Midlife Crisis or Invitation to Go Deeper?


Oprah.com recently published an article called "The New Midlife Crisis: Why (and How) It's Hitting Gen X Women" by Ada Calhoun, and it's making its way around the interwebs among the middle and upper-middle class women like a virus in a preschool classroom. 

The article doesn't pull punches. It goes straight to the gut, and hard. Here'a a illustrative quote for those of you who haven't read it: 

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 (about $37,000 more than the national consumer debt average). 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.

The author isn't exaggerating. Two women on my Facebook feed commented that they had to get a glass of wine before they could finish the article. Another mentioned Xanax. 

So what are we going to do about this "hallucinatory panic about money"? 

Let's unpack a little first. This is a well-educated, middle/upper-middle class issue. The article isn't speaking to the truly resource poor and hungry, the disenfranchised, the working poor, POCs working within the confines of institutionalized racism, LGBTQAI folks fighting for equal rights. Are we all on the same page? Any suggestions mentioned here are not going address the gaping chasms that exist between middle class anxiety and the reality of living life as a transwoman of color, or someone living below the poverty line. 

First, recognize this middle-class anxiety is contagious. It's a part of our cultural toxic soup that permeates the air like the miasma Medieval doctors thought caused the plague before germ theory was discovered. Take a gander at the daily news and there it is. Talk to the other moms at school and there it is. Scroll through Facebook, glance at a bumper sticker, read a headline at the supermarket . . . and the next thing you know you are homeless, alone, and 80 (or wherever it is that your thoughts takes you). 

Your thoughts. It is so easy to get caught up in them. You are sitting on the sofa, cuddled in a soft blanket, purring cat trying to get at your keyboard, and suddenly you check your bank balance. Boom! You are billion miles away from where you are right now, purring cat, soft blanket and all. 

The author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schultz calls this "the overwhelm."

The overwhelm can transport us from freedom to emotional bondage in seconds flat. So, how do we get back to the purrs and the soft blanket? 

Here's a few ideas. 

  • Name it. Say to yourself: "I am experiencing the overwhelm." Or maybe you want to call it Delores. 
  • Feel it. "I feel sad, angry, frustrated." Cry. It's a great release. 
  • Reframe it. Is this a midlife crisis? Or is a call to go deeper? Which one resonates more with you? 
  • Breathe. Five deep breaths, holding for three seconds after the in-breath can make more difference than you can imagine. And it only take a few minutes. (No need to add a rigorous meditation practice to the overwhelm.)
  • Don't make decisions while you are in a reactive frame of mind. Let the mud settle. Then go forward. 
  • Practice feeling your heartbeat once you realize you have been triggered. Put your hand on your pulse and direct your attention toward you heart. See if you can feel it beat beneath your chest. Imagine your heart beating in sync with the pulse of the world. (It's really cool.)
  • Reach out to a grounded friend. 

The overwhelm is a paradox. It's simultaneously real and it isn't. Remember, you were sitting on a sofa with a fluffy blanket and a purring cat before you looked at your bank account balance! 

Our work, and most important, our peace, comes from knowing that our compounded agitated thoughts are not what is going to solve our bank account problem. 

If we see this anxiety as a call to go deeper, then individually, and collectively, we can create solutions to our hallucinatory money worries that come from skillfill action that is the product of grounded thought.