I saw my doctor recently, having avoided her for far too long. It seemed like time to make sure my 50 year old parts were all in working order. Also, I’d been noticing the scale creeping up to unfamiliar levels. Nothing drastic, but I wanted to rule out anything serious. As it turns out, my 50 year old body is NOT functioning efficiently. My cholesterol numbers are at a level that needs immediate attention and, in discussing my weight, I learned something new.
Making my way through the separation and divorce process over the past two years, I’ve learned a lot about stress responses in the body and how cortisol in high levels can wreak havoc on our bodies. What I didn’t know is that it tricks your body into fearing that starvation is a real possibility. So my brain, thinking that I am in grave danger, told my body to store more of the fats I eat. Much those fats were ice cream and most of it ended up in my mid-section. Great. Just great.
Without taking a deep dive into my bodily functions, I will say that being a 50 year old woman is a thankless job. I don’t think I’m the first one of my kind to find herself in a doctor’s office feeling a little out of sorts. Obviously my lovely doctor sees many of us in this category of life: 40ish or 50ish, empty nester (or almost), divorced (or almost) and trying to make sense of all of the above. I know this because she launched into a speech that seemed too practiced to be designed only for me.
With only the best of intentions, my doctor implored me to take care of myself and to enjoy what is finally going to be “my time.” No husband, no kids (well, mostly no kids) and plenty of time to find new passions and new direction. She reminded me that I still have a lot of living left ahead of me and I owe it to myself to get healthy and enjoy it.
Since that day, I’ve been thinking a lot about how not-unique my circumstances are. I’ve found myself as part of a group of women in my neighborhood who are all divorced (most, like me, after long marriages), most are empty or soon-to-be empty nesters and most of us have endured the pain and shame of our husbands’ infidelities. At work a small group of us have formed what is essentially a support group for women going through divorce. We’re at different stages of the process, but share our stories of life in the trenches of family court.
Taking a step back, I realized that the majority of my friends are either divorced or unhappily married, and most of us are searching for purpose in a world that doesn’t always seem to value us. We have almost become invisible and what often feels like dispensible. Many of us lament that we spend so much of our time struggling to adapt to our new lives and new responsibilities. We share stories of bursting into tears when the TV or wifi isn’t working and we can’t fix it. Or when a storm knocks a giant tree limb across our driveway, or the shower is leaking into the basement. We struggle with these things not because we are incapable, but because, for many years, there was a division of labor in our homes and those were things our husbands did. An efficient family is one that divides and conquers household responsibilities. My friends are I now find ourselves trying to figure out how to manage these new jobs —while still doing the things we’ve always done—and the learning curve can be steep.
Adjusting to our new normal, we see that we have become invisible to our former spouses. Those of us on dating sites also experience a particularly humiliating level of invisibility. We swipe on men our own age and never hear from them. Simply put, we are not the hottest commodity Match or OkCupid. When did we become invisible to men — our husbands AND prospective dates? When did it become so common for men to leave their wives just at the time we’re finally getting the space to enjoy our kid-free lives? Why is it so easy for them to stop seeing us, but most of what we see and experience is a sense of deep pain and loss.
Men aren’t the only ones who have stopped seeing us, we’re invisible to employers too. My circles of divorced women are finding it hard to make ends meet these days. Rare is the job available to a middle aged mom who has been out of the traditional job market for years — many of us have worked over the years but, often, because of our decisions to be the primary caregivers to our kids, we have salaries that were never meant to be the sole support for a family in Silicon Valley.
After my visit with the doctor, I found myself thinking a lot about sight. What we see, who we see, how we see them, how they see us. It’s an odd and disorienting feeling to be living what so often feels like an invisible life. I’ve also been thinking quite a bit about what it is that I see and who I see. In talking to my circle of divorced friends, it’s clear that we all want to be SEEN again. We want someone to SEE us and accept us as we are. To see —and appreciate—the wisdom we’ve gained in our many years on the planet, the strength we’ve built up, our man y accomplishments, big and small, and that we raised kids who have become pretty special adults. So maybe we need to zoom out our narrow view of our circumstances and start seeing the larger, wider, fuller picture of our lives. Perhaps we need to see more of what we have and less of what we don’t.
In an interesting case of life imitating art, my yoga teacher instructed us to experience this morning’s practice with our eyes closed for the duration of the 90 minute class. While we all wobbled and struggled through poses that are so familiar with eyes open, our teacher read aloud the poetry of Mary Oliver. Oliver, who passed away last week, somehow managed to eloquently voice what so many of us feel. She made poetry accessible to those who don’t necessarily enjoy poetry. She made us see things that we didn’t realize we were seeing. Olliver asked us to reframe how we view the world so that we can see and experience it in all its beauty.
As I stood on my mat this morning, eyes closed and struggling to find balance, a feeling of gratitude came over me for the gifts that surround me every minute of every day. As I open my eyes each morning the decision to see those gifts is mine.
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?