“We women in our late 40s need a scapegoat,” my doctor, who is the same age, said, “and hormones are usually a viable option.”
I wasn’t prepared to hear my doctor use the term “scapegoat.” That’s a term usually reserved for my psychology and religious circles, where abuse is often the topic. But she knows I’m a therapist, so maybe her use of it was intentional because she knew that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I was looking for an answer, a confirmation, an “Aha! Now-that-we-know-we-can-finally-fix-this” moment from her. But she didn’t give it to me.
I’ve been on a year-long quest to get to the bottom of my brain fog. I have lived most of my life with the mental acuity of a cheetah on the hunt, so to say I was a bit panicked at the onset of cognition issues is putting it lightly. I sat in my doctor’s office explaining my distress. I stated that I must be growing a tumor or experiencing early onset dementia and insisted she order an MRI of my brain. She caringly and graciously obliged and ordered a full blood work up as well.
Everything came back as normal as could be, and I was left to face the reality: that at the end of the pandemic, which was a season full of abrupt endings, challenging transitions, and the death of my mother, I was dealing with burnout, PTSD, and depression. I upped my sessions with my therapist, took a ten-week medical leave, and acknowledged a whole bunch of things I did not like: I am human, I have limitations, I have needs, and they are not signs of weakness. I practiced expressing my needs, receiving care, and building sustainable resources of support around me.
And I hated every minute of it.
I have lived long enough to know that what was in front of me was an invitation to a paradigm shift to settle into a life of peace and ease—something I have never known. But I was not happy about it. It did not line up with the goals I had for my life and the drive I had, wanting to make up for all that was stolen during my growing up and married years.
For this woman who lived liked she was on fire for over four decades, it was an existential crisis.
I had no capacity or imagination for what peace and ease might feel like. I wondered, “Does this mean I am officially turning into an old person who’s going to start walking slow and watch Jeopardy every night? I can’t do that!” I felt fear and dread at the thought of slowing down and letting go of the fire in my belly that has been my friend since birth.
But that fire came with a high cost. And what I had to accept was that the fire wasn’t actually fire but “survival,” and it was time to let it go.
Both my doctor and my therapist gently asked me at the beginning of what I like to call my “mid-life meltdown” if I wanted to try medicine to deal with the depression. I reached for my favorite defense in response to their ridiculous offer—denial—and told them both, “No, thank you. I’m not depressed.” They didn’t push.
But they were right. And after a few weeks, I started to accept what was true: my body—my physical state—after years of living in survival mode could no longer do it. My body was correcting by going flat and depressed to get my attention. (What a good and wise body I have!) I began to see that my burnout wasn’t failure but a witness to the cost of the life I’ve lived; moreover, it was a gift to enter a more sustainable way of living if I would only lean into the discomfort and let it teach me.
I am still addressing what it means to live with more peace and ease, and somehow, by the grace of God, I have begun to see the beauty of living a more paced life. I am still learning to accept my limitations and what it means to grow older as a woman in a world that does not honor feminine aging well. I do walk just a tiny bit slower these days, but I don’t watch Jeopardy.
My mental acuity has not returned to pre-meltdown levels, yet I suspect this is partly related to hormones given my age. My doctor keeps me grounded and focused on a holistic approach by reminding me at return visits I can’t scapegoat my hormones, which is good, because left on my own, I would return to demanding I find a way back to my younger, sharper survival mind. With her guidance, and the other resources of support around me, I am learning to lean into the wisdom of my body—my feminine knowing—and open my arms to what this next season of life has for me.
Yvette Stone is a complicated human, both being and doing. A former magazine publisher, Yvette changed careers midlife and now practices as a trauma-informed psychotherapist in Seattle, Washington, specializing in helping women recover from domestic violence, particularly narcissistic abuse. Yvette earned her degree from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, is a Fellow at the Allender Center, and an advocate with Northwest Family Life. In her free time, you can find her holding one-sided conversations with her dogs, doing some sort of intense workout, painting a portrait, reveling in paradox, or dreaming of her next great challenge. You can find her online at www.yvettestone.com