A Gallup Health and Well-Being Index revealed that women approaching midlife had the highest levels of stress among all age groups and genders. What's worse, according to the study, they were far more stressed out than previous generations of women, and there didn't seem to be any relief in sight. Today's women are raising children, working, caring for aging parents, and tending to their partners (or trying to), while doing their best to remain fresh and youthful. And as a result, they often feel too stretched, too overwhelmed, too exhausted, too unappreciated, and way too weary.
The study also highlighted the fact that among a range of emotions experiences by these over-worked and under-appreciated women, the most pronounced was guilt. No matter how much they worked, no matter how thinly they were spread, no matter how caring, giving, and sacrificing (and no matter how damned good they looked while engaging in all of their service-related activities) it never felt like they were doing enough -- there was always more they believed they could/should/needed to do. And at the core of these women's souls lurked a fear that they were failing themselves, their employers, their partners, and their children. According to the study, this type of perfectionism is eating away at the mental and physical health of today's women, particularly those who are parents.
As I prepare once again for the departure of my son for college, I find myself reflecting on the gut-wrenching experience of taking him to college the first time about a year ago. The close relationship I have with my son was one reason why empty nesting was such a devastating experience for me. I honestly did not know who I was without him in my daily life, and I wasn't very eager to find out. Even though I always worked, empty-nesting after spending nearly two decades immersed in raising my son filled me with dread and terror.
I did everything I could to prepare for his eventual departure, including going to counseling as a pre-emptive measure against feeling so much pain. One day when I was sitting in my counselor's office, she asked me to describe my feelings about him leaving. "Post-apocalyptic," I said without pause. "It feels like darkness. Gloominess. Like Russia-in-winter gloominess." She told me that it would take about one year to adjust. "I don't have that kind of time," I responded." And then I asked for a list of things I could do to speed up the process.
When I drove my son to college last year, I was in a daze. I remember very little about that trip except some intermittent tears (mine) and a whole lot of excitement (his). The college drop-off went by in a whir -- dorm set-up, a quick dinner and that was it. While I remember little of that day, I do remember the drive home with excruciating clarity. The drive was very long, made even longer by the fact that I had to drive through Nebraska (sorry, Nebraska folks, but your state is stupefyingly giant). I was emotional and couldn't stop the rush of tears or the voices in my head that reminded me of how my tiny family of two had just shrunk to one. It was official, I was completely alone. My son was going to skip off into his future, and I'd be lucky if he even remembered my name. I was downright pathetic.
I love the holidays and I hate the holidays. The holidays fill me with hope, and they also fill me with despair. The holidays remind me that I am surrounded by loved ones, and they also remind me that I am far more alone in this world than I'd like to be. The holidays are filled with family, friends, lots of pretty decorations, and baking -- lots and lots of baking. The holidays are also filled what what I like to call bullshit -- lots and lots of bullshit, at least for those of us who feel compelled to live up to some culturally (and religiously)-inspired standard of what American holidays are supposed to be about -- tables filled with happy people, feasts befitting the royal family, an abundance of presents under a $150 tree, and so on, and so on.
Don't get me wrong, I can think of many wonderful holidays I've spent with good food, good people and good cheer, but I can also recall quite a few spent with a mirror held up to my face showing me just how much my life hadn't turned out the way I'd hoped. Lonely holidays where I anxiously wondered if someone would invite me to join their family for a holiday meal, and broke holidays where I knew I didn't have the funds to live up to my gift-giving responsibilities (and no one embraced my "let's knit something for each other" present-theme idea).
I had my son during Christmas break in my second year of graduate school. I decided to go back to school on the heels of a very painful divorce, which involved years of infertility, two failed In Vitro fertilizations and just as many miscarriages. Starting graduate school represented a new direction in my life, one that did not involve any remnants of my old life. I was a bit of a hot mess during that first year of school, while at the same time enjoying my newfound freedom from a crumbling marriage that was unable to survive the rigors of daily hormone injections, weekly trips to the fertility specialist and heartache; so much heartache. When I realized I was pregnant from a brief rebound relationship, I was stunned by the news, as well as the irony. I quickly cleaned up my act though and powered through the rest of my graduate studies, because I was certain that in no time at all, I'd be back on track. A traditional family life was once again on the horizon (albeit with a different husband).
While I waited for Mr. Right to come into our lives, I worked full-time and attended school at night, which almost killed me. I spent most of that time racing from task to task in a where-are-my-keys-my-car-my-baby sort of haze. Every morning, seemingly without fail, I pulled out of the driveway (late, of course) baby-in-tow, with my head leaning out the car window (for the blow drying effect) and my coffee cup precariously perched on the roof of my car. So while I remained optimistic about finding Mr. Right, dating was honestly the furthest thing from my mind.
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This is a blog for middle-aged women, like me, who want to live a life of increased authenticity, and greater well-being.