Ready For Your Great Midlife Unravel?

May 28, 2022

Ready For Your Great Midlife Unravel?

May 29, 2023

Brené Brown wrote a blog post four years ago about "The Midlife Unraveling." She wrote:

“In my late thirties, my intuition had tried to warn me about the possibility of a midlife struggle. I experienced internal rumblings about the meaning and purpose of my life. I was incredibly busy proving myself in all of my different roles (mother, professor, researcher, writer, friend, sister, daughter, wife), so much so that it was difficult for any emotion other than fear to grab my attention. However, I do remember flashes of wondering if I’d always be too afraid to let myself be truly seen and known.”

Brené says that she was triggered by the term “midlife crisis” because it felt so full of self-pity, but as she entered her midlife, she came to see this stage of life as an “unraveling.”

“By definition, you can’t control or manage an unraveling. You can’t cure the midlife unraveling with control any more than the acquisitions, accomplishments, and alpha-parenting of our thirties cured our deep longing for permission to slow down and be imperfect.”


I think it’s important to unravel this word “unravel.” My initial reaction to hearing the word was, “ooh, I don’t want that to happen to me.” It sounds like something is falling apart. Me! The more I thought about it, the more the word made sense. Between 45 and 50, I felt like a failure on so many levels. My long-term relationship was ending. My company was falling apart due to the Great Recession. My adult foster son was wrongfully going to prison. Some of my best friends were choosing suicide over living. My health was failing. My life was one big unraveling.

“Slightly wounded and tightly wound” was how I described myself to a long-time friend, just a couple of weeks before I had an NDE (Near Death Experience) at age 47. I don’t think getting a massage a day would have released the tension in my shoulders and neck. I felt like the hunchback of San Francisco, and not just in my physical body. My self-esteem was so knotted up and tangled with the way others perceived me that it took me having to die nine times over ninety minutes for me to surrender to my Great Midlife Unravel.

Within two years of my NDA, I’d sold my company, ended my problematic romantic partnership, gotten my foster son exonerated and freed from prison, and realized that my own suicide ideation was based on my own prison, the prison of my own constricting identities.

From age 50-to 52, I started to create space in my life to see what would emerge. I wrote a book on my backyard hammock while often listening to Rickie Lee Jones in my earphones. I also started studying and experiencing the world of festivals. I slowly became curious and excited about my future. Having released myself from my self-imposed prison, I began engaging in life with new freedom.

Brené goes on to write the following in her post:

Midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear: I’m not screwing around. All of this pretending and performing—these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt—has to go. Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy and lovable, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever. Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through your veins. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.


If you look at each midlife “event” as a random, stand-alone struggle, you might be lured into believing you’re only up against a small constellation of ‘crises.’ The truth is that the midlife unraveling is a series of painful nudges strung together by low-grade anxiety and depression, quiet desperation, and an insidious loss of control. By low-grade, quiet, and insidious, I mean it’s enough to make you crazy, but seldom enough for people on the outside to validate the struggle or offer you help and respite. It’s the dangerous kind of suffering—the kind that allows you to pretend that everything is OK.”


Ultimately, midlife is not about the fear of death, as some academics suggest; it’s about the fear of not truly living, summed up so eloquently by the poet Mary Oliver when she asked, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Yes, your midlife edit (your unraveling) can be tricky and challenging, and it requires a healthy dose of support and love from those around you. Fortunately, love and helping hands are everywhere.

And on the other side of the struggle, there is also a spaciousness and freedom that comes when you allow yourself to unravel into something larger—a beautiful version of yourself that you might never have imagined.

What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

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