and changing might be inevitable, but it ain't easy. It precipitates
in us a great uncertainty. The myriad dramatic disturbances
of modern middle life — menopause, health concerns,
the empty nest, divorce, death, and career shifts —
create an overwhelming crisis of identity and purpose for
us. What follows is an intense period of questioning absolutely
everything — our goals and achievements, our priorities
and our operating systems, our morals and our values, our
fears and our fantasies. Some of us spend a considerable amount
of time — easily 10 or 15 years — swirling in
the upheaval of this middle age reassessment. What exactly
is our role as older than young and younger than old women
who are still active and more effective than ever? Who are
we supposed to be at this stage of our life when we are less
likely to be bound and identified by our kinship connection
to someone else — as a daughter, a wife, a mother, a
This middling transitional shift into the next stage of our
being promises us a vast world of positive possibilities for
the second half of life. But, first, before we are able to
avail ourselves of the advantages and rewards of maturity,
we must cross the Grand Canyon of midlife change, steep, rocky,
shaken, and ripped asunder by a whole panoply of seismic ripples
— mental, emotional, and spiritual — beyond the
obvious physical ones. We climb and climb, and still we lose
ground. The earth that we once trusted to be solid under our
feet is slipping away and we are dragged out to sea where
we bob along in uncertain waters, in a leaky boat with no
In her book Goddesses in Older Women, the therapist
Dr. Jean Bolen, says that menopause is "A time of great spiritual
and creative unfolding — although it sometimes feels
like great unraveling." Unraveling, indeed. The whole damn
sweater is falling apart and we are standing here naked in
the cold (and we are still hot). Nothing has prepared us for
this landslide of transitions that greets us as we enter our
middle years. There we were, going along as always, then one
day out of the blue, we discover ourselves to be middle aged.
Blindsided in a youth-conscious culture, we never saw it coming,
but the overwhelming evidence of our aging can hardly be ignored.
The profound changes in the chemistry of our bodies and in
our intimate relationships, the terrifying disruptions of
our status quo, the daily life-and-death dramas, are incredibly
disorienting. Not only are we burning up physically, blasted
with flashes from our out of control internal furnace, we
are also, many of us, burnt out on an emotional level after
years of tending the home, the hearth, and usually a job as
well. Society tells us, and our own experiences have verified,
that we will lose now that we are menopausal, everything that
has so far defined us: our power of reproductively, our youth,
our sex appeal, our children, our parents, our spouses, our
time left on the job, our very visibility. This grim prognosis
is frequently internalized by midlife women as loss of direction,
motivation, enthusiasm, and self-esteem, our fear, our grief,
expressed as confusion, depression, and furious rage.
The relentless bombardment of losses that batters us in every
area of our lives effectively strips us of any unrealistic,
immature confidence that we once might have had that we were
safe in an unchanging and dependable world. We were shielded
by our youthful sense of indestructibility as well as by our
notoriously death-defying culture. We now understand, because
we have lived it, that nothing and no one stays the same forever,
that all things must end sometime, that shit, does indeed,
happen. We have seen what we have seen. This rude lesson is
brought home, more often than not, on the wings of death.
When our parents sicken and die, they leave us standing alone
on the last rung of the ladder of life and we cannot help
but notice that we will be next to kick up our heels in the
ancestral conga line. It is also common for us to start losing
our husbands, friends, and contemporaries now, which forces
us with a mighty shove to confront our own fragile mortality.
Our watch sports a much larger face these days — not
only because we have trouble seeing it, but because we are
uncomfortably aware of time running out. In a flash, we see
that life has been moving along without us for quite some
time now. We just weren't paying attention. We were busy,
distracted by our responsibilities, lulled and dulled by our
routines and addictions, deluded by denial. And, lo, before
we realized what was happening, we had reached, no, probably
bypassed, the halfway mark of our lives. From now on, we swear,
we will make every precious second count.
The notion that 50 years of age could be considered a "halfway"
mark is unprecedented in history. We are blessed with an inestimable
gift of many more years of life than anyone who ever lived
on Earth before us could ever have imagined. Our future looks
bright; it is only the present that seems grim. It is crucial
that we wend our way with great concentration and care through
the crises of our midlife passage, so that we can learn how
to turn our losses into the very lessons that will help us
to achieve the life that we want for ourselves as we age.
If we ignore our unresolved problems, chronic irritants, and
resentments, we can be sure that they will surface as toxic
stress that can cause cancer, heart attacks, substance abuse,
depression, and other debilitating and life-threatening problems.
How successfully we handle our changes will determine the
quality of our health and wellbeing for all of our future
years. Our life literally depends on it.
At midlife, we are at a major crossroads in our lives, and
we can choose to move ahead, turn right or left, stay where
we are, or go back where we came from. The Queen, my new archetype
for mature women in charge, is an inspirational role model
for us as we make our way through our middle years. The Queen
chooses always to choose, to involve Herself fully in the
process of Her life and living, and to actively direct the
drama of Her myth. She urges us take up the challenges of
changing, of aging, of engaging in all that life has to offer,
and She reminds us to look upon the difficulties, disruptions,
disappointments, fears, and failures we have experienced as
important life lessons, without which we could never hope
to ascend to a throne of responsibility and rule. She encourages
us to entertain the entire palette of our emotions, for there
is where we find our strength and knowledge and true value.
Some things in life just have to be learned the hard way and
evading them is counter-productive and eventually destructive.
The only way to get through them is to go through them.
The roads leading to Queendom are diverse and many, The way
to Self-esteem can be complicated and long. Each woman must
take her own path, make her own trail, clear a passage for
herself through the thick brambles that reach up to trip her.
What roads do exist are unmapped, bumpy, and full of potholes,
tumbleweed, and road-kill. There are no shortcuts along the
Queen's Highway, no services, no shoulders, no signage, but
many detours and cul-du-sacs. And the fare can be exorbitant.
As Dear Abby, Abigail Van Buren, once noted, "If we could
sell our experiences for what they cost us, we'd be millionaires."
Like any grand journey, the trip toward self-dominion requires
stamina, determination, and the passionate desire to travel.
But if we pack properly, check our tires frequently, and take
time for picnics, the adventure is incomparable. And the destination
of Self-empowerment is majestic.
Menopausal women are now reaching maturity just in time to
shape the new millennium for generations of women to come.
Possessing both the vital stamina of youth and the experienced
wisdom of age, our pioneering generation is anxious to work
through the debilitating panic of aging and its negative,
derogatory cultural connotations with at least some measure
of good grace. And, as a generation, we are especially suited
to such a task. Unique in history for our unprecedented freedom,
education, individuation, worldliness, health, wealth, and
longevity, we now hold positions of hard-earned authority,
responsibility, and influence in ever-wider realms. Though
certainly not perfect, nor perfectly safe, our power is unparalleled.
Moreover, weaned on freethinking, idealism and independence,
we have been prescribing the parameters of our lives, inventing
and reinventing our culture and ourselves for decades.
And there are more of us every day. One third of all the women
in America are over the age of 50, and one woman reaches that
milestone every 7.5 seconds. More than 4000 women enter menopause
each day. As a matter of fact, climacteric women, 50 million
strong, now comprise the single largest population segment
of American society. Silent no more, we are reading and talking
and conspiring about how to best traverse this profound transitional
time in our lives. We are determined to transform ourselves,
and in the process, redefine the parameters and archetypes
of middle age. We look to the past for grounding, we look
to the future for courage, we look to each other for inspiration,
and we look to ourselves for the answers. This is definitely
not our mothers' menopause!
You don't get to
choose how you're going to die,
only how you're going to live.
American singer and songwriter (1941