About two years ago I started joking about scheduling an Existential Crisis. See, I was leaving my company last June, and I knew I had another big project I’d be working on until October. But then, I didn’t know. And, more than not knowing what I was going to do, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do!
I joked about scheduling my crisis, but for the first time in years, it was a disorienting feeling to be asking myself “What do I want to be when I grow up…again?”
Coincidentally, last October was also the same time I went to both my primary care physician and my gynecologist to ask for some relief from my perimenopausal symptoms, most notably my TsunamiPeriods and utter fatigue.
I learned quickly those symptoms were related. As I started to address them and to improve, it only occurred to me quite a bit later (like, now) that maybe those perimenopausal symptoms were also related to my existential crisis.
When you’re so tired you could nap any time day or night, you also start to think about how you’re going to spend the limited energy you have…and whether you’re spending your energy wisely. It’s not like I didn’t know that what you say “no” to is as important as what you say “yes” to, but now my body was saying, “SERIOUSLY…say ‘no’ to some stuff.” Being smarter about how I focused my energy led to big questions about what I want to do and, more importantly, who I want to be in the world.
Wondering whether I was alone in this physical-mental-existential confluence of events, I turned to my community and asked if anyone else could relate.
Boy, could they!
More than 100 women provided their insights to me, and some common themes (and experiences) emerged:
Physical limitations lead to more ingenuity, focus, and a commitment to triaging your priorities in life with rigor.
It’s not just about chronic fatigue, although plenty of us reported less energy than we were used to or liked. It’s about what our bodies can bounce back from. Many of us talked about rejecting that trope about burning the candle at both ends. Not just because we don’t want to do it, but because our bodies will make us PAY if we do.
It’s not just menopause that makes you think about your mortality.
For many friends, it started with the decision to not have any more children. Those of us with children see them grow up and leave the nest. Then our bodies started acting differently. And then we came face to face with mortality as our parents and the parents of our friends started declining, even dying. And no, we don’t want to just sing “The Circle of Life“ about it either.
We want to listen to our own voice more than external voices.
So many of my friends spoke about caring less about the perception others have of us. Caring less about traditional definitions of success. Caring less about watching our mouths and toeing the line. But even when we care less, we aren’t always in a position to act on it, so internal conflict and crisis live in that gap between what we want and what we can do.
Success doesn’t insulate you from this time of your life.
The march of time is inevitable, and I heard from women who talked about being successful, but still wondering what’s next just as much as I heard from women who thought they would be more successful at this point, but still wondering what’s next.
When you’re done just “accepting” certain physical symptoms, you start to realize maybe you don’t have to accept other limitations either.
I went for two years ignoring my perimenopausal symptoms before I not only sought professional advice but started talking to friends and gathering the wisdom of my community. It was two years before I not only took my vitamin deficiencies seriously but also took my general well-being seriously enough to start looking into other kinds of supplements and dietary changes. One of my friends told herself “not to be a wimp.” So many of us fall prey to the notion that we must “do it all” that when we hit the wall and realize we can’t…well, questioning our very existence and purpose sounds reasonable.
I know I tend to focus on the symptoms of perimenopause and how much I don’t like them. But the truth is that I’m better equipped to manage to advocate for my own physical and emotional needs now than I would have been 20 years ago.
With age comes discernment, better boundaries…and the occasional tsunami period.
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