How to Stop the Great Unravelling at Midlife

How to Stop the Great Unravelling at Midlife

We have two lives,
and the second one begins when you realise you only have one.
– 
Mario de Andrade

You will wake up one day and without looking at your iPhone, you’ll know that you are running out of time.

This bolt of insight will have less to do with your age in chronological time than with the state of your heart. If you’ve been on the run all your life from the truth, that somewhere ‘out there’ is your last day, your last breath, this will come as something of a nasty shock, as if you’d just worked seven years for one bride, and only now discovered you’ve been tricked into marrying another. Or that the terms you thought you’d agreed to have been unilaterally changed and you now want a refund, because who in their right minds would agree to that?

You may want to throttle the teenager, turn your back on the husband, drop the career you’ve been so carefully climbing the ladder towards, never cook another meal again, sell everything, find a younger lover, walk the El Camino, learn to scuba dive, paint, build a tiny house and work out who the hell you are now that nests are emptying and your ovaries have said, “I’m outta here.’

Brene Brown talks about this as the ‘great unravelling.’ It may turn up in our lives as depression (is it just menopause?), anxiety (menopause again?), contemplating divorce or a career change (surely that can’t be menopause??), joylessness (definitely menopause), having an affair (seriously, if not now, when?), resentment at events long-past, late-onset-lesbianism or bisexuality (OMG, that’s an option??) unhappiness for no reason, feelings of irrational rage, disappointment (in ourselves, our relationships, our lay-byed dreams), emptiness, wanting to leave it all behind, directionless-ness.

In the middle of the journey of life, I found myself in a dark wood
where the true way was wholly lost.
– Dante

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

The deepest questions of identity re-emerge to destabilize us just when we thought we had it all together.

Who are you?
Where did you come from?
Why are you here?

Seriously, after all we’ve been through?

Trust me, you are not alone.

In midlife, a seismic shift occurs between our past and whatever future lies ahead. Our ego-structures no longer work (who am I, again?), and we have to return to the labor of self-definition once more. We may have lost a parent or two. Our kids may have left home, or we realise we’re never going to have those kids we meant to have. The tummy pouch doesn’t help. The insomnia makes everything worse. We feel confined and belittled – by a stagnant relationship, stultifying routine or past failures and mistakes. Even our successes aren’t benign – we look back and are filled with sorrow at how many doors we never opened while we chased our goal of becoming an ‘expert’ or ‘specialist.’ It seemed like a good idea at the time – having something to ‘fall back on.’

We question why we were so quick to say ‘I do,’ ‘I’ll take that promotion,’ ‘sure, let’s have another kid.’ The roles and expectations we’ve been in service to no longer fit who we’ve become. Everything is too tight or too loose. We’ve outworn our responsibilities, graduated from our histories and outgrown the version of ourselves we’ve spent so long chasing.

We wonder, not just a little, what life has been suppressed inside us to get us to where we are.

And goddamit, we always wanted to write a book.

Dear soul, this is it.

This is where your second life begins.

Now is the moment to go back to retrieve what we left behind in our past as too painful or shameful. Here is when we arrange a meeting with those we swore we’d never forgive (that meeting may even be with ourselves). We divest ourselves of what is unnecessary – yes, it’s taken just this long for us to know the difference between what is and isn’t serving us.

Geoffrey Davis’s exquisite poem ‘What I Mean When I Say Farmhouse,’ takes him back to a memory as a boy, as loneliness and his parents’ unlived lives shadow his childhood. He ends the poem with:

             I want to jar the tenderness of seasons,
to crawl deep into the moment. I’ve come

             to write less fear into the boy running
through the half-dark. I’ve come for the boy.

At this midlife moment, our job is to go back for the parts of ourselves that we left behind and ‘write less fear, betrayal, suffering, pain, trauma’ into our stories. We integrate the place where the suffering began, with who we have become. We take the power of who we are now and lend it to the part of ourselves that was most powerless.

And in that meeting, something magical happens.

I want to create the perfect environment for this meeting and so I’ve created a transformational live event in Sydney from 18-22 March 2019. It’s the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough for 20 people who are ready to write into these stories.

Please come join me.

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Yep, you know what I mean. Just stopped. Did nothing.

If you’d asked me this question during the past 18 months while I worked 14 hour days, 7 days a week, it would have baffled me. I love hard work. I’ve got what we call ‘zeitzvleis’ – ‘sitting-flesh’ – I can do crazy hours, concentrate fiendishly, juggle a thousand tasks and still get to 6am yoga. Except that it’s not sustainable, and really nothing to get cocky about. In this state, yoga is just another thing to do on a never-ending ‘to-do’ list. Without leisure time, catch-ups with friends, and slowing down, you get a pain in the arse (literally) from sitting in front of a computer for days on end, you’re awake at 3am checking emails and burn-out is inevitable.

So over April and May, I took myself off to a writing retreat in Italy where I was the student and didn’t have to offer a single word of advice or insight to anyone. I let myself be fed, looked after and nurtured. I had intended to write 20 000 words of my new book which my German publisher has commissioned, but after the first day in Italy, I realised, more than anything, that what I needed to do was: STOP.

Each afternoon, after our workshops and leisurely lunches of buffalo mozzarella, gazpacho, crusty bread and stuffed artichokes, I lay at the pool and I let the Tuscan sun feel me up. I skinny-dipped. I drank Aperol spritzes. I stretched like a cat. I played with a puppy called Dante.

I got space. I did not check email or Facebook. I let myself squander hours by staring into the distance until the distance stared back at me.

 

After that blissful week, I met my husband Zed in Florence and for 8 days, we travelled to Bologna, Lake Como and Milan before going to South Africa to see our families. We left the teenagers at home in charge of keeping the cats and bonsai alive. Other than a few campervan trips, he and I have never travelled together before. I worried he’d be the kind of traveller who wants to go to every museum, when all I want to do is sit in cafes and watch people. I feared he’d want to do touristy things when what interests me is what’s on the menu. He did insist on going to see David in all his marbled glory, but that aside, it turns out, we still really, really, really like each other. It may have even gotten a little romantic. And after 22 years together, do you get how bloody miraculous that is?

What I got, more than anything is that it’s only when you stop that you feel the velocity of the pace you’ve been going at, to quote my wise friend Ilze. And while that is what was needed for my business in its infancy, it’s a recipe for the kind of imbalance that leads to unhappiness. You have to stop. Regularly.

For seven weeks, I disconnected from all demands, requests for my time, energy and emotional input and I have put it all back into myself. During this time, I realised I have not been sleeping properly for 18 months. I have not been meditating. I realised that if I don’t really take care of myself, I cannot possibly take care of anyone else – uh, duh.

What happens when you stop, is that you remember who you are, what you love, why you are doing what you’re doing. You get to reset your barometer, get back into your body, drink enough water, exercise, breathe and bring your best back to the world, not from a space of scarcity, but fulsome wholeness.

The Japanese notion of ‘Ma’ or ‘Space’ is about giving ourselves the pauses between being ‘on’ to switch off. I now feel ready to reconnect with everyone because I have filled my own wells.

I have returned to my work, re-energized with so many exciting new plans for the rest of 2018-2019 and not one, but three writing retreats/workshop/conferences we’ll be opening applications for soon (in Sydney, Bali and Italy). For further details, just email us [email protected] as places will be limited.

Later in the year, we’ll encourage anyone who did not take part in or did not complete the 7 Day Free Writing Challenge online to do or redo it. I’ve also been hard at work designing the Author Potential Assessment – a tool which offers insight into where you are strong as a writer and where you need support.

Finally, if you are travelling at velocity and have not stopped in a while, I encourage you to find an island of time in which you can be nobody, go nowhere, do nothing, be ordinary, unexciting, uninspiring, unmotivated and even slovenly.

Please reach out to my team if there is anything we can do to help you on your writing journey.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

So I started doing business courses. I started thinking of writing as a business. I learned the basics of pitching, marketing, connecting with your audience, offering yourself in service to others, and I had a major breakthrough. I realised that ‘being an author’, much as it’s a great ego-inflator (as if we need more ego in the world), did not bring me a sense of deep abiding satisfaction about my ‘work in the world.’ On the odd occasion, a beautiful email from a reader would bring me to tears, but the isolation of the writing, the lack of financial security and the endless jealousy I felt towards other more successful authors who won prizes or were invited to writers festivals when I was overlooked (something authors never speak about), made me not like myself a fair bit of the time.

I found that the more I mentored others, and offered what I know in service to people who want to write their stories, the happier I became. In fact, taking people on writing retreats where it is all about them and not about me – makes me about as happy as I can be. So I started trusting that. That the era of my ego had passed (finally) and my work is about service to others (a comfortable place for someone with 9 out of 12 planets in Virgo).

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These are excerpts from my diary in 2001, four years before my first novel The Dreamcloth was published.

Who are you to write 1 | Joanne FedlerWho are you to write 2 | Joanne Fedler

Some years ago, I decided it was time to learn how to swim properly. I mean, I’d had swimming lessons as a kid, but stopped as soon as there was no danger I’d drown if someone threw me into a swimming pool. So I signed up through a community college and over the course of a summer, had some lessons with a lovely swimming coach who taught me ‘stroke correction.’ He showed me how to position my elbows, keep my fingers slightly apart and helpfully suggested I try breathing whenever I feel like it and not every third stroke. After a few lessons with him, the water became a much friendlier place. But one day, he told me that he can only take his students so far.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked (I had paid for a full ten lessons and wanted to be taken all the way).

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Likewise, when people come on my writing retreats, I can teach them the craft of writing fascinating characters, and how to use setting to expand the theme, and how to think about emotional pace and point of view. But I cannot teach them to claim the magic – the magic of ‘I can.’ It doesn’t matter how many writing courses you take, how many workshops or retreats you attend – no-one can give this to you. It’s yours to own. I cannot show anyone how to believe that what they have to say matters. That, I’m afraid is an inside job.

As writers, we learn to trust the process. And in the process we learn to trust ourselves. When those two places of trust finally meet, a writer is born and the universe opens to meet her.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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