At a recent yearly physical with a new doctor, I was generously informed of all the physical changes I had to look forward to as a woman in my middle forties. Straddling the line between my low forties and late forties, he made it sound like I would cross over into my late forties and fall into an abyss of blind doom. Life as I knew it was… vanishing.
Not only would I slowly lose my youthful complexion and toned, athletic muscles, but I would be facing hair loss, a higher risk of heart disease and increased fatigue, as I moved closer toward menopause. He said this to me with no concern in his expression. It had a, your youth is slipping through your fingers, oh, well, say bye, bye, feeling to it.
I left the appointment annoyed. Puff. I hadn’t asked about any of these things. It was unsolicited information which I would have preferred to discuss with my gynecologist – also a woman in her forties. Basically, he was telling me that I was in a decade of transition and loss, and, I had to deal with it.
This felt incongruent, at first. I feel thirty. What was he talking about? If no one told me I was forty-seven, I wouldn’t even know it myself. Of course, I can see the physical signs of aging, mostly in my thinning skin, but aside from that, I feel the same as I did when I was thirty, in some ways, better.
Problem was, this was only one side of my inner dialogue. Part of me knew he was right and it struck a troublesome chord. It’s no secret that as women our bodies undergo a major transition, which takes years, but begins in our low to middle forties. For me, I didn’t notice any changes until forty-five. It was like a few months following my forty-fifth birthday, some internal bell went off. “Ding, dong. Here we go, Jacquie. Hope you’re ready.”
A subtle web of purple veins, on my shoulders, has become noticeable as my skin begins to thin. My tight, toned muscles are still tight and toned (and thankfully, I am still very strong), but a fine layer of skin is slowly developing over the muscle which is slightly soft, almost loose. When I wave, I can feel my triceps jiggle. Lovely.
This isn’t the worst of it though, at least not for me. For the last year and a half, I have had awful, sometimes nearly debilitating PMS, almost for two whole weeks every month. Forget the mood swings, the cramps and the headaches, which all suck, quite honestly. The worst, I have had days where I have difficulty concentrating. I’m at my keyboard writing with terrible cramps and I have to use all of my energy to keep my thoughts organized and focused. Thank goodness I am a runner and exerciser, because this is the only thing I have found which reduces the symptoms. Running, my savior, has even gotten rid of more than a few PMS headaches.
When I’ve talked to women older than me who have already reached menopause, they describe feeling free and relieved. “The symptoms go away and it’s awesome.” One of my fifty-something friends told me. No more tampons, no more pads, no more monthly cramps. No lost days spent in bed, watching tear-jerkers, crying with a heating pad. It’s almost hard to imagine a world of such bliss.
But, even with the liberation from the monthly cycle of bloody hell (pun, intended), it is… a loss.
It represents the loss of youth, the loss of the ability to have children, the loss of time. It’s mid-life: a time after youth, a time before old age.
It’s a time of transition.
There is time, but it has lessened. With less time to waste, it is a good time to reflect upon life and figure out what really matters. We cannot undo mistakes, but we can learn from them. Now is as good a time to look back, reflect, and be focused on what gives our life meaning.
As I reflected upon what being in my forties meant to me, I decided to ask some of my friends on Facebook their thoughts. I wondered how much of what I felt was personal versus what was more collective, similar for all women.
Along with my heightened emotions and thinning skin (literally), I feel stronger, and surer of myself; things I didn’t understand in my twenties and thirties are clearer now. I don’t waste my time worrying about inconsequential things. My perspective on life has shifted, dramatically. I had always looked forward with the vague sense of the ephemerally of life. I always felt the need to push myself to do things that mattered. But now, with half of my life behind me, I know not to waste time. Jeez… the things I used to trouble myself with in my twenties, and even my thirties (although, I did love my thirties, and it was an easier time). Things that seemed to matter so much, didn’t really matter at all; I realize now looking back. In our forties we have the opportunity to make better choices.
When I asked friends what their thoughts were, most described similar experiences of feeling stronger, not being self-conscious, and having no problem telling people who caused stress “to go f--- off,” as a couple of friends mentioned. The forties can be a time of liberation from unhealthy attachments as we have both the strength and the life perspective to make better decisions about this.
A few people mentioned being able to walk away from an unhealthy intimate relationship – finally. Even what we want from intimate relationships can change. One friend commented that she craved less “pow” and more peace, a milder type of loving commitment. Another friend finally had the strength to leave a relationship which was no longer making her happy to pursue one which would.
A few people described the essence of not having a “someday” mind-set anymore, but rather having a “now or never,” attitude toward life decisions. One friend, with an inspiring story, decided to go back for her doctorate at forty-seven.
Every stage of life has challenges. Forties being the start of mid-life is a time of transition. It is a time of loss and a time of gain. As we lose our outer youth (as our skin, literally, thins), we gain internal strength (thicker skin). We hope we become wiser with age, that youthful mistakes are taken up, not necessarily as failures, but rather opportunities for learning. With each passing year, as we lose some more of our youth, perhaps we gain something far greater – a better perspective on life, a sense of peace within ourselves, and knowing that each moment, of everyday, we have the opportunity to do what really matters.