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Woman in Midlife Crisis: How Did I Get Here?

My first midlife crisis happened when I was 41. Being halfway through my life at 41 – does that mean I’ll live to be 82? – man…that’s so OLD! I’d better get my act together now!!

For most women I’ve spoken with, a midlife crisis happens for two reasons; either some major life changing event occurs or a gentle awakening that the kids are sort of ok, the partner is pretty happy and so are they, so it’s time to immerse themselves in the deep sense of being themselves – as opposed to being the person they have become.

One is a slap in the face and the other is a gentle awakening. The funny thing is that the outcome is the same. Mine was a melting pot of both. The deep soul-yearning for something I couldn’t put my finger on.

Here’s a bit of background for you. I had 6 sons aged from 5 to 17 and owned a very busy Natural Therapy Clinic being the therapist, receptionist, cleaner and bookkeeper.  I had a ‘difficult’ marriage of just under 20 years and was studying to be a Naturopath. I had an overwhelming desire – and I mean OVERWHELMING – for open space. It seems like the only thing I thought of all day was just having the space to breathe, to think, and to not be there for anybody or anything…To walk unhindered and feel a sense of freedom I hadn’t felt for decades.

I’m an Australian and the place I kept thinking about was the red centre, Uluru. Just the thought of all that open space, that relentless silence – the peace (!) was simply something I MUST have.
I was so overwhelmed with everything: my life, work, kids, marriage that just the thought of breathing in that emptiness brought tears to my eyes. I had no money…none…6 sons (says it all, I think), but I couldn’t stop dreaming.

It was then that my sister called….and asked me if I’d like to go to Scotland with her. “Dream on” I thought. How that would be possible, I had no idea – and anyway it wasn’t the Red Centre – it was a totally different country and it was cold there! She then told me of some shares she had sold that belonged to our mum who’d passed away several years ago and it would pay for me to go!

I said “no”. Thinking of leaving my business, my kids and all the daily things behind me seemed impossible. All the things I thought were a part of the life I had chosen that couldn’t possibly just stop. It was only by saying no that the chance came to weigh up my options….to stay or not to stay. To travel or not to travel, to breathe in air from a different country, to have no responsibilities for 6 whole weeks, to cycle around a country I knew nothing at all about……I forgot to say: We would be cycling around Scotland for 6 weeks!…and I hadn’t ridden a bike for years!!

I held my breath to see if it was real…and I was reeling with the possibility….

I spoke to my husband and asked if it was ok for me to leave for 6 weeks – in 6 weeks (though I think if he had said ‘no’ it would have made no difference by then). I rang my sister and said ‘yes!!!’ I booked the ticket, bought a bicycle and spent the next 4 weeks practicing for 1 hour a day

This was in an era before mobile phones as we now know them, before Skype, before email that was user-friendly, before internet banking – all communication would be through snail mail (think 2 months) and operator-connected phone calls. So – off I went with my bike packed up in a cardboard box and 2 pannier bags with the few items of clothing and toiletries I was taking. Excited, no idea what to expect and nervous as hell.

The travels around Scotland started in Edinburgh and continued across to Skye, up through the Outer Hebrides, across the top of Scotland and through the Orkneys – then down the East Coast back to Glasgow.

The hardship of cycling 40miles a day, up far more hills than down (that’s what it felt like), pushing myself to my mental, physical and emotional limits and being without food sometimes for a day – because country Scotland just seemed to close down after a certain time and on weekends – opened up a whole new world of possibility for me. The realisation that life in the areas we passed through were seriously poor, the people isolated and their history completely oppressive – touched my heart – and cycling relentlessly up, down and around gave me time to think, yell, scream, cry and laugh – I was alone on my bike, but not bored. Never bored.

There was a beauty in an adventure that became not just an A to B trip but a “personal journey”. I met new wonderful people, was treated terribly by others, cheated, lied to, realised that even though the Scots speak English I had no idea what they were saying, came upon ghosts in ancient castles, wanted to go home, missed my kids and tried to figure out my marriage in my head.

I drank a pint of beer at the end of every day, hugged sheep and highland cows, walked in amongst standing stones and stopped to feel the power of them, snuck under chains into ancient 3 thousand year old ruins, discovered what a ’scampi’ is, ate far more meat and pure white sugar than I ever had and scoffed the biggest 3 course breakfasts possible. I screamed in frustration at having to push my bike forward into headwinds that broke my knees and discovered that walking beside my bike was quicker even when going downhill (and a little less painful). I wore my socks for several days at a time, turned my undies inside out when I had to, and broke so many of my own personal rules I felt totally liberated!!

There were so many wonderful experiences I’d had by taking the risk of leaving, but by far the most beneficial was the realisation that life was amazing, that my life didn’t have to be as small and contained as it had become. My heart felt as though it was exploding with happiness and a new determination. I arrived back in Australia a totally different person, well travelled and I was fit, really FIT! So happy and relaxed. And with change comes more change….

My husband didn’t quite recognise or know what to do with the ‘new’ me (who was actually much closer to the real me!) The distance between us become more obvious. He left to become a ‘Hare Krishna’ within a few weeks of my return. I went back to work at my clinic, asked the guy who was sharing my clinic to leave as I realised he was white-anting my business by stealing my clients and bad-mouthing me.

I was alone, my business was mine again, my husband was away chanting things, the kids were happy and relieved to have me home (my postcards arrived after I did). I bought them new shoes and prepared them for a new and energetic mum full of new stories. I helped organise my eldest sons 18th Birthday. So many milestones were happening.

Change just keeps happening, happening and happening.

My first midlife crisis wasn’t a crisis at all, but a liberation, an awakening to my possibilities. The awareness of my strengths and abilities. Above all, my “midlife crisis”  brought home to me the stillness of the average life we live and the possibilities we miss by placing our parenthood, wifeliness and business into a shoebox of limitations.

This was my first midlife ‘crisis’, and there were still 2 more to come. Each one was a great as the last. Stay tuned.