This year my son, who is in the fifth grade, will watch THE VIDEO — you know, the one that teaches prepubescent kids all about the changes that their body soon will undergo. Educators are aware that the surge of hormones and rapid, unexpected changes that occur during puberty have the power to make children feel as if their own bodies are betraying them. As a society, we have made the decision to prepare our children (with an uncomfortably awkward and detailed video) for this sometimes-unwelcomed stage of life, offering facts, knowledge and a comforting reminder that yes, you are normal and you will survive this thing called puberty.
Well … HELLO WORLD! I am 42 years old and going through a little something that feels a whole lot like puberty myself. WHERE IS MY VIDEO? My body is definitely betraying me and it is doing things that I do not (in any way shape or form) want it to do. No, I don’t want those wrinkles above and below my lips. And those wrinkles around my knees: How in the world did they get there so quickly? The patch of grays that just magically appeared almost overnight and my inability to stay up past 9:30 p.m.? Was not expecting those things at 40-something, either.
I knew these changes would occur … eventually. But to be honest, I thought it would be closer to my 60th birthday before I noticed. I only became comfortable in my postpuberty body within the last decade, and now, at 42, here it goes pulling a fast one on me again. No one warned me. I didn’t get a video or a crash course. No one told me that I would be hit with the you’re-getting-old and you’re-getting-old-fast bricks. While we women in our 40s and 50s joke about it, the truth is that many of us were taken by surprise by midlife changes, and without an instructor or even a video to teach us the way of midlife, we sure do need each other. So, I reached out to women and asked what midlife changes came as the greatest shock to them. As if we were sisters and friends in a fifth grade classroom, they shared what has been most challenging (and rewarding) about this thing called midlife.
Turning heads: “[I’m] starting to feel invisible. I’m 49 and hate that I don’t turn heads anymore. I was never a great beauty, but I did get looks. I hate that I liked them so much and hate even more the vanity it exposes on me and how it has drawn me to consider things like Botox.” — Eileen, 49, Los Angeles
Soft skin (mom really did know best): “The skin on my body and my face looks waaaaay older waaaay sooner than I thought it would. I mean sometimes I feel my forearms, and it is like — what is this? My mom warned me every time I went to the beach or played in the sun without protection. I didn’t listen. There you have it. Lesson learned about 35 years too late. Mom knew best!” — Leslie, 52, Elk Grove, California
People pleasing: “I’m a 41-year-old mother of a 2-year-old and the most shocking and unexpected change that occurred in my 40s was how little I care about what other people think about me. I do me. It’s odd because I spent so much of my 20s and 30s trying to please people and do everything society expected from me. Now that I’m in my 40s, I do what makes me happy. Period!” — Jackie, 41, San Francisco
Glasses: “When my eyes started to go, I blamed it on anything other than age — maybe it was the lighting or the font — whatever it was, it wasn’t my eyes (or my age). I was still in my 30s and it really shocked me to learn that I would need glasses to read a menu in a restaurant from this day forward. It felt like the first major midlife change. When I finally went to the eye doctor, I treated myself to glasses that were way too expensive, but the nice frames helped to soften the blow.” — Sarah, 41, West Hartford, Connecticut
Hearing aids and a great attitude: “My dad got hearing aids when he was in his late 70s. I got hearing aids, thankfully and joyfully when I was 47. That was a shocker! I was so happy to not have my ears ring or feel full or want to shoo all my kids out of the room because I couldn’t stand the noise along with trying to have a conversation, or keep saying “What?” every single time someone said something to me. Just fantastic!” — Leslie, 52, Elk Grove, California
Tissues: “I just cried for four hours straight and I am not really sure why. My periods have become irregular and I am told that I am going through perimenopause; it’s an unheard word that no one really tells you about. I have always been a glass half-full person, but then one day I woke up and I just wasn’t me anymore. My moods are all over the place and I feel an increased amount of anxiety. I never took a nap in my life and now I have to [lie down] for hours each day. I always thought I would welcome life with no period, but now I am sad at the thought of not having one. This is it. It is so weird. Some days are harder than others, but I am grateful to have found support groups online so I don’t feel so lost and alone.” — Mary, 52, Hartford, Connecticut
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): “I was totally unprepared for how quickly I went downhill after menopause. Within a matter of months, I went from doing numerous workouts a day (I’m a trainer/group fitness instructor) to barely making it through a workout. I also went from having sex five times a week to not wanting it at all. I felt like a shell of my former self. I had no idea that my life would change so drastically. Luckily I was able to start HRT and I reclaimed my life, but it was scary — especially since working out is my livelihood.” — Lynn, 51, Tustin, California
Hair (this could just as easily fit into things lost): “Seriously, no one warned me or could have prepared me for what is happening in the hair department. The hair on my head just doesn’t grow past shoulder length anymore. It is thinner than ever, more brittle … and there is no shampoo or vitamin in the world that is helping. On the other hand, however, there is more hair growing in places that I really don’t want it (like on the side of my face) and no one warned me about this. I don’t know if I should wax it or shave it or just leave the peach fuzz as is and accept it as my new normal.” — Ellen, 43, Albany, New York
New role of caretaker: “My biggest shock was not my physical health, as I first supposed. (The swelling of the knees is no cakewalk!) My biggest shock was the rapid deterioration of my parents’ health, with me becoming a part of the sandwich generation — those caring for elderly parents and children simultaneously. Adjusting to take care of my parents came suddenly. One month, they were driving and seemed to be managing fine; and the next month, I was spending the majority of my time between hospitals, physical rehabilitation centers and doctors’ appointments.” — De’Andrea, 48, Detroit
An awakening: “The thing I was surprised most about was how burnt out I became in my work. I felt dissatisfied with the status quo and I became acutely aware that I had less time left than I had already lived. Getting to all the things on my list of life goals became really important to me. I hate the term midlife crisis; what I had was a midlife awakening to what’s really important!” — Susan, 52, Galesburg, Illinois
There you have it, girlfriends. A list of just some of the things that hit us with a little shock and awe in this thing called midlife. It is not easy, and perhaps there is no way to fully prepare. But there are solutions and support that come in the form of friends, sisters, doctors and knowledge — and we will, one way or another, get through this stage of life like a kid gets through puberty. And when we do, we can’t forget to reach out to those who are wading where we once swam and let them know with love and care that it does and will get better.