Denial: The most human of flaws

As a lifelong student of human behavior, I now find denial to be the most ubiquitous and powerful trait known to us all. The best therapist I ever met told me,

“People can get used to anything, if they can get used to schizophrenia.”

I would only add, we do seem to specialize in getting used to emotional problems instead of doing what we can to change them. It surprises me when I see someone suffering from deep emotional challenges and yet making no effort to do anything about it. To some it must seem natural to live with emotional discomfort, feel self-critical of ourselves and yet never seek out professional help to change. Speaking from experience, this tendency literally ruins lives, because unresolved emotions lead to self criticism, unhappiness in relationships, destructive addictive habits, and reduced productivity.

the truth Buddha

Most don’t seek help for debilitating denial issues and feelings because we are also in denial that these parts of our emotional makeup can change. Our main concern may be the fear that we aren’t up to the challenge of breaking addictive cycles, ending self-abuse and the habit of choosing toxic relationships, or the simple certainty that these things can never change. So what do we do? We get comfortable with the familiar and yet frustrating habits we were raised with.

For many (including myself) our lives will continue to go gradually downhill until that final crisis that says with absolute certainty: “Things must change NOW!” Confronting that moment with self-honesty and self-responsibility is the end of denial. And once the walls of denial start to tumble, the denials underneath those denials all must go.

the-truth-will-set-you-free-but-first-it-will-piss-you-off

Admitting exactly how miserable you are is always the first step. Finding the best solutions unique to your own needs comes next.

Yes, I know how disturbing it can be to see your lovely set of life rules and plans based on absolutely nothing but denial fall to ashes before your eyes. Then you know it’s time to start from scratch, but not really. If this happens in midlife, as it did for me, you will find that you have amazing amounts of resilience,  life experience, intuition and deep inner wisdom to fall back on.

Letting go of that old, worn out crap your entire life was based on and hitching your future dreams to the power of the new you, following your heart for perhaps the first time ever, now that is powerful and exhilarating! Don’t miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity to have it all.

Hang on, it all changes!

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Why are there so many midlife suicides?

As an well-informed boomer and specialist in midlife psychology, I have been trying to draw attention by writing about and publishing pieces on the ALARMING increase in depression and suicide among Boomers, especially among women going through menopause,  since 2008.

DEATH NEED NOT BE AN OUTCOME OF MENTAL ILLNESS IN OUR WORLD TODAY! WE CAN DO SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS…

In 2013,  when my cousin killed himself and my brother John disappeared after descending into a profound, private despair, I dedicated my book: Find Your Reason To Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife, to themas I continued to seek a deeper understanding of the reasons why midlife suicides keep rising. Here’s an excerpt from one of those pieces from the Huffington Post, April 2013:

Why is Boomer Suicide on the Rise?

There have been a number of studies on boomer suicide that seek to explain why we continue to kill ourselves at an ever-increasing rate. Some say it is the period effect,” blaming the historical and cultural experiences we share as a generation. The “cohort effect“ theorizes that being born into the largest age cohort in American history created unbearable competition for limited resources, including jobs.

Then there are the facts: Boomers share higher depression and substance abuse rates than any previous American generation. Could it be that we did not face the kind of adversity growing up that creates successful coping skills? Were we raised to be too optimistic, and now find we cannot deal with how it all turned out?

Beyond all of the mythology around boomers, the fact is we now face extreme wage inequality, and the highest level of poverty since the generation born before World War I. We also face ever-increasing personal debt. In 1965, the ratio of household debt to income was 60%. In 2012, that ratio had risen to 163%.

We may have been born at the high point of American optimism, but that has vanished…

Some say Boomers have been witnesses to the death of the American dream. Most of us grew up with high expectations for our lives, but now, as we reassess where we’ve been and where we hope to go, we must admit, this is as good as it gets. We will never be richer or younger than we are right now.

I only know that I tire of so much misinformation about boomers and their lives. I have had enough personal experience with midlife depression to now feel determined to do what I can to alleviate some of the suffering, and this terrible waste of human potential.

Globally, about a million people kill themselves each year, the single largest cause of violent death. It remains mysterious and debilitating for those who surround every suicide and ask the question: What made him/her do it?

Laura small for blogThrough my research, I have learned just how normal and natural it is to feel depressed and disillusioned in our 40s and 50s as we discover that our lives may not turn out as previously planned. What is the best way to cope with these feelings of hopelessness? I share what I have learned in my ten years of research, and what has worked for me, in my books about boomer psychology, midlife despair and how to change your midlife for the better.

Please follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/midlifequeen
Laura Lee Carter, Midlife researcher, author, psychotherapist

Retirement in rural southern Colorado: If you don’t take the risk, how will you ever know?

Four years ago, on June 17th, Mike and I sold our nice home in suburbia and left behind everything familiar to us. After living up in the Fort Collins area for the past few decades, this move felt like a gigantic leap of faith.

906 Deer Creek Lane front view

Here’s a photo of our past home in south Fort Collins. In the past four years it has increased in value more than $100,000! Wow, the prices of homes up in metroland are growing by leaps and bounds!

morning sun on comanche drive

After over a year of emotional and financial struggle, we triumphed over a million difficult challenges to create this passive solar home west of Walsenburg Colorado. We have been quite happy living here for the past few years. Retirement agrees with us, and especially in such a quiet, natural part of the West. BTW, passive solar works great down here!

Most of my worries about moving here never came to pass, and other completely unexpected problems replaced those. The biggest challenges for me have been health-related. My body made a quick decision to start falling apart soon after age 60, creating new opportunities for compassion towards others who suffer. And the truth is, I have met so many here who have been forced to retire early because of health concerns and disabilities.

great Mike photo of snow and Spanish Peaks

Huerfano, meaning orphan, is a poor, rural county down near the New Mexico border, with a total population of around 6,500 and an average age of 54 years. With few good jobs and an abundance of natural beauty, the Huerfano attracts those with less money and more appreciation of rugged country and rural life. We live on three acres in the Pinon-Juniper ecosystem right around 7,000 feet elevation.

Judging by the rapid increase in traffic in Walsenburg, the many homes sold here in the past few years, and how crazy Highway 160 has become in the summer, it looks like this area has been “discovered” by those living up north in metroland.

AMAZING sunrise over the Spanish Peaks January 2018

We have found this area to be slow and quiet, especially in the winter, and windy as hell. If you hate the wind, don’t move here! The slow country ways are what now attract me. I can go into La Veta and always see people I know. I like that.

Laura and Rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

Laura Lee Carter is a professional photographer, writer and psychotherapist. Her midlife crisis included a divorce and the loss of her career as an academic librarian, misfortunes she now finds supremely fortuitous, as everything wonderful flowed from these challenges. Laura now sees midlife difficulties as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for personal liberation. She has produced four books and one workbook on personal change, midlife psychology and how country living changes you.

Don’t miss her new one: A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado

Why take major risks in midlife?

Mike at home

Mike woke up one day after we moved in, went straight outside and did this!

I met a nice couple who just moved in below us on Tuesday. They are like us, newlyweds in their 60s from the metro area up north. They came by to explore their new neighborhood, although in our case the homes are pretty far apart. I showed them my memoir about the tough process we went through when we first got here and they bought one.

Then I started reading my memoir again. How time flies! It’s been almost four years now since we plopped ourselves down in Walsenburg, and started building west of town. And yes, an author can actually forget what they wrote a few years ago.

Although certainly imperfect, this book is an honest and funny account of my experiences in a part of our country which at first felt a bit like a foreign land. Building here was fraught with major challenges. In case you don’t know, one definition of fraught is: “causing great anxiety or stress.”

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you now imagine.  – Thoreau

Why did we do it? Here’s a short essay from my book that explains everything:

The American Dream In Progress  –   March 6, 2015

I am surprised how much interest there is in building solar in rural America. My views on this blog have increased dramatically recently, and that includes views from all over the world.

But then I got to thinking, and realized the dream we are presently pursuing is the most fundamental of all. The immigrants who risked everything to come to America did so just to be able to purchase their own land and build a new life here. Having your own piece of land is, in a sense, what this country is all about.

Mike on old tree up at build site 2014

Mike on an ancient cedar before we had to cut it down!

This realization makes me very happy and proud. My husband Mike has held this dream for most of his life. Building a passive solar home has been his primary goal since he was a teenager. Now we almost have our home completed, and in spite of the many unexpected difficulties and inconveniences that have arisen in this process, we will soon be living the life we only dreamt of last year.

Hold on to your dreams! Don’t give up when those dreams require taking risks that scare you. Don’t let others talk you out of your most important goals. You have the needed vision to live your dream.

“The person who says it cannot be done, should not interrupt the person doing it.” –  Chinese proverb 

Do YOU have what it takes to follow your dreams? Check out my memoir…  and please follow me on Twitter!

Now that I’ve gotten used to being ‘old’…

An elder friend told me years ago, ‘old’ is always ten years older than you are right now! Actually, I still do struggle with the apparent fact that I am now 63 years old. In my mind people in their sixties are like my grandparents. They are retired, checked out of the work world. I barely remember my grandparents before they retired. I mostly remember them as elderly folks who hung out a lot watching TV. This all reminds me of how different and out of it I must seem to kids today.

I’m beginning to think I’m the last person on planet earth who has never owned a “smart” phone and never really needed one.

I still communicate with my friends through e-mail to set up dates, etc. It works and does not add all those additional monthly expenses for mobile phones. I suppose my thrifty nature has made it possible for us to retire early… But then you do run into the whole, “What do you do with your life now?” question.

First of all, anything would be better than my life back in 2004 when I lost my last job. I was driving a hour each way to Denver to work at Regis University Libraries. I swear I’m still suffering from back and shoulder pain from that daily trek down I-25 to a job I hated, with people who apparently hated me. After six years I got fired in a way that felt like the end of life itself.

That turned out to be the best thing ever! Yes, my life since then has been the perfect example of this Chinese parable from 2,000 years ago:

A Chinese farmer gets a beautiful horse, but it soon runs away. A neighbor says, “That’s bad!” The farmer replies, “Good news, bad news, who can say?”

The horse comes back and brings another horse with him. Good news, you might say. 

The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who rides it, but is then thrown and breaks his leg.

“So sorry for your bad news,” says the concerned neighbor. “Good news, bad news, who can say?” the farmer replies.

In a week or so, the emperor’s men come and take every able-bodied young man to fight in a war. The farmer’s son is spared...

Proving once again that nothing is as it seems at the time. From my first (and ONLY!) firing as a professional librarian at age 49, I learned that it’s best not to get too hung up on what happened today. Even something that seems like the worst EVER can turn out to be a hidden opportunity to improve your life!

320 W. 2nd St. Walsenburg

Our Walsenburg rental, an 100-year-old miner’s home!

My best example of this is four years ago when we moved down here to build solar in the foothills. When we first got here I was not certain this was such a great idea. Moving from an up-and-coming city like Fort Collins to a poor, quiet, rundown town like Walsenburg left me thinking,

“Is this a bad thing? Have I lost my mind?”

Laura and Rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

But resilience and patience got us through the difficult adjustment and building stage, and today I am supremely happy to be here now.

Lesson to Myself: Allow LOTS of time for personal adjustment around major life changes.

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One new hobby I took up after moving here, photography!

And yes, we do find excellent ways to spend our days, even in retirement. We have learned to enjoy a much slower pace with lots of time to just be. I have also learned how to truly live in the present.

If you can find a better way to live your life, go for it!

“There’s nothing sweeter than falling in love with the moment we’re given, the only one we have.”  — Marcia Smalley

 

Midlife as a Chance at Rebirth

Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even difficult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up.      ~  Pema Chödrön

Find Your Reason Cover smallChanges outside of ourselves do have the power to shock us into seeking anew what is real within. They can cause us to finally see the need and find the courage to stop playing roles for others, and find complete honesty, integrity, and authenticity within. This is the time to finally find the strength to announce we can no longer be what everyone else wants or needs us to be. We could never save others, so for now we must put all of our energy into saving ourselves. We must stop being constantly other-focused, forever taking our cues from outside ourselves, and dig deep to discover what we want and need to happen in this final phase of our lives…

Since self-deception is a thing of the past, you can no longer count on that trusty outside armoring you have hidden behind for decades. Gone are the masks you felt so secure behind. As your authentic self emerges, it becomes ever more difficult to delude yourself with the illusions you have counted on for decades. They may have always worked before, but they are gone now.

Sometimes playing it safe is the most dangerous thing you can do

I was struck recently by a saying I heard in reference to horror movies:

Nothing is scarier than having no idea what is out there.

This seemed like an excellent metaphor for what can happen to us in midlife.

In the middle of our lives we may find ourselves ensconced in what seems like the safe and familiar, but somehow all of that apparent safety can begin to feel threatening. We may think: “I’ll just follow this safe route for the rest of my life. I’m too old to do anything different at this stage of the game.”

What I learned through my own experience is that sometimes playing it safe is the most dangerous thing you can do. Sure, you could stay in the same job, career, or relationship, living the same life indefinitely. That sounds safe, but is it?

Doing what you’ve always done will get you what you’ve always had. If that is all you are seeking in life, then go for it. But is there perhaps a small part of you that wants more? Is there a quiet part of your brain that begs to differ on this plan to never deviate from the safe and trusted path?

What might you be missing by playing it safe?

It is not uncommon for some life-changing event to cause us to question anew the entire plan we have laid out for our life. Maybe we aren’t even aware that we have a plan, until something screws it up. Sometimes just one more birthday can help us to reconsider our overall plan and open us up to options we never dreamed of before.

Nothing is scarier than the daunting realization that we have not even tried to live up to our full potential. Sure, we did what we were told and found some success in our endeavors. Being “good” definitely has its rewards. But do you ever spend time focused on all that you could have been and then realize that none of that will ever happen? If you are anything like me, all of those “details” can only be ignored so long.

In midlife we may realize, sometimes for the first time ever, that our time here on earth is running out. When it does, how will we feel as we look back over our lives?

The best thing about being alive today is that if or when we come to this realization and achieve this new perspective, we generally have more time to seek out the tools, the inspiration, and the necessary resources to do something about it. We can begin to plan a new and different future for ourselves, if we can find the strength and courage to dig in and live the dream!

Remember, the opposite side of the coin of fear is excitement. When was the last time you felt like anything could happen? When was the last time you allowed yourself to feel your full potential to grow and change and be all that you could be? This apparent crisis is offering you the opportunity of a lifetime. Do not miss out.

This is a brief excerpt from my book: Find Your Reason To Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife. It is only available in e-book format through Amazon. Feel free to contact me at MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com if you would like to purchase one of my last few paper copies.

 

Retirement Decisions: Urban versus Rural

Four years after our move to rural southern Colorado, I am remembering the difficulties I had making the final decision to give up city life for good. Here’s a piece I wrote five months after moving to Walsenburg and beginning construction on our new solar home:

Urban versus Rural: Decision Made!  November 23, 2014

My husband Mike and I have been in the process of transition into retirement in the past year.

320 w. 2nd St. Walsenburg July 2014

After five months living down south in a small rental in a very small town, we decided to go up north to visit family and friends this week.

What an eye-opening experience! I was absolutely SHOCKED to have this timely reminder of what life in the city feels like, and what it does to human beings.

Since we only have two stop lights in our entire new county, I had forgotten what it feels like to sit in traffic constantly. I experienced total culture shock, and Fort Collins felt like a foreign country to me.

I saw people everywhere waiting for something, a place to park, a place to sit in a restaurant, a chance to go through the next stop light, an opportunity to pay for their purchase. There was terrible traffic going through Denver in the middle of the day, constant noise, obvious air pollution we could even taste sometimes.

Do people really choose to live like this? I found city life so anxiety-producing and over-stimulating.

great Mike photo of snow and Spanish Peaks

It felt like such a relief to finally get back to tiny Walsenburg. The good news is I now know for certain that a city could never be my forever home. There is no doubt in my mind, I am so done with city life!

This essay and many more can be found in my Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Southern Colorado.