This is the third blog post in my series “A Year Without Fear.” The theme of this blog series has generated a lot of talk, and a little bit of controversy. The comments went something like this:
“Can we really live completely without fear?” …“Should we even try to live without fear?” …“Can’t fear be a good thing, even though we don’t like it?” …“Isn’t it the fear that reminds us we’re all human?”
I suppose what I mean when I reference irrational fear is really the feeling of anxiety about things over which we have little control. When we’re anxious, we’re afraid—we may be afraid of being rejected, afraid of losing a loved one, afraid of losing our job, afraid of being found out in some way that makes us feel unlovable. We may feel afraid and anxious and have no idea of the cause.
I have a beach cove I go to when I need some Zen time or a quiet place to write. It’s a beautiful part of Laguna Beach, my home for the past two years. It’s generally unknown to tourists, hidden away down a long path and a steep flight of stairs. There are shallow caves along the back of the cove that provide some protection from the sun in the summer, and in the winter make for some great little writing spots.
That’s where I am right now—tucked away in a shallow beach cave, writing, listening to the crashing waves inch closer to me as the tide creeps in. I have other favorite writing spots too, but I come here when I’m having an off day, which for me means a day dealing with unchecked fear and anxiety.
by Michelle Martin, PhD, MSW
It may come as a surprise to some of you that I struggle with fear, but I do. Let me clarify that—I struggle with irrational fear. Some fear is good. Fear keeps me from taking a shortcut down a dark alley at night, from going into basements when I hear creepy noises, and from jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Rational fear is not what I’m talking about. No, I’m talking about the what if fears.
The what if I never get tenure and lose my job fear. The what if I run out of money and become homeless fear. The what if I get cancer fear. The what if something bad happens to my son fear. The what if I make another bad decision in a relationship fear (which is closely related to the what if I die alone fear). And my most frequent fear visitor, the what if I take a huge risk in my quest for a meaningful and relevant life and fall squarely on my face fear.
These are the types of fears that I have far too often awakened to , with a rapidly beating heart and quick breath, mind racing, before my logical brain steps in to rationalize them away.
By Michelle Martin, PhD, MSW
What the heck is going on in our world?! Correction: What the heck is going on in our country?! In my ongoing attempt to keep up with current events, maintain my full-time job, keep a reasonable social calendar, and not neglect my family too much, it's a miracle I'm getting any sleep at all. Forget yoga, forget meditation, and absolutely forget any sort of regular grocery shopping.
I have shared this meme before, but it popped up again today on my Instagram feed (and if you aren't following @ThugUnicorn, do yourself a favor and follow them now), which got me thinking about what makes some people turn their past trauma and healing journey into advocacy for the oppressed while other people turn theirs into the perpetration of abuse. Why when two people have gone through similarly difficult times—an abusive childhood with a parent who humiliates and destroys or various other types of trauma, does one person go on to become a champion of the hurting and another go on to spread fear and hatred through dominance and control?
Images are copyrighted and purchased from Shutterstock
I read a book years ago about Chinese culture in the mid-seventeenth century. The way the story went, young girls got their feet bound so they would be desirable to a future suitor. There really were no other options available for women back then, and parents who rejected this custom were all but ensuring their daughters lived solitary lives of dependence, with no independent means of support.
The process was quite gruesome. Girls would have their feet bound with ribbons so tightly that their bones would break. Every few days the ribbons would be removed, and their feet would be rebound, until more bones would break, and eventually turn dust.
I'm reviving my Aging Naked blog after an almost-two year hiatus. Why did I stop? I'm not really sure...I moved and got really busy. Also, the election happened and suddenly the plight of middle-aged women, living an authentic life, the travails of online dating and my heartbreak over empty nesting, seemed a bit trivial. But lately, I've been feeling to urge to write again and to share my various epiphanies, even if some of them seem rather mundane compared to the fate of our dying democracy. I had to be reminded though of why I started this blog in the first place—why I felt it was important to bare my soul to strangers—my middle-aged, empty-nesting, very single soul. So I reflected, and this is what I came up with:
When I hit middle-age and looked around me, and I sensed something was up. I'd been told for years that these would be the best years of my life, but I wasn't getting that feeling. I knew some middle-aged women who seemed to be doing okay, but most of the women I knew appeared to be going through the motions only, telling themselves they should be happier than they actually were. The truth was though, that they weren't, happy that is. But why? Many of these women, including myself, had relatively good lives, so what was all the angst about?
For me personally, I dreaded empty nesting and despite having a good career, and many interests and hobbies, I sensed my identity leave right along with my son. There was wide open space out there, and I could finally have a bit more freedom and flexibility in my life, more opportunities, perhaps even an overnight guest! But I didn’t feel happy about the increased space in my life. Actually, it terrified me.
I have been told how nice I am my entire life. This is usually a great compliment to me. I love it when people tell me I'm nice, because I am nice. In fact, throughout my life I've tried my best to be kind, caring, empathetic and helpful to just about everyone I meet. These qualities are the bedrock on which much of my identity is based.
I have learned over the years though that "nice" is good, but "too nice" is not. "Too nice" is the person who doesn't like to ruffle feathers. "Too nice" is the person who is afraid to set boundaries. "Too nice" is the person who is afraid to say no. "Too nice" is the person who I used to be (and still am, sometimes).
When I reflect back on my life and my various relationships -- with men, with friends, with family, and even with some co-workers, I can now see how being "too nice" was my way of ...
Aging can be difficult, even for the most hardy. Our hair follicles die, our bodies ache, and our skin sags. A few weeks ago I went to a concert and had to stand for five hours and my feet still hurt (and so does my left hip). And recently I've noticed I have to be very careful with my chin placement, especially in photos (it's either that or demand Photoshop rights from all of my friends and family), because if I don't, my once proud chin collapses into a series of smaller, less proud "chins," sliding right into my neck.
Aging can be difficult for everyone, but I think it's particularly difficult for women. Of course, many middle-aged men struggle with aging as well, but I do think middle-aged women have it worse. Maybe I believe this because I'm a woman, but I really do believe this.
Women experience more pressure to remain youthful, both in physical appearance and spirit. We may be well into the newest millennium, but men still have the advantage of more vocational opportunities, greater personal freedoms, fewer social stigmas, more mentoring opportunities, and more social outlets than women.
Society dictates that women are pretty much washed up by the time they're 50, and if we have the "misfortune" of being single, well then, forget it. In fact, a 1986 Newsweek article entitled "The Marriage Crunch" coined a phrase that may forever be cemented in the minds of anxious middle-aged single women everywhere, when it satirically sounded the dire warning that a never-married, college-educated woman over 40 was more likely to be "killed by a terrorist" than get married.
I’m at the tail-end of a monumental life transition. It’s very exciting, but it’s also been scary as hell. A part of this transition involved accepting a new job in a new state, on the other side of the country. It also involved the picking up of my very settled life and hauling it 2000 miles away to create a new one, as a single, empty-nested, middle-aged woman.
Each step of this journey involved about 5 million smaller steps, and now that it’s all over, I honestly cannot believe I actually pulled it off.
I’m a woman who likes stability. I like solid ground. I like to know what I can count on. Even though I’ve taken some pretty big risks in my life, I am in general a woman with a certain amount of anxiety (the wake-you-up-at-3-am-like-the-house-is-on-fire kind), which tends to anchor me, sometimes a little too much. I tend to overthink, overanalyze, overquestion. I look backward rather than forward, sometimes a little too often.
Welcome to my Blog!
This is a blog for middle-aged women, like me, who want to live a life of increased authenticity, and greater well-being, with fewer masks and a lot more fun.