Refusing a Close Encounter with Mid-Life Crisis: Reflections on Turning 50


When I was young, I never imagined turning 50.  I never wondered what it would be like, how I would feel, who I would be.

Kathy's 3rd birthday--

Kathy's 5th birthday--

Kathy's 16th birthday--

Now, however, I’ve arrived at this most monumental of mid-life birthdays.

Today I actually turn 50.

Celebrating 50 years with Kathy's family on Saturday--

But, now that this auspicious occasion has gotten here, I feel a lot less than I’d expected.  I feel next to nothing significant.

In fact, turning 50 feels a lot like 49, only a day later and an aching ankle to punctuate the date.

It’s true that I’ve not accomplished everything I’d like by now.  Some might even say that I’ve accomplished very little.  I have no children, no job, no towering achievement.

But for someone who has weathered a troubled childhood and grown up to develop bipolar disorder, I’ve conquered a massive amount.

Once distanced from the rest of the world by mental illness and exiled by mental illness from myself, my symptoms are finally well-managed by medication.  I’ve not been admitted to an inpatient psychiatric facility in nearly ten years.  As someone who once came close to homelessness and later lived in government-subsidized housing, I now own my own home, a lovely Victorian in downtown Lexington.

Emotionally, I’ve traveled a long way in recent years, largely coming to terms with my past.  I’ve accepted my parents for what they were and who they caused me to become.

My father was a criminal—wanted by the FBI, indicted by a number of grand juries, convicted of conspiracy.  My mother was and still is an unusually religious person.

Yes, I share my parents DNA.  We’ve lived parallel and over-lapping lives.

It’s true my father’s crime-inclined double helix winds its way through the twists and turns of my own obey-the-letter-of-the-law genetic makeup.  And this seems strange to me—unusual that I have 50 years worth of over correcting Daddy’s crime by my own excessive efforts to be an uber-citizen.

Kathy's 19th birthday. Last one before Daddy's death.

But that’s what 50 feels like—a half century’s worth of effort—a half century’s worth of striving and over-achieving—of aching to be the best—of testing my own limits and stressing when I’m less than a success.

Sometimes my life, indeed, falls short of all I’d hoped for.   I surely hadn’t planned on turning 50, facing my partner Sara’s relative under-employment or another close encounter with potential poverty.  I hadn’t planned on celebrating this birthday here in Lexington.  I’d assumed Sara and I would be living in some semi-exotic location in the midst of yet another intriguing international adventure.

Yet even though I face the future with fear of failure and uncertainty, what matters most is knowing I don’t face the unknown alone.  Rather, I turn 50 very much in love, knowing Sara is the most important constant in my life.  I turn 50, knowing I have everything I need in having her.

Sara's birthday sketch for Kathy--

I turn 50 comforted, embraced, in love, at peace.

I’m grateful to be turning 50, knowing I have the thing that matters most in life.  Sure, it’s clichéd to say that love is all that matters, but it’s clichéd because it’s true.  It’s foundational—real as bedrock and every bit as solid.

Sara and Kathy, celebrating 50 years with Sara's family on Sunday--

So, in many ways turning 50 feels like the ultimate event horizon—the end of the beginning, the beginning of the end.  It feels pivotal, feels like a point of no return.   And yet there’s irony in this.  It’s ironic that this event horizon, one that would seem to move me forward is ultimately making me look back, making me remember and reflect.

So, I turn 50, in the midst of writing a memoir.  I turn 50, determined to tell my tale, determined to tell my sometimes terrible truth—the story of my father’s mob connections, my mother’s over-earnestness for God.

I turn 50, more determined than ever, straining toward an unknown future, while remembering a painful past.

But more than anything, I turn 50, refusing to forget, refusing to give in, refusing to give up, refusing a close encounter with mid-life crisis.

What do you refuse to do as you get older?

Note:  If you are new to my blog, you might like to know that I am writing a memoir and blogging about growing up in an organized crime family.  (The post you’ve just read is not part of that series.)  For a list of my  memoir posts, click here.  If you are interested in reading any of my protected posts, please email me at kownroom@yahoo.com  or let me know in the comments below, and I will gladly share the password with you.

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78 thoughts on “Refusing a Close Encounter with Mid-Life Crisis: Reflections on Turning 50

  1. I can tell you that each day/year we live is good. And we choose how we live it. I’m at 58 and still not sure what I want to be when I grow up so join the club and discover. When we stop looking and give up then it is no life at all. Happy Birthday. Looking forward to reading more of your life.

    • Hi, Sandy. I agree that every day is beautiful and well worth living. And lovely birthday messages like this one make it all the more so. Thanks so much! Great to hear from you today. Happy Monday to you!

  2. A beautitful reflection on life. Your last line summarizes it all: “I turn 50, refusing to forget, refusing to give in, refusing to give up, refusing a close encounter with mid-life crisis.” To that, I say YES! As I contemplate my 60th birthday looming in the not-to-distant future, I feel the same. It is good to learn life’s lessons and grow from them. It is good to keep learning and keep growing, It is good to share that life with the one or ones we love. May your next 50 years be filled with continued learning, growth, success, love and wonder! Happy Birthday. :-)
    Hugs,
    C

    • Thanks so much, Cecelia. Life really is about love, whether it’s cliched to say that or not. I just believe it. Blessings to you as you prepare to turn 60. Hope you are having a lovely Monday!

  3. Happy Birthday, Kathy! (((((HUGE HUGS!!!))))) So your big day is finally here. Enjoy, my friend. Forget your age. You are only as old as you want to be. You know why today feels no different to when you were 49? Because it isn’t! Don’t tell anyone, but I’m 50 something myself, and in my mind, I feel no different to when I was 20. For a while, when I looked into the mirror, I would think, “who’s that?”, until I came to terms with who I am. Age doesn’t matter; it’s YOU that counts; who Kathy is, how Kathy treats other people, who loves Kathy (and we all know how loved you are!)

    Maybe you just have to pass 50 to forget the mid-life crisis, forget what you haven’t done and realise that who you are is enough, and most importantly, to forget your age.

    Here’s to the next 50 years, dear Kathy. May you and Sara continue on this wonderful adventure together, called life. xxxxxx

    • Actually, that is totally true. I don’t feel a whole lot different than I did 20 or 30 years ago–that I guess in some ways I’m a whole lot saner–thank God. Thanks for the birthday wishes. Great to hear from you today.

  4. Wow, what a milestone Kathy. I loved this post for its honesty.
    ‘So, in many ways turning 50 feels like the ultimate event horizon—the end of the beginning, the beginning of the end. It feels pivotal, feels like a point of no return.’ …..this was very well put….and it’s heartening to hear that you have so much determination in the face of all that uncertainty about the future.
    You look amazing at 50! Happy happy birthday and lots of love and hugs! :)

    • I’d love to think that I look okay for 50. At the very least, I tell myself, I could certainly look worse. So far it’s been a wonderful day. Thanks for the birthday wishes, my friend. Hugs and love to you, too!

  5. happy, Happy, HAPPY birthday to YOU!

    Four years ago when I turned 50, I went away on a hermitage to the Llama Foundation in New Mexico (http://lamafoundation.org/). In a deep examination of my life (Where have I been? Where am I now? Where am I going?) I had an epiphany: “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.” You’d think that at 50 — “the mid-way point” — life would downshift a bit. Not so. That’s when life actually kicked into high gear and I really (!) started writing my book in earnest.

    • Oh, cool, Laurie. I didn’t realize you were writing/had written a book. What’s it about? I love the notion that we are choosing what we are not changing. What an important truth! Thanks so much for the birthday wishes, my friend!

      • My book is called, “Discovering the Seven Selves: Your Key to Offloading Baggage and Increasing Joy – Now!” It’s been a long-time coming, but I just (and I do mean, just) got a literary agent. I haven’t even signed the contract yet.

        HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  6. First of all—Happy Birthday!!!! I apologize I have not been able to read your blog in the past week or so but promise to catch up as I don’t want to miss a word!!! Love the pictures of you and Sara, especially—you look so very happy and you have triumphed over so much in your life. I am in awe of what you have been through and overcome and I know that I only know a minuscule part of your journey. I am so glad that you and I have found each other’s blogs and that you are now a part of my life!!! Blessings to you on this special day and believe me—-50 in fabulous!!! I have loved it!!!

    • You are such a sweetie, Beth Ann. I’m delighted we have found one another’s blogs, as well. I love getting to know you. It’s great to hear that your 5th decade has treated you well. Good news! Hugs to you—————-

  7. Happy birthday Kathy! I’m glad that you’ve achieved reaching your milestone with such dignity and grace. Your philosophical reflections are admirable. I was a tad less accepting for I briefly considered throwing myself into an oncoming bus about it. That was the year I was diagnosed with my trifecta of incurable gastrointestinal ills that has made my diet very strict ever since. So, by default, when I hit 50, it hit back since I’ve been forced to refuse eating the vast majority of foods I love. Kinda wish I was 40 again if only to savor one more plate of pasta with Bolognese sauce.

    • I HATE it that you can’t eat your favorite foods. I would not be happy to not be able to eat pasta with Bolognese sauce–one of my many loves. Thanks for the birthday wishes, my friend! Hope Monday is being good to you!

  8. Happy Birthday. My best friend when I was in grade school and my husband’s sister share your birthday.

    Welcome to the over-50 club. Now’s when it really gets good. Like you said, we’re at the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

    I love the photos. The one I like the best is of you today.

    • So glad you like the photos, especially the current ones. I’m happy to share my birthday with folks you love. Thanks so much for the birthday wishes, Christine. Hope you’re having a great day!

  9. Happy Birthday Sarah!!!! You have done so much and always remember that if you have achieved happiness and love in your life that that is the greatest gift and success of all!!!

  10. It is quite funny that 50 sounds quite young. I am 59, but feel about 35. I think you have achieved lots in your life. Achieving happiness is surely the most important thing.
    My there be many more happy birthdays.

  11. I refuse to ever set foot in WalMart. :)

    I felt similar the day I turned 40, a birthday I had long dreaded. When the day arrived, I simply felt like I was 39 plus an extra day. In other words, no different at all!

    Happy birthday, and you are right. Love IS all that matters.

  12. Happiest of birthdays to you, Sista!

    Refusal? Where to begin…..I refuse to, like Mark up there, go to WalMart. I refuse to vote for anyone that is pro-life, anti gay marriage, or, in general, an ass. I refuse to compromise my beliefs. I also refuse to accept any idea that any person on this Earth is a lost cause. We are all worth the fight, the pain, the heartache and the work.

    I also refuse to not thank you for such a beautiful post. So glad that you have a love that is rock solid and all encompassing. Should everyone be so blessed.

    • I say amen to your refusals, Sista! You are right. Sara and I are very, very blessed. I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed this post. Thanks for the birthday wishes, my friend! Hugs————–

  13. I get so excited everytime I see a new blog post from you in my inbox! I cannot wait to buy your memoir. :) Happy Birthday, Kathy! You continue to inspire me and I think you have accomplished much in your years… you’ve overcome a lot and in my opinion, your level of transparency and ability to own it all as you continue to evolve is just amazing in everyway. :)

    • You are such a sweetie, Currie. I would be honored to have you buy my memoir, but I would like to buy yours, as well. You, too, have an amazing story to tell. I love reading your blog, my friend. Great to hear from you on my special day! Thanks for the warm wishes.

  14. Kathy,

    You are an amazing person who has achieved more in 50 years than many do in a lifetime. You have survived some difficult stuff, things that would crush a lesser person. You have created art, navigated foreign cultures, fought for justice in an unfair world. You have faced your past and shared it bravely with the world.

    Never sell yourself short, Kathy. I hope that 50 fills you with more love, adventure (with planning) and joy.

    Lisa

  15. What a wonderful post to mark this monumental occasion – what are birthdays for, if not to reflect on what is truly important in your life, and measure your progress in capturing those things. You’ve got it all together, I’d say, and then some.
    Happy happy birthday to a fantastic writer and person.

  16. Happy Birthday, Kathy! It seems to me that you’ve accomplished quite a bit in your 50 years. What a life story you have! I totally can relate to your line “50 years of over-correcting my father’s crime”. I had a troubled childhood as well, although not quite comparable to yours, and I often wonder why it’s taking me longer to undo my father’s affects on me, than it took him to make me this way. I’m definitely happier, but I still see some of the lasting effects.
    I’m lucky to have a husband who loves me unconditionally, and it’s obvious that Sara offers the same support for you.

    • I’m sorry to hear you had a difficult childhood. However, I think I’m like you inasfar as my father still affects be–I still see the impact. Perhaps, that’s inevitable. So glad to hear that you have a husband who love you, and thanks for the birthday wishes, as well. Have a great day, my friend.

  17. Happy Birthday!
    Your comments remind me of a quote from Jim Carrey (I Googled it to make sure) and no, I don’t know why I remember this – I’m 55. I remember many weirdly random things, just not where my other earring is…
    “50 years: here’s a time when you have to separate yourself from what other people expect of you, and do what you love. Because if you find yourself 50 years old and you aren’t doing what you love, then what’s the point?”
    You seem to have done of very fine job of it! :D
    Many happy birthday wishes,
    Debbie

    • I love the Jim Carrey quote–so, so true. Also, had to laugh at your remembering it and not where you other earring is. Gosh, I can relate to that!

      Thanks so much for the birthday wishes. It’s great to have heard from you on my big day!

  18. Beautifully written Kathy! Regardless of what you wanted to accomplish, you have accomplished sooo much! Kudos to you dear! *hugs*

    And I have to say, I love the coy look in the Saturday cake photo … very cute! :D

    • Yes, I know. What was that look about? Wish I knew. Had to laugh when you mentioned it.

      Glad to hear you think I’ve accomplished a lot, and thanks so much for wishing me a happy birthday. Great to hear from you!

  19. Kathy, good morning to you, a good 50 years of living, a good day to be alive! I am proud of you for turning your life into a flower arrangement that looks beautiful on your table. Our lives seem never “finished”, do they? Never quite perfect, never as shining as our imaginations and creations want them to be. We’re always a half breath away from poverty, a knee surgery, perhaps the end of health insurance, loss of a job. And yet the buds, the buds, they keep blooming! The thorns prick us and we bleed, yet we can create… I wish you the best as you continue to craft your memoir and to realize that you are an incredibly valuable beautiful wonderful person if you don’t try to accomplish a single other thing in this lifetime. If you just relax and shine what you are now…just in this ordinary sacred moment…you are Kathy. Look at you shine! Happy birthday, friend.

    • I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate this comment, Kathy. The thought that who I am in this sacred moment is enough is incredibly freeing. It makes me want to take a deep breath and lean into that freedom. Thank you, thank you, thank you for that reminder. Hugs to you, my friend——————

  20. Beautiful and honest – just like you!

    Happy Happy Birthday to you … and to answer your question about what do I refuse to do as I get older?

    I don’t know. But I do know this: while some of what I’ve experienced approaching 49 feels foreign to me, I’m trying my hardest not to be afraid. I’m trying to have faith and not be so worried about controlling the outcome. I know I no longer have to be in survivor mode and recognizing that has given me the gift of living just a bit more in the moment.

    I have a year and a few months till 50 and I don’t know who I’ll be on the other side…. but I’m sure interested in finding out.

    And, like you, I have love in my life and it makes my life much more Techicolor than it was :)

    Hugs to you, birthday girl!! MJ

    • Oh, thank you, MJ. What a sweet, sweet comment. I have confidence that you will be equally as wonderful post-50 as you are now. May you ride the wave of love into a future full of possibilities and peace! Hugs to you, too, my friend!

  21. You make turning fifty look beautiful. Colorful. Eventful. And for all of the things you think you have not done or accomplished….why do I get a feeling from “reading you” that though you HAVE accomplished much you know it is not enough. For the size of the charity in your heart… I suspect that you will accomplish much more. Happy Birthday My Friend! :)

    • Oh, what a sweet comment. And you are right–it doesn’t feel like enough. There’s more to do–lots more. Thanks so much for the birthday wishes, my friend. And thanks for the positive thoughts about what my future holds. Hope you have a lovely evening. Hugs to you———–

  22. In spite of several uncertainties, you seem very well-balanced. I admire your perspective on life, not needing to have all of the answers and trusting that you are where you are supposed to be at this time. 50 looks good on you. Love the photo with Sara – you both look so very happy!

    Happy Birthday, my friend!

    • Thank God you think I’m well-balanced. I think I need to adopt your perspective. And how fun that you think I make turning 50 not look so bad. Hooray. Sara and I are, indeed, very happy. Thanks, dear Terri. Hope you have a great evening!

  23. Happy Birthday Kathy! I’m sorry I missed sending you my wishes on your big day.
    I think that something many of us share as we get older is making peace with the preconceived notions that we had set up for ourselves (or maybe a family member had set up for us). When we’re young we have so many ideas of what we think we should achieve in life and rarely does it work out exactly that way, but it leaves us open to different adventures – ones we could have never planned and are all the sweeter because of it!

    • I love the thought that not achieving what we may have wanted leaves us open to other adventures. What a great way to look at things! Also, no need to apologize for not commenting on the big day; this just makes the birthday last longer. Love it! Thanks for the birthday wishes, Jackie!

  24. Happy belated birthday, Kathy! Looking upon your life from the outside in, I think you’re giving yourself too little credit for what you’ve accomplished. You’re an incredible woman! I hope that you had a wonderful “actual” birthday and that the years ahead help you to realize more and more of your amazing potential. I’m so thankful to have discovered your blog back in the day and to count you as a friend. :)

    • I, too, am thankful for our friendship, Dana. It was and continues to be a wonderful birthday. I love the way this one has been extended by virtue of this post. It’s been fun. Thanks for the birthday wishes and for your faith in my future.

  25. Wonderful post. I want to stand up and applaud. You have acquired some of the most precious gifts in life. I’d say that’s a big achievement, and certainly not something everyone manages to do in their lifetime.

    Way to go, Kathy! *Hugs* and another Happy Birthday. I think the first was early and this is late. I never seem to be on time, but I figure that just means you have to celebrate again. And again. :)

  26. A belated happy birthday…what courage and tenacity you have…an inspiration. I’m turning 64 this year and find that each year I develop more serenity, acceptance and calm…much of it coming out of/nurtured by the love and kindness of others. A few years ago I had what I considered to be an extraordinarily ambitious wish…simply to be “less unhappy”…and then kindness, connection and nurturing led me along to the increased contentment and happiness I feel today. I wish that continued blossoming for you, too. My best to you.

    • Oh, what a sweet comment. I’m happy to hear you have found such happiness. Isn’t it amazing what the love and kindness of others can add to life? Blessing to you in your 64th year. Thanks so much for reading. Hope to hear from you again soon!

  27. I love the giant candle on that first cake! >:-D

    Refuse to do? I will: not give in, not give up, listen to myself, take the chance, be cheerful despite circumstance.

    Happy belated birthday, Kathy. Remember that it’s Birthday Season! And that can last an indefinite time!

    • I got a kick out the candle, as well. Leave it to my favorite sister to forget the birthday candles–or maybe she planned it that way. Who knows. I’m loving stretching my birthday in April. Make it last!

  28. Happy belated birthday, Kathy. How you bring my close to tears almost every time I read a post is beyond me. Not that I’m 50, but somehow I can really connect with your outlook on your birthday. Don’t forget you are wonderful not just for what you’ve overcome, but for who you are everyday!

  29. While looking for a birthday cake on Google Image for a friend, I saw you sitting there at your 50th and had to take a look. Thanks for making my morning a little brighter Kathy. :)

    • Thanks for your comment, John. Great to hear from you today. Though I think this comment came in a couple of days ago and I’ve been slow to respond. You don’t happen to be the John Richter who blogs about epublishing, do you? Glad you enjoyed the photo

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