Getting to 60 has taught us to be optimists. Look on the bright side. Whistle a happy tune. Be very grateful for the good in our lives. When we feel down, we distract ourselves.
These are effective, solid strategies, true secrets for living a good life. But. When the darkness comes, as it does at times for most of us, we need to know that we are not alone.
I am a therapist, mother, grandmother, friend, sister. I am a collector of women’s stories, of their truth-telling.
I am here to tell you that even though you may appreciate your life, be devoted to your partner, love your children and adore your grandchildren, you are not alone if you, sometimes:
- Feel overcome by despair;
- Feel shame for having made terrible mistakes in your life;
- Are terrified of not having enough money for your future;
- Are certain you have wasted your life with the wrong partner;
- Fear for your health;
- Wish you could be left completely alone;
- Resent all the obligations;
- Would give anything for a second chance;
- Worry yourself sick about a precious grandchild;
- Wish life would hurry up and be over, because it’s just too hard;
- Desperately wish there were someone you could tell the real truth to;
- Think everyone else has a better life than yours;
- Wonder where you went wrong to feel so lost, confused, and hopeless;
- Regret your choices;
- Find yourself unexpectedly crying;
- Go through your day with an overwhelming sense of sadness;
- Dislike where you live;
- Feel sick to death of putting everyone’s needs above your own;
- Feel crippled by grief;
- Sense that your emotions are making you physically sick;
- Feel amazed that you have lived so long yet do not have anything figured out;
- Are unable to sleep because that’s when the demons come;
- Feel you just want to pull the covers over your head and give up;
- Miss someone every minute of every day;
- Wonder how you ended up being so very alone;
- Feel that your chronic physical pain makes life not worth living;
- Are paralyzed by fear of what is to come.
If you experience any of this, rest assured you are part of a sisterhood of older women struggling to make sense of the life we have been given. You are not alone. These are normal responses to life’s difficulties.
Just because we do not always feel wise or strong – as we think elders are “supposed” to feel – that does not mean we are weak, or that we have failed in some way. We must be gentle with ourselves. The dark feelings are part of what makes us human; they deepen our compassion for others and even increase our ability to feel joy.
Life is a complex and continual interweaving of sunshine and shadow. No one reaches sixty plus without pain and sometimes tragedy, in addition to all the good things. We must walk through the shadows to reach the sunlight. So, don’t be afraid to feel your feelings, even the feelings you think are unacceptable.
Write about them, talk about them to someone you trust, allow your tears, sit still with your pain, breathe, breathe, breathe, and sense yourself as part of womanhood, part of humanity.
We may need to practice radical acceptance. This means to accept ourselves as flawed and imperfect. And to accept, deep in our bodies and minds and hearts and souls, that certain things simply are what they are. That it’s time to let go of certain wishes or dreams. To embrace what we have, and to let go of what we don’t. This can be a great relief.
And then we do what we do best. Pick ourselves up, get out of bed, smile into the mirror despite it all, dress in pretty colors, and greet the day. Knowing that we can hold the grief alongside the joy. And that it’s all ok. And that we are not alone.
In the words of Kahlil Gibran, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
What do you do when you feel overcome with sadness and despair? What advice would you give to other women in our community who are feeling alone? Please join the conversation and share your thoughts.