My Midlife Crisis / by Mandy Wintink

It occurred to me recently that I’m having a midlife crisis. For a while I thought it was just residual postpartum depression but I see that the feelings and thoughts that are emerging seem to relate more to my 40s than motherhood per se. So I’m working through this crisis as it comes up… here is the first thought-draft on what’s coming up for me. 

TLDR: I now feel old. 

I knew I was going to get old — I mean technically and biologically speaking — but I really had no sense of it until recently.  I remember one time a few years ago (in my mid-late 30s) I posted something on facebook about feeling really young and attributing it to not having kids. A few mom friends of mine took offense and assured me that kids kept them young. I was skeptical, at least with whether that would be the case for me. I had been living a life of autonomy, independence, selfishness, freedom… it was better than Freedom 55 because I wasn’t even 40 yet! 

Now I’m 42 and the first 2 years of my 40s were consumed with being a new mom. I didn’t feel old soon after having a baby. Actually, much of me felt great soon after the birth. My body bounced “back" really quickly, likely because I was so good of shape WHILE pregnant… I still had time then to work out. Sure, after having a baby I wasn’t as fit as I was before being pregnant and not nearly as strong in my lower body (mind you my arms got really strong from carrying a child ALL THE TIME) and I’m not as fast in ultimate now. But that was to be expected. I wasn’t training like I had been before. But… I wasn’t totally out of shape. Just not as fit.  And then… time went on… next thing I knew, it had been 2 years since I had a baby. I was long past being able to use the I-just-had-a-baby excuse for my body. And then I started to REALLY notice things were changing… my triceps started sagging over my elbows… my thighs started sagging over my kneecaps … the skin under my chin sags... and not like a second chin per se but like old skin that can no longer defy gravity. I actually noticed this in Anne and Kate too in the first episode of season 2 of Workin Moms. I hadn’t really thought of it as a defining feature of aging… I remember not really understanding the advice “don’t forget about the neck when moisturizing.” And my butt… and hips… let’s just say that some of my yoga tights don’t fit… tights that I wore throughout my ENTIRE PREGNANCY no longer fit my post-postpartum body! The worst was when I ordered “small” shorts in ultimate last year not yet realizing how my body had changed. Everyone was so excited about our new uniforms (as it typically the case). I was divvying them all up and then finally went to put mine on. Got the shirt on… not too bad… started to pull the shorts up and began realizing that we had a problem. I didn’t even wait to get confirmation about how tight my supposed-to-be-baggy shorts were before ripping them right off my legs and stuffing them in my bag. Thank GOD I brought another pair just in case!

I have two sections of my closet… one from my old body and one from my current body. My last hope is that when I finally stop breastfeeding my body will shed these extra unwanted fat layers. Although many people gain weight after they stop nursing because their metabolism slows down, I have heard that some lose weight… their body stops holding on to the fat that it needed to nourish the baby (or toddler in my case). Fingers crossed! 

 

So there’s that… my body. My belly is also hard to look at. I used to have nice abs. But that’s gone. And I could go on about other things like how my hands look old and wrinkly now and they never did before. I try to drink enough water and it doesn’t make a difference anymore. 

 

I’m sad about all of these changes indeed. And it feels weird, like I’m in someone else’s body. It’s like a version of the neuropsychological disorder, hemineglect, where you lose the awareness of the half of your body opposite to the damage in the parietal cortex, only I feel like an almost total neglect. Whose body is this that I’m in?

 

I feel myself indulging into a nostalgia of my past body, sometimes going so far as to hope that that old (ETR: young) body will return. But that’s not helpful. I'm not young anymore. I’m not going to have that body that I did when I was in my 20s… actually, my 30s body was my best but I won’t have that back either. 

 

I am a 42-year-old woman and I have a body that is not young. 

 

And I don’t want that to be a bad thing. And maybe that’s what this midlife crisis is… a yearning to accept that this IS me now, letting go of the delusion that I will stay young forever as I come closer to old age and dying. 

 

And then I am reminded of the one theme that keeps coming up over and over again since becoming a mom: Letting go. 

 

I have let go of so much in my postpartum state. I let go of big huge chunks of my freedom, my independence, my schedule, the ability to work endlessly on anything I wanted without interruption… I have let go of uninterrupted conversations with my husband and friends… I even let go of owning my own boobs. 

 

Letting go is hard. It’s work. 

 

I have spent many years living in a body that I relied on to be fast and fit and strong and capable and to look a certain way. Now… I’m facing the reality that my body is getting old, along with me. That’s scary. Really scary. What am I without my body? 

 

Right now, I’m a midlife crisis… in search of the soul. When your body changes like this it really is (or can be) an opportunity to see what is beyond the vessel. 

 

And other things pop into my head too. Like the grey hairs. It’s not that I don’t want to go grey per se. I actually think grey looks amazing on many people. It’s stunning. I do have this little silver streak that I’m partially in love with and I thought about accentuating this streak and keeping the rest dark… but that’s a lot of work. I know this because in my 20s I had blue streaks (actually “chunks”) in my hair and it took a lot of work… lots of selective bleaching and blue touch-ups every couple of days to avoid it going green. I don’t have that kind of time anymore. I’m lucky if I shower on any given day… I’m lucky when I wash my hair more than once a week. 

 

But I’m not ready to give up my dark hair. I have ALWAYS loved my dark hair and for most of my life worked for even darker hair. Yes, I dye my hair now but I have been dying my hair since I was in grade 8 when I started spending my weekly allowance on hair products and feeling a sense of agency that I could do what I wanted with my hair. I remember my aunts saying to me “why are you dying your hair now? Save it for when you go grey and have to dye your hair.” But that obviously didn’t concern me then. I liked colouring my hair and playing with it in that way. But I don’t want to HAVE to dye my hair but at the same time, I’m not ready to give up its darkness.  Yet… I can’t have dark hair for the rest of my life. That thought — not having dark hair — had never occurred to me before recently. Literally. My dark hair defines me. What am I without my dark hair? A midlife crisis…

I do have an appointment with my hair stylist to start to go lighter to blend in my grey. I told her I wasn’t ready though. I had planned to shave my head when I was 50… as a transcendence exercise. I have lots of work to do to get there because that too would be giving up my dark hair. 

How my body is changing is a HUGE part of my midlife crisis. It’s not about my career or accomplishments… I have all that under control. I’m happy with what I have already done and know I will continue to do great things. For now, I have faith in my mind’s ability to stick with me during my aging process. That may fail me too, certainly but if genetics has anything to do with it, I’ll be in good hands. But the body part of my identity is hard… and I think it’s hard because appearance is so valued and I have been a victim of this…

Also, do you know about Instagram girls? They are social media models. Some of them make a lot of money basically taking selfies. The other day I realized that I will never be an Instagram girl because I’m too old. Bahahahahahahaha!!! Seriously, that thought crossed my mind… AND I ENGAGED WITH IT! Eventually, I realized that I would never have been an Instagram girl anyway. I don’t have that kind of look. But at least if I was 20 I would still feel like I could aspire to become an Instagram girl like many young girls wish to be “found” as a model. I could yearn endlessly for a dream that would never be, not because I was too old but because I wasn’t attractive enough anyway… not that kind of attractiveness. And who cares? The only reason I care right now is because it’s another perceived lost opportunity by virtue of getting old. I don’t want to be an instagram girl. I don’t. 

Also… I don’t know where to shop any more…  H&M? Is that ok at my age? I don’t actually know and I never had to think about it before. But seriously… where do 40-year old women shop? I remember my friend’s mom when we were in junior high, she shopped at GAP. I thought it was so cool that they both could shop at the same store. She must have been 40 then right? I don’t know. My mom was only 32 at that point. But GAP is classic right? I hope so… cuz I just placed an online order to fill up my current-body closet.

I realize this all sounds so ridiculous and superficial… and that it IS ridiculous and superficial but that’s mostly why I am writing about it. I’m not trying to pretend that I have all my shit together. This is hard and it’s kind of fucking crazy that this is the shit that goes through my head… instead of solving major world problems like social injustices… but I bet I’m not entirely alone with these thoughts. 

And like many other things… not enough people are talking about it. Women my age ARE having midlife crises but until recently, I didn’t know it was a thing. Did you? 

There are some good things about aging. Like this: 

And I can confidently say “woman” for the first decade in my life. 

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