The new mid-life crisis for women

The new mid-life crisis for women. Photo | Photosearch

What you need to know:

More modern women in their half-time are experiencing "mid-life crises", and making drastic changes to their relationships and careers. Why are women experiencing this period differently from their mothers?

In an air-conditioned hotel room in the city, a group of women are gathered to discuss their lives. It’s an early Saturday morning, and uncharacteristically, the room is a hive of activity, as women chit-chatter before the meeting starts. 

The women come in all shapes and sizes. In fact, they belong to different professions and earn varied incomes. But there is one thing that bides them together. These are women in their prime. These women, aged above 40, are here to discuss how they can better navigate their lives, during and after going through their half-life. 

As the discussions progressed, women share the crises they faced in their lives as the years piled. “I was in a financial mess,” one woman, now a financial planner, shares. 

“I got divorced in my mid-40s. I was devastated, though I am the one who pushed for it,” yet another one shared. 

“I quit my high-flying job without a plan. I needed a purpose,” says yet another woman who started a start-up, after being a director in an international blue-chip company. 

Most women shared stories that were a toxic brew of fear, anxiety and anger as they battled their half-time.

At the end of the brunch, most women, marvelled at how enlightening the session was, as they felt, they were not alone or odd by experiencing life differently. They asked Truelove, which was the event organiser, for more such gatherings. 

Mid-life affects women

You see, women too experience mid-life crises. But more often than not, the period is often discussed as something which adversely affects just men. Men seem to get excused for changing their fashion into something ridiculous, for making decisions spontaneously, and overall retrogressive choices. 

The truth is women between the ages of 40 and 60 are as likely as their male counterparts to grapple with existential issues, psychological changes and shifting relationship dynamics. And like men, women going through mid-life can be prone to irrationality, emotional decision-making, shifting energy levels, a deep desire for change and feelings of regret.

Jennie Karina, the Executive Director and Founder of Anchor Relationship Network says changes that women have to deal with during midlife are inescapable since life is about developmental stages and significant transitions.  

According to Ms Karina, midlife crisis can be exacerbated in women who experience a drastic change in their lives such as divorce, grief or loss.

For Dr Amakove Wala, an entrepreneur and health systems consultant, her 40s brought to her a more affirmed version of herself, having gone through several changes between 35 and 40. 

“Between 35 and 40, I was going through a divorce. I had my four children - the triplets and a boy who were all below 10 at the time. This meant adjusting in terms of parenting. I had a support system but at the end of the day, you define how you want your household to be run,” Wala now 44, says.

Enid Muthoni, 50, a Human Rights Lawyer who also went through a divorce in her 40s says one of the effects of growing older was the ability to be real with herself.

“It was in my 40s that I decided I was ready and confident enough to walk out of my dysfunctional marriage. For the first few years after the divorce, I grappled with anxiety. I had not planned to be a divorced woman. I have three kids. There was a bit of anxiety around being on my own, but now I appreciate being on my own,” Ms Muthoni says.

Vicky Karuga, Managing Director of Profiles International, says her mid-life was heralded by weakening bones, followed by deteriorating eyesight and reduced energy levels.

“I started adjusting my focus, squinting to see properly and using eyeglasses. My failing eyesight was my biggest red flag,” she says, “I have always been very energised, but now my energy is dwindling. I find that I want to sleep in a little more over the weekends.”

Physical and mental changes

While Ms Karuga, 45, describes her 40s as a more settled place mentally compared to her 30s, she finds that these days she thinks and worries a lot more about the future.

“I get more anxious thinking about the future now, which didn’t happen when I was younger. I think about my kids and just putting my affairs in order.”

At 50, Ms Muthoni agrees that planning for the future has become urgent. It feels like she is on a clock so everything has to be done intentionally. 

“I am running around to set myself up for retirement. What do I want to be doing when I am 60? There is also anxiety that I need to get everything in order, I need to get my kids and work organised, and have a home. There is no one coming to do these things for me. I simply do not have the energy to do things that don't matter,” says Ms Muthoni.

Expectedly, midlife brings biological changes including menopause, a drop in vitality, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, greying hair, skin dullness, and what some women perceive as ‘fading beauty’ going by societal standards. Other signs include stress, depression, high anxiety and a disappearing waistline.

“Things you used to do to keep weight off such as going to the gym or jogging don't work anymore, so weight starts creeping in. The midriff starts growing,” Ms Muthoni says.

Ms Karuga agrees that navigating the perception of her changing self, worries her. For example, she has noticed that it is easier to gain weight now and she feels flabbier than she did when she was younger.

“I would get away with using just any soap on my face. Right now I can only use one product. Conversations about navigating these changes make it into my discussions with my girlfriends often,” Ms Karuga says.

Ms Muthoni’s crisis is that she does not know what is happening in her body because she has been waiting for menopause since she turned 40 and at 50, she feels she is still waiting.

“From age 40 you are told menopause will come at any time so you look at every change you are going through and you think it's menopause and then it turns out it's not... However, there have been changes in my reproductive health. I had never had to deal with heavy menstrual bleeding but it happened in my midlife. I even came down with anaemia and associated symptoms such as fatigue and brain fog,” Ms Muthoni says.

In Geneva (Switzerland) where Ms Muthoni currently resides, there seems to be more structure in place to support women such as doctors who are able and open to trying things like hormonal therapy. 

“I have not heard much of that conversation in Kenya. Menopause is a neglected part of women's reproductive health rights hence all the guesswork women live through, and trying out different supplements and herbs,” she says.

Career changes

Midlife is also associated with career-related changes such as taking on more responsibility and burnout, as well as planning for retirement. 

“Professionally, I had finished my master's and was stepping into roles that involved a lot of responsibility. Transitioning to the C-suite demanded a different me. That is how I started carving out and understanding who I was. I also went through therapy during that transition, and discovered personality tests, which helped me understand myself better,” says Dr Wala.

Individually women could also experience relationship issues – some women who have not found partners may experience heightened pressure. Some may be in relationships but reevaluating it because it is not working. “This could be compounded if a woman is dealing with loss and grief as well as taking care of ageing parents,” Ms Karina, a Psychologist, Certified Professional Coach, Relationship Expert and Author, says.

Relationships balance

A study on the challenges of midlife in women published by Women’s Midlife Health Journal in 2018 found that the most challenging aspects of midlife include family relationships, rebalancing work and family life and securing enough resources, among others.

“My relationship with my children has evolved. I have learned through mentorships, my own mistakes, and reading books. When I started training in Emotional Intelligence, it changed big aspects of my life. I have gotten a lot more patient with my children, I listen to them more, and I am a much better spouse,” Ms Karuga says.

Now in her mid-40s, Dr Wala is better equipped in the way she navigates love relationships – spurred by both her past mistakes and the confidence to take risks.

“I am not afraid to date upwards or downwards (in terms of age). And since I am not looking for someone to provide for me, it is about who an individual is as a person, their value system, and if they can make me laugh. I have ended up dating guys who may not necessarily be rich but with whom I share common interests. Well, I am in a stable relationship now,” Dr Wala says.

From age 40, the three women agree that life has become more about themselves rather than what people think about them.

“I get into a relationship with someone because I want to, I have sex with someone because I want to – not because I want a baby or because I want to marry them, but because it makes me happy,” Ms Muthoni says.

Finances is another big issue during mid-life. Matters of self-actualization could also rear their head, based on the way a woman defines her ambitions and judges her achievements.

So far, Ms Karuga says her 40s have been about crystalizing – firming up investments, deciding which ones really work, and clarifying her priorities.

“When I was younger I could invest in just about anything. But as I have gotten older, I am deliberate about where I want to focus my time and my money. I understand that I don’t have to invest in every single piece of land that comes up, for example, and that, it is okay to delay your investments bearing fruit because I am more patient now,” she says. 

Money Money Money

Other financial pressure for Ms Karuga came from increasing financial responsibilities – kids are growing up, demanding more, and supporting other people financially. Even if you are financially stable, she says, you find yourself expending a lot of money because of the sheer number of things you need to support.

For Dr Wala, the period has inspired her to plan more for the future and her children.

“I am consolidating investments. My children will be moving to college in a couple of years, I am looking for opportunities externally.  I am also thinking about politics. I believe in fixing what is not working, and since I am at a more settled place, I feel ready to step up,” Dr Wala says.

The empty nest syndrome – when children do not need you, move out— means women have to reinvent their lives also begins during midlife.

“For a woman whose purpose is raising children and nurturing the family, when those things are over, she can feel lost because they do not have anything for themselves,” says relationship expert, Ms Karina.

Empty nest syndrome

Although Dr Wala is not here yet, she says she has raised her children to be very independent of her, so she does not foresee ‘detachment’ issues. Similarly, Ms Karuga, learning from the experiences of women who are older than her, is building her social life to be strong enough to support her as she advances into her midlife.

“I am investing more in important relationships. Many older women around me have many friends. In about 20 years, I will be there, so I need to invest in quality friendships. I do not want to be stuck with my children because I have nowhere to go in my later years,” Ms Karuga says.

While every woman will go through a midlife transition, not everyone goes through a crisis. Some only have the bare signs like irritability, mood swings, unusual sleep patterns, and change in appetite, reduced energy levels and feeling lethargic, but these signs can spiral into a crisis for some women. There is also an increased risk of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

 “Midlife crisis might cause some women to stray from marriage into infidelity. It comes with the desire for affirmation. This is why some women might choose to date younger men. A woman’s sexuality is also at its peak because they have raised their children, and do not have a lot of stress and, they are more grounded. An individual’s actions in this regard can only be guided by their morals and personal beliefs,” Says Ms Karina.

Higher libido and adventure

Dr Wala agrees that psychologically, she is more sexually free because she is not tied up by children, she has learned from relationships that didn't work and has an improved sex drive definitely. 

“My libido is higher. This increases risk appetite but I am aware I have to take responsibility for my sexual health even as I allow myself to be adventurous. I feel more confident; I can take care of myself financially but I also realise sexual chemistry is not everywhere. So getting someone with whom I have sexual chemistry is the thing. I also have the freedom to say no to things,” Dr Wala says.

Some women also report feeling a need for adventure. This comes with the territory considering women are now more in charge of their lives, most are financially stable and have disposable income.

Ms Muthoni says at this point in her life, she can easily pack her bag on any random day and take a trip.

“I put myself first now – previously I was either a mother or a wife. At this point, I live for myself.  I can decide to dye my hair white or just pick up a new thing -- like writing which is what I am doing besides my day job,” she says.


How to deal with the midlife transition

  1. Have self-reflection, and self-evaluation. Additionally, you can find a coach, therapist, or mother – basically someone who you can talk to about the challenges you have, or your experiences, in general. 
  2. When you are going through a transition, you may not be entirely sure about what you are experiencing and what to expect. Awareness which is at the heartbeat of therapy will boost your staying power. This is because if you are aware of what you are experiencing, you are likely to handle the changes better.  You need to read and research what you are experiencing.
  3. During this stage, there are many who quit their jobs abruptly. This happens because hormonal changes can make some people irrational and emotional. This needs to be managed. And to do so, you need support to avoid negative implications on the personal, professional, and family levels. 
  4. Dress appropriately, in layers. So that when you experience hot flashes you can un-layer. Beyond the dressing, you need to eat well. Certain foods are good for that season. This includes what you drink.  
  5. Recognise that it is not about what others are doing for you or against you, it is about your hormones acting up in every way. Take responsibility. One of the ways to do this is to get good hormones -- endorphins, dopamine, and cortisol through regular workouts.
  6. Ensure that you have a social connection because this season can come with low self-esteem, and confidence and you may find yourself withdrawing. When you withdraw, you can be lonely and can easily spiral into depression.
  7. You may be faced with other life challenges and because of irrational thoughts, you can find yourself seeking separation and divorce. It is helpful to find your new normal and your new identity, recognise what is making you tick, what excites you, and do what you enjoy doing.
  8. Sexual drive increases for some people and reduces for others. Sex might not be pleasing for some women because it is a source of pain due to lack of lubrication. It might be useful to visit your doctor to get advice. During this season, husbands should understand their wives. 

Source: Jennifer Karina, Executive Director and Founder of Anchor Relationship Network.


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