I once watched a television program about a woman approaching middle age. She said to a close friend, ” I feel the same inside as I did as a young girl, but when I look in the mirror I know that I’m not that young girl anymore.” I thought, how can someone feel quite young even when they are growing older? I then surmised that who we truly are-which is what can’t be seen-never changes. It is only the outer covering that changes for a multitude of reasons. Other people only see what we appear as on the outside; yet even as our eyes age, those who really know us can see into our soul.
I was 32 years old and pregnant with my third child when I began to realize my own mortality. Up until then I had never thought of growing older and certainly never having to deal with the possibility of my own death.
How women often approach mid-life changes
For women who have relied exclusively on personal beauty to get them through life, or for those whose livelihood is connected with their physical appearance, approaching menopause may be viewed with apprehension.
Accepting mid-life changes means that we are growing older, and growing older means various things to different people. To some it may mean a change of roles in life: What do I do now that the children are grown and no longer need me the way they once needed me. To others it means a close examination of what they’ve accomplished in life: Have I fulfilled all those dreams which I harbored in my teens, twenties or thirties? To still others it may mean mourning the loss of youthful exuberance. Mid-life brings us to a threshold of setting priorities or possibly assessing our priorities.
Approaching menopause can create a myriad of emotions and just as many questions: Will I still be useful? Will there be a place for me as I grow older? Some women internalize in themselves the same judgments our society resonates about aging.
Aging women battle society’s judgment
Some cultures, such as Asian and Indian societies, embrace growing older as something to be honored and revered. For many cultures, however, mid-life is considered the beginning of deterioration and unattractiveness, especially for females, and some women cling to society’s judgment. We must remind ourselves that who we are does not change as we accumulate birthdays on the calendar.
Many of us face menopause and mid-life with trepidation because we are forced to evaluate our lives in terms of who we are, who we’ve been and who we expect to become. It is much easier to face the inevitable changes that come with mid-life if we have dealt effectively with changes throughout our whole lives.
It seems simplistic to focus only on the physical aspects growing older, such as weight gain and additional wrinkles: instead of trying to answer the questions that lie in the back of our minds about our value, our usefulness, and our place in society. While physical changes do present us with challenges, it is the way we view those changes that lays the foundation for how we will live out the rest of our lives.
Our physical bodies are changing. Estrogen levels are dropping and lean muscle mass is decreasing. Just as young girls are taught to accept the onset of menses and the change from child to young woman; adult women should be applauded for accepting the natural changes that will eventually come to us all.
Women juggle work, family, personal needs
Many women who are entering mid-life also have young children to care for: these are often the same women whose parents are approaching an age when they need constant care. This dilemma can present a range of emotions, from frustration to anger. Some women may ask, “When will I find time for myself?”
Even if our parents don’t live near us, many still feel an obligation to oversee their welfare. Looking at the way our parents age can also stir up emotions and questions such as, “Will I be able to care for myself as I grow older?” “Will the same ailments afflict me also?”
There is a certain contentment that comes with growing older: It is a knowledge of who we are and a wisdom that comes only with varied experiences. It is comforting to be aware of our strengths, our weaknesses, and to be fully confident of who we really are and what we want in life.
It is a positive thing to talk openly with others about how we feel about this stage of our lives. If necessary, grieve your losses; whether it is the loss of opportunity, loss of loved ones, or the loss of the vitality of youth: but allow yourself to grieve. It also helps to look forward with eagerness to this next phase of your life. Menopause is not an end, but a truly great beginning to the next chapter of your life.