BY: Kathy Gottberg
A new popular book on Amazon is titled, Desperate: Hope For the Mom Who Needs To Breathe. And although I'm sure that young moms sometimes feel desperate and need hope and encouragement, don't we all now and then -- especially at midlife? So although I'm not a professional, I came up with five big issues that could trigger desperation for those of us in our midlife years, along with some possible solutions for helping us get through it and not only breathe, but thrive.
Aging - A big issue facing everyone at some point in our lives is aging. And while not all of us feel desperate about it, the news and the media in general are filled with ways some people struggle to cope. I live near Palm Springs, California where the evidence that some people (women and men alike) are desperate to stay young is rampant. Shiny-tight faces, trendy clothing and plastic surgery for every part of the body, all prove that money can buy just about everything except true youth. Ultimately we have a choice. Either we struggle our entire lives fighting the inevitable refusing to see the benefits, or we find a way to accept aging as an unfolding gift only granted to those of us who live long enough to experience it.
Aging Coping Strategy: While my strategy might not work for everyone, I decided some time ago that I wasn't going to compete with youth. In other words, I was going to love and accept myself as I am at any age. Once we switch our attention away from glorifying the young or even our youthful selves, we can often start embracing all the benefits. Sure I'm challenged with certain situations and circumstances that happen as a by-product of my age, but I have the ability to decide if those outweigh the benefits. We all do. Remind yourself constantly that aging well and loving your life is a choice we can all make.
Health - While health obstacles can approach us at any age, they often take on steam at midlife. How do we deal with it? If we look around, it's likely we can see examples of how others our age are either handling it gracefully or freaking out and desperate. I clearly remember a time, years ago, when I heard my parents and some of their friends doing an "organ-recital." You know what those are right? When people start talking about their aches, pains, doctor's visits, tests and diagnoses as though it were a competition to one-up each other. At the time I told myself I would "Never, ever do that!" But you know what? It is easier said than done. Whenever any of us faces a health challenge, and yes the more people you know the more it's likely, then chances are good that health challenges will be some part of the conversation at midlife.
Ill-Health Coping Strategy: We all want to be kind and helpful to others, especially those we care about. Unfortunately, if we aren't cautious we will find ourselves sucked into the sometimes-desperate situations of others-- even those we have no control over. Being open about ways we can help, and equally honest about ways that we can't, will help in the long run. I tend to believe that helping others is important when possible, but draw the line if it requires that any of us turn over our entire lives and wellbeing in sacrifice.
But what about when the ill health is our own? Just about everyone I know says they never want to be a burden to others, especially those we love. But what happens if we are desperate and really need help? Maybe bringing up the topic with a select few we know care and are able to help in the first place, not just anyone we meet at the grocery store or over cocktails. After all, if we share our deepest concerns with those we don't know well or who are ultimately unable to be of much help, we are probably just looking for sympathy or attention. Much better to explain our needs honestly to those who have the capacity to truly help, and then find our own inner-strength to face the issue for ourselves
Loneliness or Severed Relationships - No matter what your age, relationships matter. However at midlife I think they take on increased importance. That's because study after scientific study shows that having strong social connections are critical for a long and happy life. In addition I think midlife makes it clearer that quality is more important than quantity. But unless we're careful, it is far too easy to allow loneliness to creep in by letting old friends drop away or distancing yourself those that used to be close.
Relationship Coping Strategy: No matter what our age, and especially midlife, we must continue to reach out and make strong connections with other like-minds. As Dr. Sanjay Gupta said in an interview last year, "If our relationships can have such an effect on our overall health, why don't we prioritize spending time with the people around us as much as we do exercising and eating right?"
But what if it is your own family/friends that are making you desperate? Because I don't have kids I have the advantage/disadvantage of knowing that I must reach out and make my own friendships and connections, regardless of blood. Plus, in my world, friendship and love should always be a two-way street. The best advice I ever heard in this regard is, "Be the kind of friend you always wished you had."
Money - Money problems that can arise at midlife usually come from a limited income, overwhelming debt, uncontrolled spending, or large unexpected expenses due to health, family or catastrophe. Yet, when those issues make us desperate it's likely because we've allowed ourselves to believe that money is the answer to everything. Whenever we allow our wellbeing to tie itself to how much money we have or what we can buy, we are setting ourselves up for a time when that will no longer be enough.
Money Coping Strategy: The best strategy is to remember that what we really seek when we strive for more stuff or material wealth is the freedom and peace of mind that we think all that money will provide. One cure is to live below our means and do everything possible to become debt free. Ultimately it is best to remember that while money can definitely help to ease some of life's challenges, it is only a means to an end, never the end itself.
Purpose/Meaning - Although I didn't read it, the book I mentioned above about moms and overcoming desperation seems to suggest that the biggest solution lies in religion or faith. And while I agree that one's church can provide a comfort to some, I think the motivation behind what we all seek is to find purpose and meaning for our lives. We all want to matter and to believe our presence here at this time is more than just a random act of chance. Time and time again the world's teachers, guides and sages have pointed out that an essential element of a life at all stages is one of purpose and meaning.
Purpose/Meaning Coping Strategy: Millions of ancient texts and philosophies have pointed out that being of service, contributing to others, living full-out, unleashing our passions and loving others are all keys to a life of purpose and meaning. The thing is-- we have to do the action. One thing I know for sure, purpose and meaning is NOT about accumulating stuff or even people, it's about living the unique expression of who we are from the core of our being. Of course that's my interpretation. To really cope at midlife, we all have to take the time to find our own answers to the question.
As I said above, I didn't read the book about how young moms ought to survive desperation. But after spending several days thinking about it, I can't help but believe that maybe feeling desperate isn't as bad a thing as we usually think. Is it possible that desperation is just a wake-up call to show us what we've neglected in the past or how we've gotten off track? What if desperation is our soul's prodding to discover why we are here, what we have to offer the world and how well we are doing on that path? One thing is for sure, at the very end of my life I don't want to look back with regret, or to feel that I never got a chance to do, be, or experience what I know deep in my heart is what life is all about. In fact, maybe that is a SMART coping strategy for us all.