Not just anger … RAGE

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My friends describe moments of anger and so many of them report it as beyond anger, impatience, or irritability … it’s full blown RAGE!  They talk about wanting to throw dinner plates on the floor, or a glass at their husband’s head, or get in the car and drive and never come back.  My sister-in-law forwarded me an article from Oprah Magazine called “The New Midlife Crisis”, she knows I’m obsessed with the concept of the midlife crisis and perimenopause.  When I first heard the term “perimenopause” from my doctor eleven years ago, I’d never heard the term before and I almost called bullshit on it, just liked I’d called bullshit on the concept of a “midlife crisis” until I realized what was happening to me was indeed perimenopause and indeed a midlife crisis.

I do want to give you hope, I started having pereimenopause symptoms at 40, I just turned 51 and my symptoms are lessoning (even though I still get my period every month like clockwork 🙄).  My episodes of anger and fits of rage have become less frequent as have my hot flashes and night sweats,  I am hopeful I see the light at the end of the tunnel.   My rage, at times warranted and sometimes not at all, it came with warning signs other times no warning at all, it  would even catch me off guard.  A full blown temper tantrum over someone asking “what’s for dinner?” or “did you make an appointment for the car?” I wouldn’t see it coming. Other times I could feel it simmering for days, weeks, months until finally the only choice was to “explode” or wither away into misery and solitude.  I dreamt of never getting out of bed again, or getting in my car and driving away and never coming back.  I would fantasize about being a celebrity so I could check myself into the hospital for “exhaustion” (anger, resentment, frustration and exhaustion, RAGE).  If you know me and my family and my life you will think “she is insane”, “what a spoiled brat”.  I have a really great life, a wonderful husband, great kids, a home I adore, nice vacations, I was able to retire early, all my needs are met and then some, and yet there was no stopping “midlife”.  Just like the Grinch trying to stop Christmas from coming … “it came without ribbons, it came without tags, it came without packages, boxes or bags. It came just the same”.

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The excerpts from the articles and books below may be depressing but they are validation and some might even make you laugh.  At the end of the day I always think it helps to know YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

“Generation X (or Gen X) is the demographic following the baby boomers and preceding the Millennials … typically birth years around 1960 to 1980. 

“When it came time for many of us to start thinking about buying a house or a car, we slammed into the Great Recession, the worst economic crisis since the Depression, which hit Generation X hardest: According to a Pew Charitable Trust report we lost almost half our wealth.” I knew it! Depressing for sure and accurate!

“Is it any wonder that women our age possess a bone-deep, almost hallucinatory panic about money?  It’s not an idle worry.  By some estimates, we carry more debt than any other age group.  We’re some of the best-educated women in history, and yet we’re downwardly mobile; about two-thirds of us have less wealth than our parents did at the same age.”  I have always told my parents how thankful I am I didn’t have to take out student loans because I’d probably have just paid them off in time to take out loans for my children!  

“Meanwhile, the safety net is vanishing; in 2040, the Social Security trust fund is due to run out—right as many of us hit retirement age.” YEP … and yet we’ve all been paying into it all of our working lives!😠

“If you’ve never lost a job or had to prove yourself in an industry that’s changed massively in the few years you were away, then you might not realize how holding on in today’s workforce, or trying to ascend, can feel like a feat of endurance.  Many women our age feel lucky to have steady work, even if it’s not their dream job. But if there were a recipe for a midlife crisis, it could be showing up day after day for a job that’s slowly corroding your soul.”  If you’ve ever worked in a cubicle or a dead end position or just a job you hate, you know the feeling! Male or Female!

“But back to the sweatiness and insomnia. Ours is the first generation to have gynecologists sit us down as early as our late 30s and tell us that signs like weepiness, hot flashes or irregular periods could indicate that we have begun “perimenopause,” a term no one used 20 years ago but now is everywhere … Perimenopausal women have also been found to have an increased susceptibility to depression compared to younger women. Other symptoms are no less crummy: trouble sleeping, fat starting to gather around the midsection.”

“One of the things we’re taking about is rage.  We’re getting frustrated and overwhelmed.  You are literally seeing red, and you want to throw your phone against the wall.  So now, on top of everything else, it’s also like, “Did you meditate? Taken to an extreme, though, even the most strategic and useful self-help can wind up feeling as oppressive as the problems it was meant to soothe. The flood of advice can send the message that if you’re unhappy, it’s your own fault.”  When I tell my husband I’m having trouble sleeping because my heart has been racing again or I was up half the night with night sweats and if he replies “maybe you need to start meditating”, I literally see red, it does nothing but make me angry and feel guilty that here’s one more thing I’m failing at! 

“More than one in five women are on antidepressants. An awful lot of middle-aged women are furious (enraged) and overwhelmed. What we don’t talk about enough is how the deck is stacked against them feeling any other way.”  I’ve said for years “you cannot have it all”, I know previous generations of women thought they were doing us a service by encouraging us to “have it all”, a career, marriage, kids, volunteer work, a perfect body, perfect hair, but it has left us overwhelmed and overworked, depressed and exhausted. And filled with RAGE.  Feeling like a failure because not only can you not have it all, it’s impossible to DO it all.

The message Gen X women got was ‘You can have it all.’ … That came with better blueprints and also bigger expectations … In midlife, what I see in my Gen X patients is total exhaustion. That’s what brings them to treatment. They feel guilty for complaining because it’s wonderful to have had choices that our mothers didn’t have, but choices don’t make life easier. Possibilities create pressure.” says Deborah Luepnitz, PhD, a psychotherapist.  When pressure becomes too much it turns into an explosion! Sometimes an explosion of RAGE.
“The New Midlife Crisis” Oprah Magazine

“I can’t tell you how much I love it now that you girls are gone … to have your father to myself, to have my time to myself, but I do have to tell you something else … there are times that I refuse to even let myself think about all I had to give up in the early years of my marriage, because if I dwell on those feeling too much I become so enraged I can’t even see straight.”  Elizabeth Gilbert “Committed” 

“Bill Bixby’s and Lou Ferrigno’s portrayals of Dr. Banner and the Hulk, in the seventies television show relate to my experience of the change. The show, with its barren desert landscapes and makeshift sets, is permeated with alienation and sadness. Banner’s melancholy suggests to me that while the Hulk is make-believe, his burden is real. He struggles to control his out-of-whack body chemistry and also ‘the raging spirit that dwells within him.”

“Germaine Greer writes in her book The Change that some of our negative feelings about menopause are “the result of our intolerance for the expression of female anger.” RAGE.

“The Change for decades has been a euphemism for menopause, whispered behind the backs of aging women: She’s going through the change. It sounds sinister and surreal but is actually accurate. Like the Hulk, I am in the midst of a rupture, a metamorphosis, an all-encompassing and violent change.  He is out of control but also free. And while he may break down a few doors, he also acts with an inner integrity. ‘The woman who lashes out at menopause,’ Greer writes, ‘has found the breach in her self-discipline through which she may be able, finally, to escape to liberty.’”

“My heart is hammering so hard it feels like it will burst out of my chest … The Hulk’s inability to control the change in his chemical & emotional control in his own body.  After years of docility he can reveal … his rage.  The change is a euphemism but accurate “out of control but freeing”.  Freedom is on the horizon – freedom from child care and domestic duties, from trying to be beautiful, from the leering male gaze, from derailing sexual desires. First, however, my body must evolve. As a woman, I should be used to the seismic changes of flesh and blood.”

“Out of estrogen approach at your own risk”

“Beware of temperature tantrums”

“People encourage you to laugh more complain less, NO-ONE wants to hear about menopause even menopausal women themselves — sometimes.  But sometimes they do … some women feel so alone and isolated when they enter into this new “hell” … we are female and have been taught that in order to survive, we must keep quiet so that authorities (mostly men) will like us. Everything we’ve tried to ignore and struggled to keep beneath the surface bursts forth in all its unedited glory.”

“Eighty five percent of women bear the primary responsibility for taking care of their families, including laundry, school matters, transportation, and meals. This can lead to an incredible surge of pent-up resentment (rage) when the hormonal veil lifts and a woman suddenly sees with clarity what has happened in her life.”

“Menopause is situated at the crossroads between the metaphysical and the biological.  It is as much a spiritual challenge as it is a physical one.”
Darcy Steinke “Flash Count Diary. Menopause and the Vindication of Natural life”

“The symptoms were subtle at first: insomnia, a racing heart, a lost word, sometimes a wrong word. But within months there was no denying it. Soon enough there were panic attacks, sobbing fits and that verboten emotion of middle-aged women ― RAGE”
Aileen Weintraub “This is what no-one tells you …”

“Then there’s the anger … RAGE.  This is the time when many women stop doing what I call “stuffing”—stifling their own needs in order to tend to everybody else’s. Our culture expects women to put others first, and all during the childbearing years most of us do, no matter the cost to ourselves. But at midlife we get the chance to make changes, to create lives that fit who we are—or, more accurately, who we have become.” 

“Long before we begin to feel hot flashes from changing hormonal levels, our brains undergo changes in the hypothalamus, the place where GnRH is produced. This same brain region is key for experiencing, and ultimately expressing, emotions such as anger.  It is well known that hormones modulate both aggression and anger. Our midlife bodies and brains fully support our ability to experience and express anger with a clarity not possible prior to midlife”  Christiane Northrup “The Wisdom of Menopause”

“Holding myself together tight and tense like a rose bud.  It was time for me to find out what I really want to do and not what my husband wanted.  Not what I thought my children needed not what I thought my parents expected.  Not what society thought was good or bad. It was time to step boldly into the fullness of life with all of it dangers and all of its promises . Remaining tight in a bud had become a sort of death it was time for me to blossom into the future.”  Elizabeth Lesser “Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow”

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“I was right about one thing – to call what happens at midlife “a crisis” is bullshit. A crisis is an intense, short-lived, acute, easily identifiable, and defining event that can be controlled and managed.  Midlife is not a crisis. Midlife is an unraveling … the truth is that the midlife unraveling is a series of painful nudges strung together by low-grade anxiety and depression, quiet desperation, and an insidious loss of control. By low-grade I mean it’s enough to make you crazy, but seldom enough for people on the outside to validate the struggle or offer you help and respite. It’s the dangerous kind of suffering – the kind that allows you to pretend that everything is OK.  We go to work and unload the dishwasher and love our families and get our hair cut. Everything looks pretty normal on the outside. But on the inside we’re barely holding it together.  Or maybe we’re standing in the kitchen unloading the dishwasher when we suddenly find ourselves holding up a glass and wondering, ‘Would my family take this struggle more seriously if I just started hurling all this shit through the window?'”

“And, just in case you think you can blow off the universe the way you did when you were in your twenties and she whispered, “Pay attention,” or when you were in your early thirties and she whispered, “Slow down,” I assure you that she’s much more dogged in midlife. When I tried to ignore her, she made herself very clear: “There are consequences for squandering your gifts. There are penalties for leaving big pieces of your life unlived. You’re halfway to dead. Get a move on … how dare she ask anything of me! I had worked and sacrificed and paid enough. I had spent my life saying “yes” when I wanted to scream, “Hell no! Do it yourself!” I had met every deadline, expectation, and request possible. I had earned every bit of my armor and I was enraged by the idea of giving it up.”

“I expected her to walk away like the dejected mother of an angry teenager, but she simply stood in front of me, wiping the spit off of her cheek.  We stared at each other for a minute, then I said, “I’m not afraid of you. I know what you’re asking and the answer is no. I’ve spent my entire life building these walls and digging these moats – do you really think a little whisper is going to intimidate me? Do I strike you as the unraveling type?” It was an ugly street fight and, even though I got my ass kicked, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. There was a significant amount of pain and loss, but something amazing happened along the way – I discovered me. The real me. The messy, imperfect, brave, scared, creative, loving, compassionate, wholehearted me”

“In some miraculous way, I feel as if this midlife unraveling has taught me – in my head and my heart – how to be brave.  As far as my relationship with the universe . . . well, we’ve actually become very good friends. I even came to love and trust her when, in a quiet moment, I looked deeply into her eyes and realized that she, the universe, was me.”
Brene Brown The Midlife Unraveling

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I’ve come to believe in something I call the ‘physics of the quest’, a force in nature governed by the laws of gravity. The rules of quest physics goes something like this: If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting and set out on a truth seeking journey either internally or externally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared most of all to face and forgive some of the most difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you” “Eat Pray Love” Elizabeth Gilbert

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The way I sum this up in middle age:  If you are brave enough to allow yourself to not be perfect and to put yourself first (at least some of the time), you may just come out on the other side of “midlife” a better, happier version of you!

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