I was taking a photo of my chicken coop five years ago. The red siding came into focus and I clicked. Then clicked again. I felt something deep within me: a rush of darkness, a storm taking over my brain, a hotness in my face and heart. It was 16 days after my 40th birthday. My then husband was leaving for the weekend with our oldest while I was staying home with our two younger children.
As he pulled out of the driveway I told him I didn’t feel right. “It’s mental, not physical. I don’t know what’s wrong.”
Whatever it was, I figured I’d paint and bake my way out of it that night. But, here I am five years later feeling the same rush, the same hotness. It comes and goes — this low-level anxiety that makes me stop and ask myself what’s wrong. I can’t put my finger on it, but it stirs and stirs and makes me do things, like write my truth, say “no” more, crave wild sex, and give the illusion I’m holding it together.
As soon as I turned 40, I slipped out of myself and was looking at this woman I didn’t recognize. She felt incredibly dissatisfied and restless. The things that once made her comfortable and content weren’t doing it for her anymore. She asked what I was going to do next with my life, because surely there was much more.
I felt incredibly guilty about that for a long time. I tried to keep doing what I was doing — being the best mother I knew how, baking cookies, getting together with my sisters and friends to talk about motherhood, acting as if everything was fine.
Deep down, though, it wasn’t. I was burning to have more, to do more, to shed some of my old self — yet I was afraid to let her go. I talked to my husband about the way I was feeling in the middle of the kitchen one morning, which made him late for work. I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t know what I was saying. Not even a little bit.
I knew he wanted to sum it up to a midlife crisis, but he knew me well enough to not go there.
I’d heard about the “midlife crisis” my whole life — the purchasing of the new car, the affair, the divorce, the coming undone as others thought you’d lost your damn mind.
But I believe this is simply the time when you outgrow your old self. At least that’s what happened to me.
I also believe it’s not losing anything when you become a different version of you. It’s more about finding your true self. And it’s okay.
My whole life, I always have been thinking in the back of my head, Is it okay that I’m here? Is it okay that I said that? Is it okay to be wearing this? Is it okay to really do this or that if no one else is?
And if I do those things, and it is okay, will I still be okay? Will I still be comfortable or will I fuck up so badly my inner voice will say, I told you so, bitch.
Then, you turn 40 and you feel like you have wasted time wondering if it will all be okay; if you will be able to stay in a neat little package. You lose a lot of the feelings and caring what other people think, which is glorious. So you go for it, ya know? You really go for it.
But it’s also scary as hell because you don’t know what you are doing. You’ve always played it safe. And more times than not, this happens when you have been married for a long time and may be drifting from your partner. You may have kids who are older and more independent who don’t need you unless they want food or a ride.
For this reason, your 40s can be lonely. You are faced with strange feelings you’ve never had before. You may have a bit more time on your hands. You think about all the things that you want to do, things you haven’t done, but can. It’s overwhelming and exciting. You try to squash those thoughts and go on with regular life and it’s like you can’t.
It doesn’t feel like you, but it is you.
Honestly, I’ve found only women going through the same thing have any clue as to what I’m talking about, so I stick with them. They have been my saving grace — well, my friends and the wild sex and the writing.
This person I am is so different than the person I was when I was younger. There are times when she makes me so uncomfortable that I want nothing more than to sink back into my old life.
And I could do that. I could. But, if I did, I’d be throwing a lot of myself away. And my 40s are trying to tell me, Enough already, you’ve done that for too long. And you will be okay.
It just takes some time before you believe it.