Loss, anger, confusion, isolation… these feelings are weirdly familiar.

If you’ve hit middle age, you may have noticed a few feelings that remind you of something. The hormonal mood fluctuations, the fear (often waking you up at 3am), the loss of identity, the sense of isolation and being misunderstood, the constant earworm of who-am-I-what-should-I-do-with-my-life… Yep, it’s just like being a teenager again.

When I used to work for Just Seventeen and Sugar, those mags guided teen readers through a difficult and frightening time of life. For every giggly interview with Robbie Williams or ‘Is He The Boy For You?’ quiz, there was an article overleaf about friendship problems, coping with hormones changes, tackling self-esteem issues and making the right decisions in your life. Confidence was a huge issue for the readers. Confusion about new feelings. Wanting to grab life by the horns, but just not knowing how. We didn’t need to make up the letters for the problem pages (I’m often asked about this!) – seriously, we were inundated with the worries of our teen readers on a weekly basis.

So it really struck me, when I got to the menopause, how like a confused and frightened teenager I felt. At the mercy of hormone changes. Loss of my sense of self. Clashing with family and friends over nothing. And a very strong sense of yearning for something better.

A second adolescence
No wonder they call it Middlescence. As Barbara Waxman from Next Avenue described this life phase in Forbes a few years back “You’re not young, but you certainly aren’t old. Your relationships are likely to be changing; your body is morphing in mysterious and challenging ways; you may find yourself so busy with things and people who need you that you just don’t have time to take care of yourself the way you should. You’re exhausted. You begin to wonder if it’s all downhill from here… I call this life stage between about 45 and 65 “Middlescence.” Think of it like a second adolescence. We have questions about our place in the world and are wondering about our future. Our sense of self and identity is evolving”.

The difference, of course, between the teen years and the midlife ones – apart from feeling and looking older – is responsibility. The combined pressure of meeting the needs of dependents, ageing relatives and pets (yes, they can be a pressure too!) along with work demands, paying mortgage or rent and getting food on the table leaves us with little space or time to think about ourselves and who we want to be.

The perils of doing nothing
So, when we hit Middlescence and ask: ‘What’s next for me?’ we genuinely find it hard to picture ourselves doing anything else. Realistically, how on earth would we find the time? Dreaming of an alternative future as we lie in a holiday hammock is not the same as creating that future in real time. We may long to quit the job or the country, to pursue a passion or long-shelved ambition, to downsize or travel the world in a camper van… but the thought of giving life an almighty shake-up, with the inevitable discomfort that involves, puts us off. Result: we do nothing.

But you know what happens when we do nothing? That little voice that says “I’m not happy” gets louder. We can’t ignore it because it wakes us up in the middle of the night. It makes us pick niggly fights with our nearest and dearest. It tells us we deserve a few glasses of wine on a school night to numb those unhappy feelings, only to fill us with The Fear for the whole of the next day… because here we are, still stuck, wondering why we don’t feel fulfilled when, on paper, we have done OK for ourselves.

How to get clarity
Having been through Middlescence and come out the other side in one piece, my advice is to write those “I’m not happy” feelings down. I wrote three pages every morning in a mad dash, just poured it out without editing those anxious, angry, angsty thoughts. Eventually – after about three months – I started to feel a bit clearer on what I wanted to do next, and with the help of some coaching, worked how I was going to make it happen.

And then I went for it – in 2018 co-launching, the home of mid-life reinvention. Like in my teen mag days, it was about helping people and inspiring them through a difficult life stage. With group coaching within a mega-supportive framework, Audrey is an arm round the shoulder of any woman going through Middlescence and working out how to bring about change and live the life they want alongside existing responsibilities.

What really matters
Middlescence can often be followed by a time of great rebirth, energy and empowerment. Unlike teenagers, midlife women don’t tend to worry QUITE so much about what other people think. We have a deeper awareness of what really matters in life – and what absolutely doesn’t. But we also don’t have time on our side, giving us a real sense of urgency about making this next phase of our lives happen. We think ‘If not now, when?’ knowing that if we don’t give our ambitions a darn good try, we may well end up regretting it.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost friends in their 40s and 50s, friends who never got to see what the next phase of their life would look like. Every time I lament a new line on my face the thought of them reminds me to make as much as possible of my life. Middlescence doesn’t have to be a time of misery. There is still so much joy to be had. Life can throw some curve balls our way as we get older, but we are not at their mercy. Some women find that what comes after the menopause is way better than what came before. I really hope you’re one of them.

Looking for expert advice? The Audrey Members’ Club is a whole world of support, coaching and expertise for women through self-employment, changing careers, running a business or launching one. Join us to kickstart your future, whatever that may be.