About two years ago I unwittingly stumbled upon what I now know is the cultural invisibility of women in their middle years. Clients shared about feeling overlooked at work in spite of their loyalty as an employee. Single clients and friends talked about feeling unnoticed by appropriately aged men in the vicinity of young women (boy did I relate to that one). In these situations, it is clear the keen intellect, life experience, wisdom, beauty and freedom inside of a middle-aged woman is ignored.
I’m talking about women like you and I who have lived life passionately, with heart, integrity and love; worked our way up to leadership positions in companies or run our own businesses, raised children, taken care of parents, navigated in and out of love relationships and carved out unique life paths. I was overcome by such sadness at this recognition it stupefied me and bound me up for some time. I even became invisible to myself for about eighteen months. I went radio silent on my blog, reduced social commitments, felt void of my usual passion for life and in general, isolated myself. I might as well have hung out an “Unavailable” shingle because that message was flashing in neon above my head.
See the conundrum here? When I felt invisible I became invisible. Even to myself.
I’d love to blame a big bad wolf on my disappearing act. I can’t. The responsibility lies squarely at my feet.
It began slowly. I was a little bored. I grew weary of … (fill in the blank here … my list was long!) … Doing laundry, cooking dinner, working out, showing up experiencing the same old – same old.
I ruminated on my life and the choices I’d made, wondering what might have been if I’d taken the right fork in the road instead of the left. Then my ruminating turned into nasty Saboteur driven self-recrimination for some of the choices I’d made hastily in my youth or with passion’s ardor. Then the Saboteurs howled even louder, at first lauding my early life accomplishments, then telling me I’d peaked early and that was that.
I became so invisible to myself that it didn’t even feel like anything was off about what was going on in my head.
This is just plain embarrassing! I’m a Coach for cryin’ out loud in church! I talk with women every day, supporting them to work through their ruminations.
Somewhere around the next dress size up and month nine of my invisible period, out of boredom a lot of courage was born and I decided to turn the nasty Saboteurs into opportunities for introspection. I began to ask myself the wise and powerful coach questions I ask others and wrote the answers in my journal.
Palm to Forehead!
Every month or so I’d read over the prior month’s writing to glean the truths and patterns. After a few months of reading the tealeaves in my journal, I had a V-8 slap on the forehead moment when I recognized this melancholy so many of us fall into is nothing more (or less) than an Invisibility Mask.
That’s when I really began seeing the Invisibility Mask on other women. The big exception is when we middle-aged women are gathered together! There is a knowing, a truth telling and sisterhood when we share our experiences.
In last week’s post, I compared this Middle Aged Invisibility Mask that descends upon women between the ages of 40 – 65 to Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak thrown over us; we see each other, yet are invisible to others.
How Do You Know?
And here’s the hardest truth: We don’t always know when we slide into being invisible to ourselves.
Case in point: While preparing to write this blog post, this is what it sounded like in my head: So much has been written, said and discussed about being a middle-aged woman, what on earth do I think I have to contribute to the conversation? I’m not a doctor, nutritionist or even famous. (When I think thoughts like this I slump a little and my head bows ever so slightly. Those are my physical cues my energy is spiraling downward.)
After recognizing the mental and physical cues, I realize I am wearing the Invisibility Mask. UGH!
The Light Within
Because I’ve spent years in training with my inner modern goddess archetypes, one sprang forward today and said, “Honey, you are an expert in archetypes and have twenty-three years of coaching women under your belt. You also have your own experience with this. Who better to discuss what is going with this Invisibility Mask than you?”
And so, I choose to keep shedding light on this important conversation.
Each of our Invisibility Masks is unique and molds to our life circumstances. Married women whose children are grown and out of the house, women who find themselves single and/or childless at this stage, those who work inside companies and entrepreneurs alike all experience their version of the Invisibility Mask.
What do you experience behind the Invisibility Mask? What circumstances bring it up for you? What are the messages of the Saboteur? What helps you get out from behind it? Please post your responses to these questions in the comments below, or email me directly.
We’ll keep the conversation going next week, pulling apart what invisibility really means.