One of my adult children cancelled our plans the other day, an event that I very much looked forward to. Upon receiving the text, I felt overcome by a surge of anger that threatened to ruin my afternoon. The fury I feel in midlife shocks me sometimes, as well as the irritability and cynicism that creep in. And the distress from a change of plans, something I used to handle without thought, baffles me too.
Green Callings’ research shows that more than half of women with menopausal symptoms report mood swings and irritability.
What’s behind the mood swings?
Fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels, in addition to sleep disturbance, affect our emotional state. But something else is at work here too, something scratchy and uncomfortable below the surface. One woman’s mood can feel like a midlife crisis to someone else. But one’s mood, if observed with curiosity, can unveil something deeper. My mood may attach fault to people and events happening outside of me, but something underneath the irritation, anger, and frustration seems to push from the inside—as if to say, “Listen to me. Look at me. Pay attention!”
Pay attention to what?
Author Brené Brown says in midlife, “Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging.”
I think she’s onto something. What if mood were not a crisis, but instead a doorway to discover exactly what’s missing? What if you could gaze at discontent with clear eyes, and step back from directing it toward someone else? I know this is a big ask, believe me, but if you could feel the emotions bubbling up and listen instead of reacting, what would they tell you?
You might hear something like: I feel unappreciated. I need a two-hour nap. I’m worried sick about the state of the earth. I want to spend my time in other ways. I cannot watch another elementary school student die from gun violence. Honestly it could be so many things—simple and complex—but I dare say, frustration, anger, and irritation hold clues to the question poet Mary Oliver asks in her poem The Summer Day: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I’m sure you’ve heard her words before. Many recite them, but at this very moment, imagine Ms. Oliver’s question as if she’d written it for you (because she did):
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Here’s a quick exercise:
Get a pen right now and start writing, not thinking. Start with the irritations, the wrongs, the mood or midlife crisis of the day. And then get to the heart of that, and then the heart of the next that, keeping Oliver’s question in mind. Keep going until you’ve written at least one sentence that is true. The entire, resonant truth. You’ll know it because it’ll surprise you somehow, or it will ring with such clarity that there’s no doubt your words came straight from your gut.
Let me say this again: Turn toward your frustrations. Sit and wait for your mood to tell you something real. Write while you’re listening. Imagine the promise in your listening—the insights that lie in wait, like treasure. You don’t have to act on anything. Just listen.
I’d love to hear what you discover: email your insights and I’ll share them anonymously in Green Calling’s newsletter. Your words might help someone else too.
Do you have health symptoms or frustrations about midlife that are sabotaging your happiness? Sign up for “30 Minutes to a Manageable (and Magical) Midlife,” an audio training and two guides that will deliver you from gloom to hope.