Updated on August 11th, 2022

In our fifties, we come into our own. Released of some earlier-life responsibilities, and less phased by what others think, we experience a new, mature freedom. Many of us start a whole new life chapter. However, our sixth decade often also brings some kind of life crisis, unexpected or unwanted changes, disillusionment or bitterness. It can be a tough time! Here’s how I lived through my own Fifties Crisis, and what’s helped me come through.

A Fifties Unease

For many women (and probably men, too), reaching the age of fifty is not a particularly appealing milestone. Our youth is behind us, our bodies and our looks change. Insufferable menopause symptoms might get to us. Particularly us mature women might find that we’ve suddenly become invisible in our society.

Perhaps further, external factors create a Fifties Unease for you:

  • You’re made redundant and then struggle to find a new professional position.
  • You suffer a burn out and don’t want to get back into a work that feels like  a hamster wheel.
  • Your children fly the nest, and you cannot find a way back into work – nor get into new activities or create new relationships that feel fulfilling.
  • You harbour a bored been there, done that, seen it all feeling, at work and in life generally, and nothing seems to surprise or delight you anymore. You go through life feeling dulled and ‘switched off’.
  • You witness and accompany your parents’ decline and passing, feeling heart-broken, and perhaps facing difficult questions about your own mortality.
  • You take stock of your life and of where you’ve ‘ended up’, remembering your hopes and dreams, and all you’ve given, tried and struggled for.
    You find a mixed bag of some things you’re proud of, and others that haven’t worked out as you’d hoped.
    You might find yourself feeling more bitter or angry about the latter than happy about the former…
  • You wonder whether that’s it for you now in your life. Whether there will ever be new opportunities for you. Whether a satisfying life is even ever possible. The thought gets you down.
  • You long for a fresh start, on a clean slate, but fear it’s not possible, or don’t know where to start.

Can you relate to this?

All of it is highly unsettling. It plunges us into discomfort, uncertainty and maybe even fear, physically and emotionally. What an uncomfortable place to be!

It might get worse before it gets better

Yep.

Unfortunately.

Our fifties might not be plain sailing from beginning to end. In fact, they might well plunge us into some kind of crisis.

When I turned fifty, I was looking forward to my next decade. I celebrated my 50th birthday a number of times, with a body painting ritual and several parties with friends and family. I also granted myself a longstanding wish: a walking weekend at Hadrian’s Wall.

I felt hopeful that this decade of my life was going to bring something new and exciting.
That I was going to rest even more in myself,  be even less phased by other people, challenges or adversities, and live even more in easeful and joyful ways.
Little did I know it was going to be all downhill from there!

But downhill I went:

Work seemed to dwindle, and I found myself exhausted with the effort to find clients, so much so that I just stopped.

My mother, who lived in my birth country, got diagnosed with motor neuron disease in her eighties.

And historic political changes in the country I’d lived in for twenty-three years began to really impact on my life. The mood in the country became so toxic that I started feeling uncomfortable and unsafe there. I felt I should leave while I still could, but didn’t know where to go and what else to do – I found it so hard to let go of a life built over two decades in that country I had loved!

Looking back on the journey that had brought me here, I began to question decisions I’d made, and to mourn ambitions, goals and desires that hadn’t come to pass despite my hard work, integrity and best, authentic efforts. My struggles seemed futile to me, and I wondered just what I’d achieved in my half century of life.

As the menopause hit full force, it plunged me into physical aches and pains in my entire body, and into a mood so low that I saw doom and gloom all around. I could barely get out of bed in the morning – I was fifty and felt like an unhealthy ninety!

I despaired at the thought that this was going to be my life from now on:  worn out by unbearable pain, my youth definitely over, unable to use my body to its full strength, and so down and woolly-brained that I couldn’t function in life anymore.

What opportunities were there going to be for me now, like this?
Surely, none!

Then the pandemic hit, flights and national borders were shutting down fast.

Within two days, I decided to fly to my birth country to support my mother at her home, as she needed more and more care. Looking back today, I can see that this was the beginning of the last phase of her life, a journey on which I would accompany her. For me, it became the beginning of a new life.

I ended up never going back to the country I’d lived in for twentythree years.

I stayed in my birth country and cared for my mother until she passed, in her home, as she had wished. Being able to be close to her in the final life years felt like a great privilege, and it restored my lost sense of purpose, allowing me to give back at least something, for all that my mother, throughout our life, had given me.

What a gift!

But my own life still got worse before it got better.

In our family, we all knew where my mother was headed, given her age and her illness. Still, her death hit us, hit me, very hard. It is the children’s duty to see our parents out – but watching my mother’s decline, trying to ease it, and holding her hand as she went, was a challenging, heart-breaking task for me that pushed me right to my limits.

I let myself feel the grief – for the loss of my mother and of the life I’d lived away from my birth country for two decades. I had to sort my mother’s affairs, and my own, arranging my move back to my birth country, online, when travelling was still near-impossible. I was born here, but had been away for a long time. I had to re-learn the ropes. The pandemic didn’t exactly make it it easier.

I tried to sort out what I could, going through the motions, all the while feeling utterly devastated.

I didn’t think I’d ever felt so low in my entire life.
Great start to the decade that was going to be my best!

I was in real deep; I couldn’t imagine how I would ever move out of this grief and despair. It felt like I’d been ripped out of life and plunged into some kind of underworld. I doubted that I’d be able to ever get out again. I couldn’t imagine that life would ever feel good again. 

It gets better when you get better

Whenever I’ve hit a low, or even rock-bottom, in life, I’ve found three things to be helpful. They were the ones I grabbed onto in my Fifties Crisis, too:

1 I let myself feel and express my pain – then I let it go

I let myself feel all the grief, the sorrow, the disappointment, the anger, the bitterness… and whatever other unpleasant feeling my crisis brought up for me. I let it come out, be expressed, be ackowledged. In a safe environment, of course, with someone I trusted, or on my own.

The danger about letting ourselves feel our feelings is that we might end up ‘camping out’ in them for too long – keep bringing up and reveling in our sadness, outrage, our pain… I’ve certainly done that – there’s a weird and dark kind of satisfaction in it. It’s not helpful, though, because it blocks our view onto what we still could do, and robs us of energy that we could instead put into shaping a constructive path forward.

Today, I find it more helpful to see my feelings as precious indicators. They point me towards what is or isn’t working for me. When I explore why certain feelings arise, I might recognise where I need to soothe myself, and where I need to make a change in myself or in my life, to feel better.

I’ve noticed that, when I acknowledge, express, give attention to and respond to my feelings, they will eventually move through me and pass. All I have to do is be willing to feel them, respond to them where needed, and then let them go.

As for my grief, it’s the heaviest of emotions for me… It took a while to ease, and it still comes up at times. Maybe it always will. So I let it come and I wait for it to go again.

2 I got help

Some situations in life are simply too heavy to carry and find our way through on our own… Asking for help is not easy; it can be humbling, can make us feel vulnerable and like we’ve somehow failed, for not being able to sort ourselves out. And yet, at times, reaching out for help is essential in order to see us through a crisis.

Useful questions you could ask yourself when you need help are:

Who or what would help me in my current situation?
What resources can I tap into?
Which doctor or clinic would be useful to consult?
Which friend could I talk to?
Could I work through my situation with a therapist, a counsellor, a coach?
Which organisations could I seek help with, which support groups could I join?
What place(s) soothe, heal and strengthen me? How can I spend more time there?
What could I give to someone else to do for me?

I saw a doctor for help with my menopause symptoms. And a therapist to accompany me on my journey through the darkest time.

3 I made it a priority to look after myself and listen to my needs

I took breaks and time outs, stopped working for a while. I paid loving attention to my physical, psychological and emotional health. I renewed my efforts to eat well, sleep enough, rest and build joyful movement into my life. Yoga and meditation steadied me.

I listened, really listened, and responded to my needs:

If I felt the need to talk things through, I did so, with someone I trusted. If I didn’t, that was fine too.

I noticed the effect certain activities, things or people had on me, and, as much as possible, I gave priority to those that felt healing, gentle, and joyful. I went for what gave me energy, and cut out who or what didn’t – consciously and radically.

I found solace and healing in the simple things, the simple life

Spending time outdoors, in nature, is a great restorer and healer for me when life gets tough.

So I went on retreat to a Convent in the Eastern Swiss mountains. There, I hiked, on my own, for the first time ever.

The slow pace of walking, the silence permeated only by the sounds of birds, water, wind and my own steps on the gravel path, helped me process my grief. Held by the big sky, quick rivers, cool woodlands and the enduring mass of the mountains, I saw that I could manage my hikes, that I was able to find my way without getting lost. I began to feel a quiet confidence stirring.

When I felt strong enough, I volunteered at a local alpaca farm, washing and preparing the wool that would go into sustainably produced, hand-made duvets and cushions, sold to help people in crisis.

The sensual, meditative work with this gorgeous wool, washing it with rain water and laying it out to dry in the fresh air, then carding it into fleeces, did me good. I focused on my work and enjoyed my no-pressure, easy contact with this beautiful, natural material and these soulful animals. Meanwhile, some kind of healing set itself in motion.

I worked for my food and a bed at a husky farm, a small, sustainable business in the Central Swiss mountains, set up by local people to create enterprise and work in their remote locality.

I did a lot of weeding on the grounds, helped care for the dogs, unpacked and distributed deliveries, fed the chicken and collected their eggs, emptied the rubbish and took stuff to recycling.

Humble work?

I don’t know. It helped me. Contributing to the process of running a small enterprise gave me a sense of doing something immediately useful, of being part of something that was alive. By the evening I was satisfyingly tired, at night I slept well.

Honest work, rather, I’d call it. And healing.

I got to walk in extremely remote places, very high up, near the skies, on my own.

In the evenings I’d sit with the huskies, listening to the waves of howling that went through the pack, starting low, swelling as more dogs joined in, then fading out again. The secret language of their community, their belonging together.

I started feeling that, perhaps, I too could belong to something again.

When travelling was possible again, I went to Sicily, in Italy, where I got the chance to help a friend with the olive harvest on her grounds.

Hard work, reaching up into those beautiful, ancient trees to brush down the bright green fruit, for hours on end. It’s got to be done all in one go!

In two days, the two of us harvested 100kg of olives, which we took to the press and watched on as they were processed into 15 litres of brilliant-green, tart, new olive oil.

The experience was worth all the muscle ache – there’s much sense of achievement and satisfaction in such a work, and a preciousness to an olive oil that’s fresh-off-the-press, and that you’ve been physically involved in producing.

 

I was fortunate to find these places to visit and get involved with. They helped me get better, and make it through the most difficult times.

The difference that feeling better makes

Our perspective on ourselves and our life, including our crises and challenges, changes when we start to feel better, in our body, in our mind and in our soul.

Personally, I’ve experienced that, if I can make a conscious effort to get more energy and a sense of healthy wellbeing into my body, my mood and my whole outlook on life will gradually improve.

Giving myself time to process what’s going on for me, and staying connected with my spiritual practice, provides nourishment for my soul and also helps lifting me.

I am then more able to bear any uncertainty in my life, acknowledge but not indulge negative thoughts that would otherwise drag me down, make strong decisions that work in my favour, and take positive action to move out of a crisis and towards a next chapter in my life, step by little step.

As I feel better, my life gets better too.

It doesn’t happen over night

Working to feel better and change our life when we’re down is a process. It takes persistence. Faith, even, that things will eventually look up. So:

Feel your feelings. Get help. Look after yourself.
Take off the pressure. Do the simple things.
Do what you can, do what is possible, day after day.
Be OK with the fact that some days, you won’t do much.
And keep going.

You might not get instant clarity on how to go on, what to change or where to move towards next. Things might not get resolved in one go. That’s ok. Let them be whatever they are.

But gradually, your pain will ease and subside, the energy in your body and mind will change and you’ll be able to look outwards and forwards again. Then you might make small changes, take small actions here and there.

Baby steps. Nothing wrong with them.
They too take you forward, until, perhaps, if it feels right,
you’re able to take a bigger leap. 

A new beginning

About a year after my mother’s passing, I started to feel joy again. I went back to work, part-time.

Volunteering at nature-based, small businesses had shown me that, in order to feel good, I needed to get away from working seated, at the computer, at least for some of the time.

When I happened to see a job ad by a local farm shop, I was instantly inspired to apply. I got the job! I now work, part-time, with fresh, locally produced fruit and veg, and with local customers. Very organic. Very sensual. A really nice flow.

This combination of two types of work gives me energy and makes me happy.

Other areas of my new life in my old country are still uncertain, still need to evolve.

I’ve joined a local curling club – on a gut feeling, and because I really enjoyed the sport when I first first tried it. I’ve been elected Voting Officer in my town. I’m meeting new people, forging new friendships and relationships, spending time with my family.

Sounds like a great new beginning to me!

Crisis as part of a transformation

If you’re in the thick of your very own Fifties Crisis,
it might be difficult to feel positive about this decade.

Important things ending or not working out for us can bring on unease, pain, or even a crisis. Yet endings and crises are also precursors of a new life phase, creating space for new things to come into our life, and presenting us with fresh opportunities.

In that sense, a Fifties Crisis can be truly transformational – changing us and changing our life. It’s a deeply human, natural process we all go through in some shape or form.

The important thing is not to get stuck in a crisis or unease, but move through it, as best we can. It might take a while, but we’re not entirely at its mercy – see the points above – there are things we can do to help us hold on and get through.

And, as I had to remind myself in my own darkest moments: like all things, this, too, will eventually pass.

 

You might also like to read: 10 Reasons Why 50 Is the Perfect Time to Change Your Life

Over to you now

What are your experiences of turning 50? Are you going through, or have you been through a Fifties Crisis?

What’s your life like in your sixth decade? What are its joys and challenges?

What do you want it to be like?

I’d love to read your comments, please share them below – thanks!

Want some help with your life change?

Consider working with me. I offer tailored coaching programmes for every need and budget. And if you’ve got questions, just book yourself an informal chat with me. It’s free!

Photos: Pixabay and Monica Castenetto