Middle Aging

Emily Zisman
6 min readDec 13, 2022
Image taken at Le Refuge des Fondus in Paris

According to Hollywood, I’m in a very confusing time. On the one hand, I’m no longer technically an effervescent, glowing young thing that gets a certain kind of attention (both a relief and an annoyance).

But on the other hand, ALSO according to Hollywood, It’s still possible for me to become a new mom! So……yay?

Gasping at the new chins, sags, and pouches, simmering in the middle of a chilly November mid-night sweat, wrestling the covers off of me so I don’t LITERALLY stew, and subsequently not being able to get back to sleep…forever, are a new normal. Wrinkles, hormonal acne, grey hairs coming in faster than I can shed them by the fistful in the shower, recognizing in dismay that some of the fresh, famous, and talented people I wanted to become at one time are more than half my age all keep my martini glass brimming. I’m still reaching for the kind of life I want to live AND people keep telling me I seem to be killing it.

I don’t feel like I’m killing it.

Why was I not prepared for this? Why did nobody tell me? I thought I would understand MORE things at this time, but I’m only understanding NOT more things. I put up with less shit, sure. But I also feel like less shit puts up with me. I’ve met many a milestone in my aging process and I feel like I’ve moved through those with a respectable modicum of grace. But I’m barely holding it together for this one.

I spend entirely too much time online, seeking slick solutions for all the actual research I could be doing to make sense of this all. I never feel better after coming out of a Facebook or Google stupor. I only ever feel like I just wasted half a day binging telenovelas and The Price is Right (I don’t know Google, am I feeling lucky?).

Also, the more I resist embodying the cliches of this transition, the speedier I slam into them (hello pole-dancing classes).

For instance, when most of my closest friends started getting married, I still saw them regularly and we still had a lot of commonalities to share as far as lived experience. When they started having children, I was all the more excited to be the quirky aunt who everyone chuckled knowingly about but also who somehow seems to just “get” everyone. However, it was quite literally a “one day I awoke and found…” situation because one day I woke and suddenly found myself grinding all week for a weekend where I no longer had as many social options. There were still activities I enjoyed, but my community was all of the sudden strange and unfamiliar. I had to build trust and understanding with a whole new set of humans and I don’t know how to make friends anymore, especially when the new friend pool is half my age. Cliche: It’s harder for older folks to make friends

There are days when I feel like I’m making progress toward my goals. Then there are entire months that pass where all I can manage are the monotonous, repetitive tasks that keep me from wasting away or smelling bad. I keep dreaming up ideas for exotic places to transport myself to, another tattoo, or a complete makeover. Cliche: Middle Age is an existential crisis.

Some would call this depression or a Dark Night of the Soul. But I can quantify, for myself, why this is happening. I’m an artist living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. I can barely afford to make rent each month, so I don’t spend money on things that bring me joy in life such as the tools to make more of my art, travel, or normal recreational activities like going out dancing, out to restaurants, or to see live music. One small emergency like a health scare or a car-tastrophy would be financially debilitating.

I thought I’d be an adult by middle age. I thought I’d be able to afford more of the things that bring me joy. I thought I’d be able to afford to help make the lives of the people and communities that I love better. I thought I was putting in the effort. I’m exhausted and drained and all I see are more mountains to climb. And all I hear are variations of “I’m sorry life sucks right now, have you considered therapy?” Yes, Patrick and it’s expensive AF, and “Better Help” is not, in fact, better. “Have you tried exercise?” Yes, Mindy, remember the pole dancing classes? “Why don’t you write about it?”…….

I know that I am not alone in this experience because, as a single woman “of a certain age” I am forced to wrestle with new biases and socioeconomic stigmas that directly impact my journey toward self-actualization and my sense of general well-being. Personal-Brandy speaking, there’s a TON of pivoting. I know I am just one of many in an infinite lineage of women who have moved through this space. But I didn’t think I’d find myself in it this suddenly. I may vomit from the dizziness.

I think there comes a time when we are trying our absolute best and things still aren’t working, that we need to be able to say “I’m doing my best, and I still need more support from my community. Just because I’m single and solo does not mean I don’t need support in order to thrive. I am also just holding it together.” Even if “support” just means not trying to fix it, because there is nothing to fix. Transitions are, by design, all of the things that challenge us. America has such a weird kink about trying to “fix” people. I don’t think we need fixing so much as compassion, understanding, space holding, and enthusiastic, honest experience sharing. Essentially, we need, nay! It is essential that we have compassionate community.

I am beginning to understand that aging into the middle of this life is both an opportunity and a solid bummer. It’s a bummer in the sense that I am realizing that I don't have the kind of success that I thought I would have at this point. But I also have half a lifetime's worth of experience, so I can try something new. It’s an opportunity to grow forward again. Meaning I get to double down on prioritizing the things that bring me genuine joy. Whether it’s a newfound enthusiasm for pole dancing or reconnecting with my practice of solo hiking, this is an opportunity to spend more of my hard-won resources on those things. The intentionality becomes substantially more pronounced in this space, and when it happens, so does the joy.

I wish we could talk about this more openly. I wish the subject of middle aging was as normal as “what are your plans for the weekend?” I imagine questions like “What time did your night sweats wake you up last night?” and “How long did it take you to get back to sleep?” or “How many people walked right into you while you were traipsing around the Mission this afternoon?” Things like that. I wish we could talk about them as if they were matters of fact. Kind of like the way men casually talk about their dicks in public whenever they feel like it, regardless of the rest of the population within earshot (it literally happened on the airplane yesterday as we were all de-planing). Because my experiences are a hundred percent factual to my daily existence these days, I think just being able to address this period without stigma would reduce the amount of shame and confusion I have about it.

I still feel like an effervescent young thing, even if my mirror or Hollywood doesn’t reflect it, and even if the outside world no longer sees me the same way. Inside I feel hopeful and like my whole life is still ahead of me. Because it is.