7 fears women have about getting older – and inspiration for forging on bravely
There are any number of reasons why we fear getting older. There are practical concerns about money, work and lifestyle, there’s the fear of illness for yourself or those close to you, and there are womanly concerns about aging – whether it’s menopause or the loss of being needed and desired that plays on your mind.
Here are some of the things you have told us make you fearful when you think about the passing years:
- I don’t know how well I will handle the pain of losing those closest to me
- I worry about looking after ill or aged parents
- What will happen if I become ill?
- What should I be putting in place for in case I become incapacitated?
- I’m scared about not being able to work for as long as I need to
- What if I have no money and end up an old bag lady?
- I dread feeling unattractive and undesirable
- What if I cannot have sex anymore?
- If I don’t have children, who will care for me when I’m older?
- I’m worried about losing my looks and feeling like I should consider plastic surgery
- I’m terrified of ending up alone
- I’m worried about the severity and length of menopause symptoms, based on my mum’s experience
- I know I should leave my husband and decide to live the life I want, but it might be too late
It’s quite a list isn’t it! We can feel very isolated when we think about these things, even ashamed. Sometimes the fear can be exaggerated in our minds, and sometimes it feels like there are no practical steps to take, just an idea or a possibility that we are going to need to get our heads around so that it doesn’t consume us. We can feel resentful towards ourselves for being in a certain position, for not having done better.
One thing I’ve noticed since writing The Me in Menopause blog and engaging with women of a certain age, is that we are not alone.
Chances are, the fears you have are quite universal.
It helps to know this. Other women’s inspiring stories or points of view are a great way to feel better about your own thoughts, and even to change the way you think…. turning fear into positivity, reconciling with yourself so that you move into a place of acceptance and of making the most of what you have now.
1. The fear of not having children
I’ve often talked about ‘not being ready for menopause’. You possibly think that’s a strange thing for me to say; either you might think ‘well who is’ or you might think ‘ha, you don’t have a choice girlfriend’. Which are both true. What I really mean though, is not being ready from the perspective of not having gone through the other stages of being a woman. Feeling like something is being taken away that never got to do its thing anyhow. Like jumping straight from ‘will I ever fall pregnant’ to ‘I can never get pregnant now.’
Of course, I am only assuming that for women who have had children, the transition feels a little more organised and, well, logical. Like it’s time for the next phase (ready or not!)
I’m fascinated by how other women who have not had children feel about getting older and transitioning towards or through menopause.
It never ceases to astound me how adaptable, positive and brave we can be.
Yes, life goes on…. but there is a need to come to terms with it in your mind, to build a story that sits well with you, enabling you to find momentum towards new goals, dreams, fulfilments and satisfactions. Otherwise it can niggle at you for years and taint the ongoing experience of life.
Here’s a beautiful and inspiring excerpt (published by Oprah.com) –
Rachel Remen, MD (aged 67 years) clinical professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and author of Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings….
“I have encountered two of women’s greatest fears: I’ve been single all my life, and I’ve had Crohn’s disease [a chronic inflammatory bowel disease] for the past 51 years.
I always wanted to be a mother. I was one of the girls who played with dolls until I was 12 or 13 years old. I had the names of all my children picked out. Having a family was a major life dream. When I was diagnosed at age 15, it became clear that dream might not play out.
Then as the clock ticked down toward 40, it was even more clear I probably wasn’t going to be a mother.
Because of my illness, it was very difficult for me to maintain a relationship. Men of my generation were looking for someone to take care of them, and I needed someone to take care of me.
I hear women say, ‘If it doesn’t turn out the way I planned, what then?’ Life is basically full of broken eggs. The whole art of this thing is finding your own recipe for making sponge cake. My mother’s final words were ‘I am satisfied.’ How do we live so that at the end of our lives we can say those words?
I have done that. I have learned that I can be a mother in many different ways.
The people who are unhappy are the people who get stuck in one way of doing it. You need to have a sense of possibility.
Of course, it’s a remarkable, life-altering experience to have your own biological children. As a former paediatrician, I’ve seen people transformed by this profound experience. But you can still grow people, even if they don’t come from your own body. There are so many who haven’t had parenting. You can be a mother to them. For the thousands of medical students I’ve worked with, I have done that.”
2. The fear of losing your looks & plastic surgery
I can admit to having this fear from time to time. When I look in the mirror and it’s one of those days when aging seems more apparent than I had led myself to believe! Or when I feel the roll around my middle when I’m sitting, and it makes me think about how I used to look, and how that made me feel.
I want those feel good vibes back. Not because of anybody else’s treatment of me, but because of my treatment of myself.
I know that these ‘cosmetic’ things do not hold the importance they once did, and I am way happier focusing on living my life with enjoyment and freedom to do as I please, but I think sometimes we can’t help feeling sad about our previous looks. There are the days when we want it all.
So, for all of you who have those days too, here’s another beautiful and inspiring excerpt (published by Oprah.com) –
Dr Maya Angelou, author (aged 77 years), acclaimed poet and author of I know why the Caged Bird Sings….
“The surface, the superficial, the way one looks has become valued too highly in our society. When the skin begins to sag, many women go for Botox. Why on earth would you let somebody stick a needle in your face just to get rid of a wrinkle? Here’s the real question: What do we have to do to place more value on age?
We must value ourselves not for what we look like or the things we possess but for the women we are.
“The most important thing I can tell you about aging is this: If you really feel that you want to have an off-the-shoulder blouse and some big beads and thong sandals and a dirndl skirt and a magnolia in your hair, do it. Even if you’re wrinkled.”
For another perspective, read Elizabeth’s spiritual take on this topic (published by Oprah.com) –
Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of the Omega Institute (aged 52 years)….
“I’ve realized that aging is the younger cousin of dying. Is my face sagging? Is my body creaking? These questions just bring up the ultimate one: How much time do I have left? We become aware that we’re on the downside of the mountain, coasting toward our final days. I was with my mother as she was dying last year, and I became aware that yes, indeed, it’s true: Each one of us does have a short time on earth.
The wrinkles and the double chin are smoke screens for what we’re really afraid of — mortality.
I happen to believe that our souls continue after we’re gone, and that makes life on earth less fearful. We’re here for a reason, and challenges are handed to us so we can grow and become more of who we’re meant to be. So, I deal with my fear of aging and death by making it my spiritual practice. Not turning away from it, not pretending it doesn’t exist, not slapping on a cosmetic Band-Aid. But by taking on a more fearless attitude toward what really is happening to my body and my life.”
3. The fear of becoming invisible
I was thinking the other day about becoming invisible with regards to no longer getting looked at, turning heads on the street, catching an eye across a room, or even being part of the group of women that are represented in magazines and the media – synonymous with desirability, beauty and being relevant.
It’s not that it stops completely, at least not initially. But it happens. And I think it happens to women first and foremost because men of the same age fall into one of three categories:
- He who really does only have eyes for his partner (is happily married and respectful)
- He who likes to ogle younger women (and believes, rightly or wrongly, that he is not done, he has a chance with them!)
- He who focuses only on career/money/power (because he too believes his desirability is gone, does that happen to men?)
My friends tell me that I must still be able to ‘find a man.’ But I’m not concerned about finding a man; I want to find ‘the’ man, the relationship that’s alluded me thus far, the man who loves me unconditionally, has passion for me and shows it, the one who will stay the distance, and the one with whom I can run headlong to the end with. It’s not easy to be looking for that in your 50’s. I am always warmed by stories of such things though, and my heart is still filled with hope.
Here’s a beautiful and inspiring excerpt for you to consider (published in Oprah.com) –
Abigail Thomas, fiction and autobiographical writer, author of Safekeeping (aged 63 years)….
“I wouldn’t even go back to as young as I was yesterday. Being this age is completely freeing. To walk out of the house without wondering who’s looking back at you makes it possible to focus on what you really want to focus on. It makes it possible to get your work done. For a long time, all I thought about was, who’s looking at me? Who’s interested? I didn’t even really look at what I felt like looking at on the street. That’s what I called sexual power. About ten years ago, exactly what I’d feared came to be: My ‘sexual power’ changed.
For so long, how I looked represented everything to me: who I was as a woman, my power, how I could engage. When it was over, I discovered so many other things.
I began to write. I started to see that I wasn’t at the world’s disposal – I call the shots, and what I’m interested in is what I’m interested in. One day in my 50s, I just woke up and realized I really didn’t care about any of the rest of it and hadn’t for quite a while. The heat was gone, and what replaced it was an avid desire for life.”
4. The fear of being alone
It can creep up on you…. one minute you’re a strong, independent woman who cannot imagine sharing life with another person again, or you’ve accepted your children’s independence and physical distance from you as they live out their own lives…. the next minute you are consumed by the fear of being alone for years to come.
In a way, we all have our own definition of ‘alone’. And our own ways of dealing with it. But why are women seemingly more susceptible to this fear than men?
Here’s one women’s view on that; why we are predetermined to feel so strongly about connection and togetherness (published in Oprah.com) –
Florence Falk, psychotherapist and author of On My Own: The Art of Being a Women Alone….
“Historically and prehistorically, women have existed in a context in which, because they bore children, they stayed together while the men were out hunting. So, in terms of our collective unconscious, we have a history of being in some kind of connection with other people. We’ve been nurturers in an earthbound role, so it’s difficult for our psyches to contemplate anything else. What’s it like not to be tethered with the responsibility of a mate and children? We haven’t had a template for that.
Of course, it’s a human reflex to want to be connected to others.
But for women, we expect the connection to make us feel more realized, whole, alive.
This is where many women get caught: wanting to be in connection but at the same time resenting it.”
And, here’s what Florence believes about women needing to have alone time –
….”I have learned that that there is nothing more important than our sense of personal freedom. Meaning begins with our sense of sovereignty, our ability to stand on our own, and above all, our relationship to the self. For as we grow into, and take delight, in ourselves – who we are and who we are becoming – we will become better companions to all: partners, spouses, lovers, family, friends, neighbours, local communities, and the global community.”
I’m really interested in the two sides of the fear of being alone. For some, there is nothing worse than needing to be connecting with oneself, to come face to face in the silence as it were (and they will do anything to avoid that). While for others, and I must admit to falling more in this group, we are actually good at being alone, we do not fear the depths of our own minds. Perhaps it is because the nurturing that Florence speaks of did not become our role, since we did not have family.
Or perhaps some of us are just made this way; our journey this time on earth is to achieve something different, to delve deep into what we can do alone.
Or perhaps we are all capable of swinging back and forth between the two, depending on which life we have (or what we seek to escape!)
If you find yourself regularly fearing a life alone as you age, perhaps you will find some inspiration in Florence Falk’s book, On My Own: The Art of Being a Women Alone.
I also recommend two other books: Something More by Sarah Ban Breathnach and You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay.
5. The fear of not being able to work – losing purpose
Does society determine our use-by-date, leaving us without purpose, just waiting for time to tick by?
Here’s two takes on just that to inspire and motivate you to never stop making your own purpose in life (both published in Oprah.com) –
Abigail Thomas says –
“Society has little to do with it. You throw your own self away. You decide that you’re irrelevant.
The trick about getting older is to find something you don’t know how to do—something you want to improve on.
And since I write, I want to get better at that. It has to become about the next thing to do, your passion, something that comes out of yourself. Without passion, we’re all sunk—we’re just consumers who go out and buy another toaster.”
Joan Hamburg says –
“A few years ago, I read a fascinating study about people 90 and over. It looked at how they’d survived to this age, despite the fact that many had suffered illnesses or eaten fast food night and day. The commonality among those studied—Jews, Italians, Poles, people of various races and family backgrounds—was a sense of optimism, a sense of being needed. For some, that meant having to babysit a daughter’s child; others were still going to work every day. All of them had a sense of hope and purpose. If you don’t have that, age sits and looks at you and says, ‘I’m waiting.’ I just about fainted the day, at age 50, when I received information from AARP (the United States group that focuses on the elderly). I threw it in the garbage. That’s not me. There’s still too much stimulation and joy in my life to sit around and wait for the end.
Women have skills that we don’t even know we have. You’ve got to learn to reinvent yourself.
Write ‘new’ on the box. Never be complacent. Stay ready to go to the next step. Think the way we thought in the early days of our nation: We are entrepreneurs, grasping opportunity, unafraid of rejection. We’ve got to get into the habit of constantly learning something new.”
6. The fear of becoming ill or incapacitated
I can fully comprehend this fear, having been ill already to the point of being unable to work (twice actually, once while on my own) and wondering how life will sort itself out again. For me it’s a real, known fear – not fear of what might happen and how that might play out.
Aging brings illness front of mind. Suddenly it’s a relevant topic, a conversation you begin to listen to and take part in, real scenarios you begin to witness. Potentially something you feel you should begin to plan for. But is it planning or attitude that will give you a sense of peace of mind as you age?
Here’s two points of view from mid-life women (published in Oprah.com) –
Rachel Naomi Remen says –
“Having worked almost half my lifetime with cancer patients, I’ve seen people discover that they can endure things they never thought possible. When you become ill, you discover a lot about yourself. Your relationships can become far more genuine. The ones that aren’t real fall away.
It sounds strange, but people talk about a sense of gratitude for the deeper, fuller life they lead.
It’s a discovery process. Alzheimer’s is a whole other thing. That’s something I worry about. I identify with my mind. It’s who I am. Losing who you are is different from having a physical illness. How do I handle the fear? I just live with it. The fear gives me an appreciation for my capacities today. It awakens me to the richness of my life now.”
Barbara Ehrenreich says –
“My father died of Alzheimer’s when he was 72, so the fear of losing my mind haunts me. How do I handle it? I want to wire my computer up so that when I start making too many mistakes, it’ll automatically electrocute me. No, really: I read little health tips all the time about how to keep from getting Alzheimer’s. The reason I went on hormone replacement therapy is that ten years ago, doctors thought it would prevent Alzheimer’s. Then, of course, I got breast cancer at 58, probably with some help from the HRT.
So, I haven’t figured out what to do with my fear—but it does make me ask myself, “what things do I want to get done while I can?”
I think that’s an important question.”
7. The fear of never reaching your potential
Arrh yes, this one keeps me awake nights! All this effort, the struggles and the going without…. for what? If I don’t find my purpose, turn my dreams into reality, succeed in this life, then from what I can tell there are only two options. I’ll either never get another go at it, or I’ll be expedited back down again to do-over – like a little fish thrown back in the pond to grow some more.
We all work so hard these days trying to keep pace.
Our potential can get lost in what we are fed to believe is success, but in truth, surely our potential is as unique as we are. Furthermore, potential is not just about what is acquired physically or monetarily or by the initials after our name. Reaching our potential as a loving, caring person might be our purpose (this time around!)
Here’s some more beautiful and inspiring excerpts from smart women who have articulated how they feel (published in Oprah.com) –
Abigail Thomas says –
“You’re worried about how you’re going to feel at the end of your life? What about right now? Live. Right this minute. That’s where the joy’s at.
To have a fear, you have to be able to imagine the future. I never think about the future. Ever. Has that always been true? God, no. For much of my life, everything was in the future. Everything was just about to happen for better or for worse. I had absolutely no awareness of what I was doing at the moment. Now it’s all about what I’m doing now. The present.
I’m not interested in the future. I have so much less of it than I used to.
Bad things have happened to me—five years ago, my husband was hit by a car and suffered traumatic brain injury. He has only the moment available to him. He has no short-term memory, he has no thought of the future. So, my life circumstances make it easy for me to focus on where I am right this minute, and to enjoy the hell out of it. Yes, the whole thing is heartbreaking. It’s agony. But the advantage is that I’ve learned how a moment can extend itself, can contain so much.”
Rachel Remen says –
“I’m a successful author, and I travel all over the United States—a very good life. There are many people who have made my life deeply meaningful—and I hadn’t met one of them by the time I was 42. I had a whole other career as a physician. Then at 42, I became involved with people who have cancer. I became involved with their psychological and spiritual growth. I got my first book contract when I was 56, and it became a New York Times best-seller.
Here’s what I want to say: Your life can change and deepen and become profoundly satisfying in middle age.
I thought that if I didn’t ‘make it’ by the time I was 35, it was all over.
At 35 I would have been stunned to know the way things would come out for me.”
Dr Maya Angelou says –
“Becoming a bag lady. Getting Alzheimer’s. Ending up alone. All of these concerns speak to a fear not of aging but of living. What is a fear of living? It’s being pre-eminently afraid of dying. It is not doing what you came here to do, out of timidity and spinelessness.
The antidote is to take full responsibility for yourself—for the time you take up and the space you occupy.
If you don’t know what you’re here to do, then just do some good.
I’m convinced of this: good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.”
Thanks to Maya for those fitting final words! I read and enjoyed her poetry many years ago…. I find her to be fearless, I think, by speaking her truth.
I trust you have found something that resonates with you in this post, and the inspiration to view it differently. Being brave in the face of fear is what stops us from getting stuck, from an inability to grow and evolve, and to live out our fullest potential.
As CS Lewis puts it: “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”
I often refer to “the mid-life collide.” In mid-life, all things reach their boiling point, all wants and hopes and dreams. It is a magnifying glass to what we have and have not achieved. It throws up the realisation of things we have been running from, or the wrong things we have been running to. Because of this, it also amplifies fear. The fact that time is suddenly no longer seen as stretching onward, without need to reconcile the use of it so far. A sense of having gone over to the other side of the hill, seeing for the first time a path that branches out into any number of circumstances we don’t want to be forced to take; loss, illness, decay, loneliness, poverty, invisibility.
The fact is, life is ultimately uncertain. No one has a guarantee. When you reach ‘the mid-life collide’ the only thing you can do is do something. Don’t let fear stop you from doing the self-examination and review of what you still want, or really want, now.
It is an opportunity for change – not because time is running out but because there is still enough time remaining!
‘You are never done for while the mind can find a new cause, a new path, a new joy.’ 😊
Other articles you might enjoy from The Me in Menopause:
Fear of the Unknown (how I coped with fear during and after Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)
Using mantras for daily positivity and for coping with challenges
Practical application for determining your life ’s purpose
Performing a life stock-take