For me, the term “midlife crisis” has always evoked images of men with dyed black hair, shiny red sports cars, and 20-something girlfriends. I certainly never imagined a woman with a loving, handsome husband, two beautiful children, and a satisfying career lying face down on her kitchen floor, sobbing and praying to a God she wasn’t sure she believed in to make sense of why she felt so unhappy and unfulfilled.
But that’s exactly where I found myself one morning at the age of 44. I now know that I was in the throws of perimenopause — but at the time I just thought I was going crazy — and I was terrified.
Apparently I am not alone. There seems to be something that happens to women when they hit the early- to mid-40s mark. Existential questions begin to rear their ugly heads. “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “What is my purpose?”
For me, those questions meant leaving my comfort zone in a way that I hadn’t done before and traveling to a remote village in Panama. There was no electricity, no Wi-Fi, and no cell phones. There was no indoor plumbing. There were no conveniences. No luxuries. No “extras.” There were huts with dirt floors and thatched roofs. There were children splashing in the murky water of a riverbed while women cooked fish over an open fire. There was joy. There was so much joy I found it difficult to breathe.
There seems to be something that happens to women when they hit the early- to mid-40s mark. Existential questions begin to rear their ugly heads. “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “What is my purpose?”
A young woman, pregnant with her second child, motioned for me to join her while she wove colorful necklaces. Despite our language barriers we were able to share stories of motherhood and our roles as women in our respective communities. She wanted to know all about my life as a journalist in the States, and she told me stories about life in her village. The men and women all had jobs to do, she told me, and they worked together from dawn to dusk, all for the greater good of the village. She went on to add that the women were a team, with no jealousy, no comparison, no back biting, and none of the, “ARRRGH you Americans have,” she described with a growl as she made a clawing motion with her hands. She was referring to stress and societal pressure. I understood right then that my problem stemmed from too much “ARRRGH.”
That was the day everything began to fall into place.
I realized that I had been trying too hard to be someone I was not — a version of myself I thought I was supposed to be in order to fit in. I re-evaluated the choices I was making and the people I was surrounding myself with. I quit trying to put myself in places where I simply didn’t belong. Instead, I began to pursue the things I wanted to do, nurture the friendships I cared about, and let the rest fall where they may. Some people understood it, and some people didn’t. But it didn’t matter. With each decision I made from a place of “Is this relationship or situation in line with whom or what I want to be?” I felt the heaviness begin to lift. Before I knew it, I was lighthearted in a way I hadn’t been in a long time. I was challenging myself, meeting new people, and discovering new interests and passions.
Crisis implies disaster, while awareness speaks to a reasonable, thought-out process for dealing with a situation. For me, that process meant taking a break to find where I was breaking down.
And somewhere along the way, I found a faith long dormant. I found the place where my heart and mind aligned. I found my inner voice, my strength, and my authenticity. In short, I found myself — at the age of 44.
So was it a midlife crisis? Who knows? I prefer the term midlife awareness. Crisis implies disaster, while awareness speaks to a reasonable, thought-out process for dealing with a situation. For me, that process meant taking a break to find where I was breaking down. It meant deconstructing myself, peeling back the lies I’d told myself layer by layer like an onion, until I reached my core. Only then could I begin to rebuild myself into the person I knew I really was — the person who still lived inside of me, although I hadn’t seen her in a while.
Shortly after my trip, I was sharing the details of my journey with a small group of women when one remarked, “I’ll bet you were able to show those women a much better way of life.”
“No, “ I replied. “They showed me one.”
Bonny Osterhage is a journalist, fitness trainer, and co-founder of BodyArchitecture in San Antonio, Texas.