If you thought the next sentence is going to be: “I have been singing since I was 5 years old and attended singing lessons with some of the best teachers throughout my childhood and teenage years,” you would be WRONG.
I did not.
This is a pity, because I have a very good singing voice and my mother, who loved singing and was classically trained, took me to famous singers and teachers who said that with a voice like mine I could end up on quite a few of the most famous opera stages by the time I was 30.
I did not.
I became a medical doctor instead and spent the next 20 years caught up in a never-subsiding maelstrom of not getting enough sleep, worrying about patients, desperately trying to keep up to date with the latest developments and discoveries, attempting to earn enough to pay the mortgage while eating healthily and getting enough exercise…you may recognise the pattern.
Until one morning, when I woke up and midlife struck, or rather, it exploded into my life. It did not creep up on me insidiously, it did not sidle its way into my consciousness over time, I did not gradually become dissatisfied with my life as it was. Admittedly, I had my mind on other things, like surviving without my ever-escalating stress destroying what was left of my mental and physical health.
The Bad News about Midlife
I woke up to a few things that made me most uncomfortable. I realised that:
- It now took me much longer to recover from colds and it seemed that I came down with colds and even with the flu much more often.
- I could no longer shift those few extra pounds with ease when I made up my mind to do so. Suddenly they were sticking to my thighs with a new-found determination and I was starting to get the impression that they had taken up permanent residence
- Getting fit and staying fit was becoming a wee bit more difficult. As a doctor I could understand this: there is obviously a price to pay for having broken a few bones falling off horses, but it seemed to me that I was waking up in the mornings with aches and pains that never dared to bother me before. I definitely was no longer as supple as I used to be – just getting my foot in the stirrup was a challenge, never mind jumping onto the horse’s back from the ground – honestly, I used to be able to do that.
- I realised that I needed glasses for reading. I am short-sighted and had worn contact lenses since my teens, but now I need glasses to read, something that always before had been effortless.
- My skin suddenly needed maintenance. My skin care routine used to consist of liberal lashings of Oil of Ulay in the morning with some or other sun-protection factor. This was no longer good enough.
- I had finally ran my vitamins and mineral stores down. As I couldn’t get myself to take vitamin pills, I had to start concentrating on keeping my stores well stocked, adjusting my eating habits accordingly.
- I no longer slept like a log the moment my head hit the pillow. Even though I was not disturbed by hot flushes during the day (yet?) I kept waking up for no reason at all, convinced that the house is on fire.
- I became irritable. Little things that I never before paid any attention to started to annoy me.
- My sense of humour was getting depleted. A joke that would have had me in stitches in the past, now barely caused a ripple in my laughing muscles.
- Even though I do not consider myself particularly vain, I did notice that the hair at my temples was going grey and that wrinkles were appearing, and not only on my face!
- Just throwing clothes on was no longer an option. I have always despised mutton dressed as lamb, and I became aware that I would have to start paying attention to what I am wearing if I do not want to fall into this very tempting trap.
- Talking of traps, I walked completely unsuspectingly, blindfolded, into the second identity crisis of my short (how did I get to 40 this fast?) but eventful life. During my training, I am sure no professor or lecturer ever mentioned that there is a second identity crisis waiting just around the corner.
It was perfectly clear to me that life as I knew it, was over.
Fine. No problem. I can cope with this. (I was saying this to myself to make myself feel better.) I did not feel particularly better, but I did realise that I was going to have to cope with it, one way or another.
So I took up singing. I found myself a « professeur de chant », the best one to be had in this part of deepest rural France and started attending lessons diligently once a week. I joined a couple of choirs. I started attending performances of other choirs. We bought a keyboard and then a grand piano – we had to empty a room of all furniture to fit it in.
According to the research I did on-line, this sort of behaviour is typical in midlife. So what?
The Good News about Mid-life
Midlife is a great opportunity to have a really good look at oneself and where one is going – one just needs to slow down a bit and make the time to do so. I had achieved a fair amount of the goals I set out to achieve when I was 20, but not all. By far not all. Taking a good look at these missed goals, I now realise, with the wisdom of hindsight and experience, that some of those goals were a mite unrealistic.
Time for change. Time for new goals. With the best intentions of not making the same mistakes again, I can now choose more realistic goals for the second half of my life. Time for new beginnings. “Adapt or die,” as the man said (apparently it wasn’t Darwin).
- So what if having to change scares you witless? You do have a choice here, you can choose to look at midlife as a time of possibilities and a time of opportunity. Or you can choose to mourn the loss of your youth for the rest of your life.
- So what if I can’t get my foot in the stirrup of a saddle on a 16 + Ha horse? Pull up the mounting block, it is better for the horse’s back anyway.
- So what if my clothes no longer fit my age – or the rest of me, for that matter? Who needs encouragement to go out and buy a new wardrobe – even if it means saving up and buying one garment at a time – this time round I am going for quality, not quantity. There are tons and tons of information available to midlifers now about how to dress to make the very best of oneself during middle age. Information that was not available to our parents.
- So what if it is more difficult to lose weight? Crash dieting is dangerous anyway, losing weight and keeping it off works better if one does it slowly over a period of time anyway. If I am no longer supple enough for bar exercises, I will take up yoga. If I can not go for long runs anymore, I’ll go for long walks. And if I now ride for shorter periods, I am sure my horses, who are not getting any younger either, will appreciate.
- If I am not sleeping well, if I am too stressed, if I have no patience, if my sense of humour died, maybe it is time to have a good, hard look at my priorities. Maybe these have changed. Maybe I do not want to work 12 hour days anymore. Maybe I can be happy with less money and more time to myself. Maybe time to myself is more important to me now than a fat salary cheque. Maybe it is time to downsize.
- I can get bifocals. I can decide not to be bothered by greying temples, a few wrinkles and a couple of extra pounds. I can cope with my irritability by meditating more often and more regularly. I might just decide that there are more important things to be concerned about than a few grey hairs/wrinkles.
- So what if I have less money? Material possessions are no longer that important to me (horses are not material possessions – they are family). I would rather have more time to invest in myself, my other half, my friends and my family.
Midlife for me meant a spectacular career change. I retired from general practice and retrained as an equine-assisted experiential learning coach (bit of a mouthful, I know) and started hosting Equine-guided Personal Development Workshops in the south of France. It meant less money, but loads more time. It means I now have time to do the things I always wanted to but never got round to, like singing. Even though it is very hard work (especially at my age!!!), it makes me happy. It seems to make other people happy. It offers me a way to express myself and contribute to my community:
Last Sunday, musicians, soloists and choir singers from near and far Bordeaux, gathered voluntarily together in the church of St Louis de Chartons for an impromptu performance of Mozart’s Requiem (no repetitions beforehand and most people had not met each other until that afternoon) in remembrance of the victims of the atrocities committed on Friday the 13th of November in Paris. 2000 people attended the performance, there were people sitting on the floor in the aisles.
Midlife is a good place to be, definitely the RIGHT place for me, for now. What Charles Darwin did say, was, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”
Bring it on.
Margaretha Montagu – Mpowering women to live the second half of their lives with renewed passion.
Dr. Margaretha Montegu is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience helping her patients manage stress so as to avoid physical disease and psychological distress. 8 years ago she left medical practice to concentrate on prevention rather than cure and now hosts Mindfulness Meditation Retreats, assisted by 4 super-smart horses, in the south of France.
If you are interested in attending a Mindfulness Meditation Retreat here at Les Sources Sacrées in the sun-blessed south of France, or if you would like to find out more about it, please e-mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a message below. Goes without saying that you e-mail address is perfectly safe, we will never share it.
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You may also like:
- A Guide to Midlife Enlightenment
- 12 Life-saving Midlife Tips
- 12 Ways to deal with Midlife Stress
- What is wrong with the South of France?
- Midlife Women; 10 Reasons to be Grateful
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