I feel like the mid-life crisis is about asking this question: After so many years on earth and so many experiences, “Who am I?”
That question became particularly relevant when I was filling out health paperwork at a nutritionist/chiropractor recently. Several questions that would have been simple yes/no questions 20 years ago suddenly call my entire identity to account. I have lived several lifetimes in my 47 years, been several people with several different health habits. From total sloth to disciplined food monitor to triathlete. Which one am I right now?! And as I sit there in this doctors office, with the intention of looking at my diet more closely in an attempt to improve my health, the whole point is I am working on my overall health. So do the changes I have made in the last few weeks count as I define my answers or do they want to know the me I am trying to overcome? Who am I?
“Do you drink alcohol?” Well, in my 20’s the answer would have been a simple no. Then in my 30’s the answer was about once a month. A couple months ago the answer might have been 2 drinks a night but the past month has brought me down to once or twice a week or two. Which answer is the right answer? Who am I? Are they looking for the answer that will explain what is happening in my body right now or the answer to what I am doing right now to improve my health? And after being such a non-drinker for so many years of my life I still mentally define myself as a non-drinker but being forced to look at the question makes me feel like I don’t know myself at all! Who am I?
“Do you exercise?” Um, yes? Maybe? In theory? At times? Again, in my 20’s I might have lied and said I occasionally exercised. It wouldn’t have been a total lie but considering my daily intentions I did not exercise. Then in my 30’s I decided to become Forest Gump and just ran out my back door one day. It didn’t turn into a cross country trek but I have considered myself a runner ever since. I even added weight lifting and a triathlon at one point. Usually even when I am not running I am on my way back to running. I just run more sometimes and less other times. Winter really slows me down. Except this past year when I am not sure I was still a runner and my body was falling apart and I was drinking 1-2 drinks a day, eating everything and gaining weight. But now I am running again. Or at least I have run 3 times in the last couple weeks and gone on a couple vigorous walks. But I would not say it defines my health at this moment. I would say those 3 runs have been more like an opportunity to put a point on how out of shape and unhealthy I have become in the last year. So am I still a runner? Do I even exercise right now? In my mind I exercise, I am fit and healthy. But once again this question is challenging my understanding of myself. Who am I?
Family health history? 20 years ago my parents were my age. They had not yet started to have health issues. And I didn’t really know my grandparents health issues. So I generally checked the none box. Now my dad is a hot mess of medical mysteries and not so mysteries. And really, is that my future? Am I destine to become my dad? What does my health have to do with my dad’s health? He is unhealthy, I am healthy. Am I really forced to be defined by my dad’s health? Isn’t he the whole reason why I do attempt to maintain some sort of healthy lifestyle? Who am I?
Tired? Um, hello, I am 47 years old, have a teenager, homeschool and work full time. Of course I am tired?! Am I more tired than a normal person with my schedule? More tired than I have been in the past? Am I normal tired or abnormal tired? Who has time to analyze their level of tired? In my mind I am still perky and full of energy. Does that count? Who am I?
Regular periods? Sigh. Yes. When will this answer change?! The one stable thing in my life is the one thing I have so desperately wanted to change for various reasons over the years. It holds me hostage while every other part of my life spins me around. When will this cease to define me?
I realized as I was contemplating my life after the appointment, where she basically told me a bunch of stuff I already knew but apparently needed to spend $160 to motivate myself to take the action I already knew I needed to take, the challenge of your 40’s is that you have been so many people, gone so many places, seen so many sights, done so many things, you don’t know which one is authentically you anymore. Who you are is no longer simple.
When you are in your 20’s who you are is simple because you have just started your life. You went to school, you have a job, you are dating, you drive a red car, you played soccer in high school, whatever. Maybe you had a challenge or two as a kid but your brain wasn’t developed enough to fully understand. Your parents did most of the processing for you and helped you find the right corner of your mind to put the experience so you could move forward. You think you know everything because your definition of everything is very small and knowable. But now, at 47, I know I know nothing because I have discovered everything is infinite and vast and completely unknowable.
Who I am is no longer definable with a few yes/no answers. I am a mixture of things, my knowledge and experiences go far beyond what I am doing and the choices I am making right now. I am a conglomeration of things. I am healthy and unhealthy, I drink and don’t drink, I run and I Netflix binge. I am dairy free except when I decide DQ and Pizza are more important. I have doubts and insecurities but I have overcome and been brave. I have more questions but I also have more answers. I am still naive and innocent but with complicated and sometimes painful experiences that give me a depth and empathy I lacked in my youth.
It can be overwhelming to define yourself in your 40’s and I am sure it doesn’t get easier going forward, but I love who I am. I love the mixture of experiences, choices and trials that have made up my life and created my unique being.
But please, don’t ask me to explain all that in a health questionnaire.