502-514.