I was out doing what I do every morning, walking and listening to a podcast. It was a discussion about whether the corona virus was spread naturally or through a lab leak. No agenda, just an understanding of both sides of the argument. As a former logic teacher, we are seriously lacking in this arena.
When it was over, another one randomly started. It was Brene Brown discussing her book Gifts of Imperfection. I just needed something to finish the walk. It wasn’t long, however, before she said something that got me.
I had just been telling someone that I thought I was having a midlife crisis at a post-midlife point. I couldn’t put my finger on what was going on, but I was unsettled in some major way. Brene began talking about midlife crises and I immediately latched on to the serendipitous nature of this conversation. I believe answers to our questions are always circling, always waiting to reveal themselves.
She stated that she didn’t like the term “midlife crisis” because “midlife” suggests a particular point in life. The word “crisis”also suggests an emergency or critical juncture, something that needs to be fixed. This thing called “midlife crisis,” however, shows up when it does and is not really something to be fixed. She proceeded to call it an “unraveling,” and every cell in my being agreed with that word.
People may call what happens at midlife “a crisis,” but it’s not. It is so much more an unraveling. She claims this unraveling is “a series of painful nudges strung together by low grade anxiety and depression, quiet desperation, and an insidious loss of control.” Of everything.
And because it is low-grade, it can camouflage what’s going on. You can go through the day acting like all is well and no one has any idea. When there is a true “crisis,” people see the struggle and are able to offer help or at least validate the struggle. Unraveling is quiet, and because of that, it feels a little dangerous.
But here’s the thing we need to realize about this unraveling: We are not alone. Most of us eventually reach a point where our old lives look totally different from the ones we are now living, and so we think something wild and strange is occurring. But in reality, we are simply moving out of the ordered, scaffolded, relatively black and white worlds we had built over the past years.
When we are beginning our journey into adulthood, we need order. There are schedules to keep, habits to establish, families to build. There is a lot of discipline and structure needed to do these things well. It can feel a little auto pilot because there isn’t a lot of room in our lives for free style. We have seemingly less than a minute to make decisions as all the flying things come screaming towards us.
But then life slows down a little. The kids don’t need round the clock care. Actually they don’t need much at all. They are out establishing their own lives. Jobs change. Maybe we retire. We have time to breathe and even, after so much change, time to think! And this is a little frightening. What do I do with all the things that never had a chance to take up space?
Fear is a natural response to change. But if we could see this change as growth, maybe we could give ourselves a little encouragement. There is time to search not only for deeper purpose, but also for deeper meaning. It takes courage to explore new territory.
The feeling of unraveling can feel chaotic, but if we can see it as a gentle undoing of things no longer needed, we can breathe a little easier. I recently took up knitting, and I can tell you that I have had to unravel a lot of projects. But I don’t just randomly yank everything out. I gently pull the stitches out until I get to the part I want to reknit. I’m not a fan of this process, but it’s sometimes necessary and always worth it in the end.
So I am going through this unraveling thing, and I am not alone. There is no pattern for what this should look like, which makes it a bit unsettling. But it also presents an opportunity to just go with the flow of life, to sit back and enjoy the beauty of a new day, and know that the only goal of this season is to hold more love, kindness, and compassion. For ourselves and others.
That’s enough meaning and purpose to last a lifetime.