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
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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

My New Xeric Garden in Southern Colorado

nice garden scene at comanche drive

Now on to my favorite pastime, where you can find me every morning bright and early, my rock garden outside my door! I know, it isn’t much to look at this time of year, but my new plants are just getting established, some last spring and some this year.

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Some plants came back with enthusiasm! I have found that Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon Strictus) never bloom the first year they are planted, but all three of them are blooming this year!

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And this one I forgot all about, but it is sure happy in my garden this year! Knautia macedonica

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Look at my pussy toes! They will be blooming very soon I’m sure!

I haven’t had many problems this year with rabbits or other animals chowing down on my plants. I try to choose the ones the animals don’t like, but I just learned how much they like Yarrow!

Portulaca Mix

I learned the hard way my first summer out here that they LOVE tender, well-watered Portulacas! Perfect rabbit salad! These are the only “annuals” I buy every year. Sometimes they do re-seed themselves in their own pot. Now I keep them up on a shelf away from all hungry critters.

garden scene outside my bedroom door

THE VIEW OUT OF MY BEDROOM LAST SUMMER…

I’ve also had great success with Blue Mist Spirea bushes, Jupiter’s Beard, Lavender, most sedums, Gallardia, and I’m working on establishing a few Walker’s Low Nepeta (Catmint) for their lovely purple color in the spring.  Nice to see a few native plant volunteers too! We plan to add hardscaping this summer. It should look wonderful in just a couple more years… That’s the way with new gardens, patience is key! The main problem we have here is the drying wind. I like what Merrilee over at Perennial Favorites said about that: “We hate the wind, but the plants really don’t mind.”

Health consequences I wish I had known about when I was younger…

Dad Laura Diane and John small January 1961

MY DAD WITH US KIDS ON AN OUTING IN IOWA AROUND 1960

Back when I was a kid in the 1950s and 60s, so many well known facts about health consequences were not common knowledge. For example, we didn’t even think about providing sunglasses to children, and I don’t remember ever hearing of anything called sun screen.  We used suntan lotion instead to increase the sun damage! Good thinking, huh? I had a friend in high school who skipped school at the hottest part of the day just to really burn her skin.

Even in my late teens, when I was fortunate enough to spend a few months in southern Thailand, I used no sun screen. Today I have plenty of sun damage on my face, neck and chest to show for my bad judgment back then. And guess what? Sun damage is so obvious and UGLY as you age, not to mention so many wrinkles! I also damaged the retina at the back of one eye by having light colored eyes and not protecting them better. Now I have to wear dark sunglasses or I get headaches.

Another painful consequence for me, one I’m just beginning to realize in the past few years is shoulder, elbow and hand damage from overuse of my right arm. Sure, I know so much computer use in the past forty years hasn’t helped a bit, but I can highly recommend to those younger than me to not over use one side of your body. My left side seems brand new while my right arm, hip and knee complain constantly. Start to raise awareness right now how much you may depend on one side of your body for everything, and switch it up as soon as you can! Don’t wait until it hurts to use your right arm to realize you also have a left arm.

Something many boomers are realizing too late is how important good posture is while sitting and especially driving. Those who drive for a living in various careers can and do get stuck in one position for life. Notice how you sit and move even if it seems unconscious. Start doing stretches every day to combat being stuck in certain postures. Yoga is a great start to maintain spinal and upper body flexibility. Don’t wait. Do it NOW.

We also had no routine screenings for diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer when I was young. My Mom had to find her own breast lump in her thirties and for that reason she is still with us today. Mike’s Mom didn’t know about colon cancer and died at age 53. Do those screenings on a regular basis. They save thousands of lives every year.

I learned a little too late how to protect my brain properly. I realize now I am not alone in the bike accident department, especially past age 50. Balance and head injuries are not the same past age 50. If I had hit concrete instead of dirt headfirst back in 2008, I wouldn’t be here today. As it is, I was unconscious for hours afterward and don’t remember most of it. Today I live with extra brain challenges every single day because of one stupid mistake. Writing is one of the ways I meet these challenges.

mediterranean diet foods

And as crazy as it might seem, something I didn’t know when I was young, food truly is your best medicine. If you start out eating a wide variety of natural foods from birth instead of processed junk, you will thank yourself decades later. It is actually difficult to overeat real foods like eggs, dairy, nuts, lean meat, vegetables and fruit. Learn how to listen to your body and you will be less likely to stress eat instead of eating only when actually hungry.

Learn to love a few different types of exercise and do them for the rest of your life. Walking always makes me feel better mentally and physically. Gardening also keeps me active and happy. Find your favorite activities and keep improving every day of your life.

Making friends in small towns

A new friend has been through hell lately adjusting to the many strange things that go on when you move to a small town. That is not to say that you don’t also meet plenty of strange ones in cities too, but I have come to think there is something unique about moving to a town under population 1,000 where many people also come and go with the seasons.

My friend got stuck in the middle of lots of confusion and negativity which resulted in bad feelings. In talking with her about all of that, I began to recall how many beginner friendships I had in my first two years here, most of which ended quickly. So I decided to make a list and ended up with well over twenty individuals or couples where some sort of friendship began and then either went nowhere or worse.

I basically met no one worth being friends with for about two years here. Either they weren’t friendly at first, our politics were too far apart, we had nothing in common, or they started out friendly enough, but then went unfriendly fast. What I have found is that La Veta is not so much a close knit community as one with a few main cliches, where few are truly friendly when you’re new here.

A few said they were just waiting for us to leave after a year or two. Four years later that is not happening! Luckily there are enough decent people to go around, so who cares about the rest?

Friends help friends PandasWhen my friend started lamenting her recent bad experiences with new friends, I told her that I always approach this topic with the certainty that I am a great person to have as a friend, but I needed to learn how to be pretty selective here. A friend is someone who improves the life of someone they care about. Mike and I live by that code. Once we are friends with someone we will help them improve their lives in any way we can. I make an extra effort through this blog and my book about this area, to reach out to those just moving here for the first time. I call that being neighborly.

Good friendships take time. There will always be a period of  adjustment and testing in the beginning. I have found I do best with those with a similar education and background. Jealousy kills friendships. Most people here are quite nice, but I must keep in mind that some moved here to avoid relationships altogether.

A Study of Vigilance in Rural Colorado

Vigilance: the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties. Synonyms: alertness, attentiveness, watchfulness

As a psychologist, my natural tendency is to observe changes in my own and others’ behavior. By living in cities for most of my life, and then moving outside of even the smallest town recently, I have had a marvelous opportunity to observe how my consciousness has changed. One area I find particularly interesting is my level of vigilance.

This is a state which most are not conscious of, because it can often be barely felt on a conscious level. Simple thoughts like “Are my doors locked?” “Do I feel safe now?” and “Am I safe?” can come up constantly. I became much more aware of these feelings after moving away from cities. In this way I discovered that we all experience varying degrees of safety in any environment.

I see now that while living in cities I felt the need to be constantly vigilant. Especially living as a single woman there, I was always quite aware of locking my doors, noticing strange sounds or things going on around my home, etc. Cities offer such a tight concentration of people everywhere, with traffic, lines at the store, etc. They seem to require a heightened level of vigilance at all times.

Sunflowers on a county road

MY COMMUTE TO TOWN

However, I didn’t become aware of my city-inspired heighten state of vigilance until I tried living away from others. When I first moved out into the country I felt isolated and concerned about that sense of isolation. How would I make new friends? What about emergencies?

But in less than a year or so those fears turned into a new sense of security and safety. We live among others who have three to six acres of land, and most keep completely to themselves. In this new setting I found that I needed to train myself how to mellow out. I was still hyper-vigilant, a trait that no longer served me.

Each year I live here, my level of deep security and relaxation increases along with my level of introversion. Some might see this as a bad thing, but I must say it feels really good to feel truly safe for the first time in decades, both in my home and in my life.

Should a seeker not find a companion who is better or equal, let him resolutely pursue a solitary path. There is no companionship with a fool.  – The Dhammapada

 

Earth Day in the USA: Love Your Mother

earth day

On January 28, 1969, a well drilled by Union Oil Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew out. More than three million gallons of oil spewed, killing over 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. As a reaction to this natural disaster, activists were mobilized to create environmental regulation, environmental education, and Earth Day. Among the proponents of Earth Day were the people in the front lines of fighting this disaster, Selma Rubin, Marc McGinnes, and Bud Bottoms, founder of Get Oil Out.

Earth Day 1970

The first Earth Day celebrations took place in 1970 at two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States. It also brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform. It now is observed in 192 countries, and coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network, chaired by the first Earth Day 1970 organizer Denis Hayes, according to whom Earth Day is now “the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year.” Environmental groups seek to make Earth Day into a day of action to change human behavior and provoke policy changes.

Why Earth Day Today?

Because the earth needs us now more than ever! And since we’re fresh out of other planets to live on, now is as good a time as ever to do everything we can to preserve the miracle of this green and blue planet. Go solar! Use wind power. Change old habits that hurt the earth. You could probably name ten things today that would benefit Mother Earth immediately. Do it instead of just thinking about it!

big earth

What does the future hold? It’s all up to us!