The second half (as seen in Holl & Lane)
I wrote this for Holl & Lane magazine’s issue on Aging (Volume II, Issue 16, 2018 Collection). Isn’t that cover precious?
A friend, in the throes of addiction called, sobbing, saying she felt so alone. She didn’t want me to come over, so I told her to throw her hair in a ponytail, put some sunglasses on, and meet me at Starbucks. This is a 47-year old woman with a meaningful profession, people who love her, all around her. She is not alone.
Desperate for a more solid solution than Starbucks, I swung by Trader Joe’s. While I haven’t been through addiction recovery, I do know the last thing anyone wants to do when they’re down is grocery shop.
I handed her the food and a Frappucicno, and as I listened, I couldn’t get this disturbing statistic from positive psychologist, Carolyn Adams Miller out of my mind - middle-aged women are the largest group dying from diseases of despair: alcoholism, depression, eating disorders, drug addiction.
Dying. From despair. Why? And how can we stop it?
Let’s start with the fact that women are not (and never have been) alone in this. Even the ones seeming to have it all suffer from feeling stifled, stuck, restless.
Edith Wharton, born into wealth in 1862, was never expected or encouraged to be anything other than ornamental. She was sick a lot until the years between 40 and 50, the ones she calls her most transformative, when she shaped her mornings around writing. Eventually, “the incredible happened.” She had “groped her way to a vocation,” found her voice, become an author.
Judy Blume was living the 1950‘s dream: two children, a house in the suburbs, a husband happy to support them. She was grateful, yet sick and depressed. She hadn’t written before but told her husband that if she didn’t get the stories in her out of her she was going to lose her mind. She got healthy and we got gems like, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.
After recovering from cancer, Jo Malone left the global fragrance brand she’d built to rest, spend time with her family, “enjoy” the fruits of her labor. She went stir-crazy wondering why she couldn’t be content playing guitar on the couch like her husband. She had more in her. She wasn’t done yet. She didn’t feel at ease until she started making fragrance again.
Suffering looks and feels different for everyone, but the heart of it is the same: wanting our situation to be different than it is. That feeling is hard enough when you have clarity around next steps, but when you can’t see your way forward, it’s downright debilitating.
Take a look at my madness. I’m 52. I had a total hysterectomy at 32. Throughout those 20 years I’ve Googled “adoption” twice. Both times ended on Amazon, buying a book or boots. If my heart was in baby mode, you’d think I’d at least have ordered books about babies, or booties. I’ve never ordered a book about babies, or booties.
What my heart wants to do is encourage creative spirits. Yet, soul-sucking stuff like this swirls through me: The only worthy desire is to have a child. I’m selfish, somehow less than. Whatever I have to offer, from my heart alone, is not meaningful enough. That I will die unseen, unheard, all my effort to make sense of life wasted. That my punishment for this decision is that I will never experience the most deepest depth of love: Mama love.
And that madness is with 20 years of yoga, meditation, bookshelves stocked with spiritual a-ha’s and friends who, when they’ve had it with my “maybe I should find a baby” story, tell me, “I think you’re so afraid to write and teach, that you think having a child would be easier.”
It’s fear of the unknown that sends us swirling. The first half feels fairly planned out. Go to school, get a job, get married, have children, or not, move, stay put, build a career, make a home. There’s a solid, understood path, whichever direction you’ve chosen.
When the second half starts, after doing all we’re supposed to do, we’re weary. So when the restlessness kicks in, depending on how the first half went, we might not have the energy to recover from or change into anything other than a scrunchy and sweats.
But, what if we re-framed restlessness, recognizing it as a tap from above, a holy, “you’re not done, little one.” Instead of resisting it, what if we snuggled in with it, re-connecting with the one we’ve spent years keeping quiet because we’ve been so busy doing so many other things.
Poet, Mary Oliver says, “The most regretful people on earth are the ones who had a creative urge and never made the time or space for it.” Sounds gloomy, but stay with me here.
All she’s suggesting is a project, which feels do-able in the midst of the second-half realization that you (hopefully) have time, but not that much time to make something of (or continue making something of) this “one, wild, precious life,” (also from Mary).
Asked what to do when your life is falling part, author Glennon Doyle says, sit down. Sit down in it. And make art.
Maybe we start with a curiosity that feels fun, finish it, and see how it feels. I’m not talking writing a book or learning a language here. Think quick hits of happiness, easy wins, while the endeavors that take longer, take longer.
Or, you could grab a notebook like the one I grabbed for my friend as I left the house for Starbucks. I knew it was a long shot that she’d use it, but I swear Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages have kept me semi-sane through this mid-life ride.
Morning Pages is the practice of writing, long-hand, three messy pages of madness out of you, daily, preferably first thing in the morning. It takes me about 20 minutes. Please note, this is not almighty Writing or Journaling. These are not thoughts worth reflecting upon. I write mine in .99 notebooks so I don’t feel bad throwing them away. When I do this practice, I feel lighter, answers come, a-ha’s arise, next steps appear. It’s kind of magical.
And, it offers a manageable, necessary way to navigate the second half. Let’s face it, scary stuff is going to happen. Change, loss, worry, anxiety, we’re not getting out of here without experiencing every last bit of it. We need a place to place it. Keeping it inside keeps us stressed and stuck.
I think our craving for depth and connection beyond surface chit-chat is driving that disturbing statistic. The more we get to the heart of who we are at this time in our lives, the more we can hear each other and remind each other to soften, to not be so hard on ourselves.
We are not doing it wrong. And we are certainly not alone.
We can not have women spending their second half questioning their value. This vast, precious, necessary resource of wisdom and love should be flourishing, not floundering.
We’re being tapped from above to share our heart. And when we do, magic happens.