September 9, 2014

Women: How to Outsmart our Fears About Aging. ~ Felicia Bender, Ph.D.

Kris Krug/Flickr

Several years ago, I made an appointment with a new doctor.

I was experiencing symptoms of peri-menopause.

I remember waking up one morning feeling absolutely psychotic and perpetually agitated, unable to remember the name of my dog, and having in inner tube of cottage cheese-like matter settling in my midsection.

I sat down with this (male) physician and explained my concerns, while inquiring what might be the best and most effective way to deal with these impending issues.

And here’s what a male doctor in his 50s, practicing in the progressive city of Boulder, Colorado had to say. With a somber and professional tone, he spent the good portion of fifteen minutes regaling me of the obvious facts of the matter.

And the facts went like this:

“Biologically, women aren’t designed to live past child bearing years. Now that your menstrual cycle is kaput, you need to come to terms with the inevitable. Because if you were living 100 years ago, you’d probably be dead already. And certainly your usefulness is defined by your biology and your biology is clearly saying that you can’t reproduce anymore. So there’s really nothing to be done for your unfortunate situation. But I see from your chart that you haven’t had a tetanus shot in a while and are due for one.  Roll up your sleeve.”

Really. I can’t make that up.

Let’s just say I didn’t return to that physician and found another who was what I considered more enlightened on the subject of women’s health and wellness.

Still, my experience with peri-menopause was startling and disorienting.

I’m a woman who quite literally didn’t believe in PMS, had two natural childbirths, and was rather friendly with my menstrual cycle. I didn’t imagine in a million years that I would be hit with instant agitation, mental fog and an archaic metabolism when I hit 46.

I find my personal experience is just an echo of the myriad experiences women find themselves in during our late 40s and into our 50s and beyond.

And we’re not prepared.

Suddenly, new fears leap into view. Fears that have never surfaced before—or at least not with the level of intensity and confusion.

I’ve found many woman share three life-altering fears as they head into their 50s.

Coming in at third place is the fear of being obsolete.

As women shift into menopause and beyond, society makes it pretty darn clear that there are newer and updated models ready to take their place. We often feel as though we’re being relegated to the proverbial scrap pile—that our shine and excitement has worn off and been worn out.

The second prize goes to: Fear of irrelevance.

Suddenly you have to think twice (or three or four times) before considering a job or relationship change. Often I see that women feel their relevance has been defined by their appearance and sexual allure—and by their desirability as a candidate as a wife and mother. Many women have placed the lion’s share of their sense of relevance on their professional life and the power they wield in that arena.

Coming in at first place in the Fear Department: Fear of invisibility.

More than anything, women segueing into their 50s fear that they will no longer be seen. Be seen as sexually desirable. As worthy of being heard. As interesting, engaging and intelligent partners, lovers, employees.

Every woman—every human being—has an innate desire and need to be seen.

We all want to be loved, feel useful and live a life that feels purposeful, even when there are challenges and changes.

How do you outsmart these fears?

In order to not be obsolete, make a concerted effort to live life in the present, always reaching forward. I know many people who suddenly become “old” at 50. Dialogues are laced with “back in the day” and are 90 percent reminiscent of events from the past.

You can’t be obsolete if you continue to stay in tune and engaged with what’s going on right now.

In order to be relevant, take personal responsibility to stay curious. Don’t be that woman who stops exercising, stops reading or learning new things, or starts sentences with “Well, you know, kids these days . . .”  Don’t become the jaded woman who shakes her fist and puts up a wall against the world. If you believe that there are “no good men (or women) left,” then certainly you’ll be right. If you believe that young women are conspiring against you, then certainly you’ll be right.

Wisdom and humor are attractive traits. If you got it, flaunt it.

If you fear that at 50 you’re suddenly burdened with a permanent Harry Potter-like invisibility cloak, stop fear in its tracks by unveiling the real, authentic, vibrant you. 

If you read Dr. Christiane Northrup, she’ll tell you that your brain undergoes an actual biological and neurological rewiring during and after menopause where the “Mommy/nurturer/protector” function gets rerouted. A woman in her 50s experiences a shift from the hardwired need to care for and protect others into a mind-space focused on self.

Author Isabel Allende will tell you that aging vibrantly is based on attitude and health. What’s to be gained? Freedom (“I don’t have to please men anymore.”). Lightness (“It feels great to let go. I wish I’d done it sooner.”). And spirituality (“I make an effort to live mindfully every day.”).

And Meryl Streep will add that “I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me.”

Ignore the doctors advice that you’ve outlived your usefulness. Society won’t change its limited views about older women as quickly as we might like, so it’s up to you to find your fearless sense of purpose and write your own rules.




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Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Kris Krug/Flickr

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Felicia Bender, Ph.D.