But for other people, the midlife crisis is a more subtle entity. It can arrive unannounced and take up residence in our lives without us being able to see it at all for a long time. It makes itself felt in a myriad of ways, which you only get to piece together as it's impact on your life grows. It's a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle, but only getting the pieces in dribs and drabs over a period of time. It's not until you've got enough bits in place that you can finally name the beast.
These subtle monsters come in different guises.
There's the 'empty-nest' syndrome. This one hits you when your children reach the age when they go off to college, leave home, or are generally not needing you in as many ways as they did when they were younger. For a woman who has spent long years investing her energy in caring and nurturing her children, the loss felt when they leave home can be enormous. It's a time when you suddenly have to re-define yourself. For many women, it means having to look into a new future, without knowing what it will look like. That's scary.
Then there's the 'is this all there is?' awakening. This beast creeps us on us very slowly. You can spend years devoting yourself to your family and/or your career, only to discover gradually that it isn't leading you on a path you want to go. It's almost a slow death by disillusionment. Clues to it's presence are feeling bored by your job, finding it hard to motivate yourself to get up in the morning, generally feeling uninspired. When you're young, you have dreams, expectations, ambitions, when this beast arrives, your enthusiasm fades, you stop trying, life becomes mundane.
One of my favourite disguises is the 'I don't like doing this anymore' version. In this shape, the midlife crisis hits you with the recognition that whatever you've spent the last goodness knows how many years doing, is something you dislike, or worse, you begin to loath it. I think this one is more insidious than 'is this all there is?', because when it finally tightens the strangle hold on your mind, your peace is ruined. You're not bored, you're angry with yourself for wasting so much time. It's like realising that you've pinned your hopes on something unworthy - you feel betrayed, you want to blame someone. It's not a good place to be.
And the unlucky truth is that when we reach our middle years, the chances of meeting more than one of these monsters at the same time are increased.
Let me tell you about my monsters.
Realising that I'm not the 'have it all' mother I was programmed to be. This was a slow process. I started motherhood, convinced that I could be both the perfect mother and housekeeper and simultaneously build a business that more than replaced my lost earnings from employment. After ten years, I know that I can be a bit of each, but trying to be everything is the route to a breakdown.
Bereavement - twice. Both my parents have died in the last three years. One suddenly, one slowly after a long illness.
Business breakdown - as they say, 'two's company, three's a crowd'. It was true for my first business, as I discovered that we weren't all pushing in the same direction.
The feeling of failure at not living up to what was expected of me.
I'd like to bet that most women my age are meeting some of these demons in their varying guises. But what interests me is where we go from here. I'm treating this stage in my life as an opportunity to grow, a chance to create my own path, not the one other people laid down for me.
I'm at a pretty early stage, but I'm feeling optimistic.
If you're meeting your own monsters and have decided to punch them on the nose and move on, please stick around. I'll be posting regularly on my journey. Perhaps we can learn from each other?