My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.
– Michael J. Fox, 54
At 54, Michael J. Fox is hardly old, but this statement suggests wisdom beyond his years. And, while menopause and natural aging is not nearly as difficult as learning to accept a condition like Parkinson’s Disease, it is a major life stage that is challenging to millions of women, their families, and loved ones. So, how can we find happiness and acceptance? What influences how we experience menopause and aging?
What’s behind the psychological, or emotional changes we experience during menopause? Certainly, a woman’s plummeting estrogen and the new prominence of testosterone plays a significant role in how one moves through this stage of life. Many attribute a woman’s increased assertiveness and heightened energy level to the higher ratio of testosterone during and after menopause. Culture is a stronger influence than previously known, as demonstrated in a recent study showing the differences between North American societies that view aging in a more negative light than do some European countries, such as Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Women and men reported more negative experiences during this life stage in North American countries than did their counterparts in northern Europe.
Still, maybe there’s more to it.
Embrace the “Afternoon of Life”
This month, I watched my daughter graduate from high school and my son get his driver’s permit. Seeing them through these rites of passage puts me in a new place, to say the least. On the one hand, it’s enjoyable (albeit emotional) to relive their earlier achievements – walking, talking, riding a bicycle, first days of school, first loves and heartaches – but it’s equally unsettling facing the unknown. More and more, my daughter is defining her future while our son navigates his own way through high school.
Not only do these milestones make me realize my age, these events remind me that I must retool and redefine myself. When these big questions arise, I typically turn to books for answers and deeper insight. The following authors’ work has proven helpful on more than one occasion. I hope other readers find them equally valuable.
• Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions (Plus). Kidd, the New York Times best-selling author of The Secret Life of Bees recounts her search for a new, more spiritual soul through the transformation of a chrysalis. It’s a beautiful, highly personal account of an accomplished woman discovering a brave new self.
Kidd quotes psychiatrist Carl G. Jung on the stages of life: …Thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life…with the false presupposition that our truths and ideas will serve…But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning.
• Connie Goldman, Who Am I … Now That I’m Not Who I Was?: Conversations with Women in Mid-life and the Years Beyond. A collection of essays about ordinary women making remarkable changes in their lives with commentary by Goldman.
• Gail Sheehy, The Silent Passage: Revised and Updated Edition. The short chapter “Emptying and Refilling” in this somewhat dated, but still relevant classic contains practical advice and well-expressed metaphors for finding your own source(s) of replenishment. Sheehy advises women to be brave and persistent enough reach a point where you can say, “I won’t go back [to the old me]. I want to move on.”
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