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How we aim to beat the middle-aged blues

Men are not alone in facing a mid-life crisis, a new survey says. Two mums in their 40s, Nicola Thompson and Jenny Grainger, tell Stephanie Bell why they are changing their lives.

If you feel like life is passing you by now that you've hit your 40s then you're not alone as almost half of the women in the country report facing a mid-life crisis.

Once thought to be the preserve of men, the latest study shows that just as many women suffer from middle-age meltdown. In fact, the figures reveal that almost half of people over 40 believe they have come through a mid-life crisis, with 39% of females suffering a waver in middle age and 40% of men. The most common cause, according to research by the The Association of Accounting Technicians, was being unhappy at work which has led many to make positive changes, such as retraining in their 40s for the job they've always dreamed of or taking the plunge to launch their own business.

We caught up with two women who happily admit that they are facing some mid-life angst which has compelled them to make major changes - for the better.

'Five years ago I walked part of the Camino... now I've the funds to do it all'

Nicola Thompson (42), from Belfast, is a single mum to Harry (17), and recently gave up a good job as head of organisational development with National Museums to launch her own business, offering career coaching and training. She now plans to fill a back pack and live out her dream of spending six weeks walking the famous Camino Way in Spain. She has also a blog - Memoirs of a Middle Aged Adventure Mum. She says:

There is no doubt to me that hitting middle age made me reassess my life - that and the fact that I had a near-death experience in my 30s when there were complications during surgery which left me in intensive care. That was a jolt to my senses.

I have also changed a lot since I was younger when I would have been a natural worrier. In my 20s it was all about striving to get on and be successful. But reaching middle age made me take stock of my life and I realised I still had decades left. And I went to see a life coach who has helped me discover what wasn't working for me in my life.

I had a great job for 10 years working with lovely people - but it wasn't fulfilling me. And when I realised I had a passion for creativity I wanted to do something that would allow me to focus on the things that make me happy.

As a single parent I am the sole breadwinner but I wanted to do more than just pay the bills. When voluntary redundancy was offered just before Christmas, it was a chance I just had to take. The unpredictability of not having a secure job actually appealed to me.

As part of my job with National Museums I had been involved in coaching and it was something I really enjoyed.

I studied to get the qualifications and did some freelance work coaching and training, as well as one-to-one industry and workplace training.

Now, I offer life coaching for people who, like me, think they are on the wrong path and not getting what they want out of life and their careers.

The vast majority of my clients so far have been middle aged women aged between 35 and 55, although recently I am seeing more male clients coming through too. It's about helping people to focus on the present and take stock and make plans for the future.

One of my biggest concerns was leaving the camaraderie of an office but I have found other like-minded people through the Freshstart network of accredited coaches which has been great. We meet regularly and peer coach each other so I don't feel isolated.

Of course it was a risk giving up my job, but I love what I do. No two weeks are the same and, while I'm still in the old nine-to-five mindset, now I know that some mornings I can get up and decide to have a bubble bath because I don't have to start at 9am as I'm working in the evening. The flexibility means I can work a Saturday and take a day off during the week.

A few years ago I had started taking part in walking challenges when I could fit them in. In the beginning it was like getting a renewed thirst for life and I wanted to do a bit more each time. Then in 2014 I walked 100km from London to Brighton.

And in 2015 I completed the Nijmegen Marches in Holland which is four consecutive marathons over four days. Over the years I've raised over £5,000 for charity. Back in 2012, I walked part of the Camino - and I haven't been able to get it out of my head ever since.

Now, though, I've decided to take the leap and do it. It's been five years in the making and feels like a dream that I've had in a slow cooker for awhile. I didn't have the funds to do it before but now because of my redundancy pay-out I can. Yes, it's a bit of a risk as work could get really busy, but some risks are worth taking.

This will be the first occasion I've ever left my son before. He's 17 now and a sensible boy and my parents are just round the corner. He is perfectly happy for me to do it and I don't think he is going to miss me too much.

I leave at the end of April for six weeks and will be walking between 10 and 18 miles a day for five weeks.

During my Camino walk I will be keeping a blog which I will update whenever I have Wifi. It's really a record for my son and my family; I won't be taking myself too seriously and it won't be a highly informed travel blog either - just my musings. It feels great to have made such positive changes in my life and it's early days but I believe in small steps to make change."

‘I’m now pursuing the dream I had back in my 20s, which I’d forgotten’

Life coach and businesswoman Jenny Grainger (47), who has one daughter, Georgia (22), is planning to sell her home in Crossgar and move with her partner Eoin Scolard (59), an author and soul coach, to start a new life in the Dordogne in France. She says:

In my late 30s I had been working as a freelance TV producer while juggling single parenthood — and found it all started to get to me. I was rundown and life was very stressful, so I gave it up to set up a life coaching business. I still run Freshstart Coaching but then went on to set up the Positive Living Network. In addition, four years ago my partner Eoin and I established Source Wellbeing Centre on the Beersbridge Road, Belfast, renting out rooms for workshops and classes which all focus on wellbeing.

I need change in my life every decade, and now in my late 40s we have decided to sell up and move to the Dordogne in France.

My life changed dramatically last summer when my dad Michael died in June. He had suffered from dementia for eight years and we cared for him a lot, living with us for part of the time.

Then when my daughter Georgia graduated from Queen’s University, Belfast, last June she decided to move to Dundee.

In the space of a month all my responsibilities to others had gone. Also, last year I felt a urge to travel and see more of the world. We signed up for TrustedHousesitters online and did three house sits in the Dordogne, spending nine weeks in a five-month period in France.

I fell in love with the country and just thought why not live here?

Since then I have given up all of my one-to-one life coaching and remodelled my business so that it can be done remotely. As long as I have my laptop and wifi I can work anywhere. And there are cheap flights from Dublin which is important for Eoin who will fly back and forward for his work and also to see his four sons who live in Dublin.

Everyone has been really positive and most of our family and friends know we are a bit mad anyway.

We have just put our house in Crossgar, which we bought four years ago, up for sale. When we moved in I remember saying ‘if I suggest moving again, shoot me’ — and here I am some years later relocating to another country.

I feel if we leave it any later we will be too old to start again and won’t be able to enjoy it. It will be a big change and it’s a bit scary, but at the same time very exciting.

Many women who are going through the menopause, and their children are leaving home, do question the direction of their lives at this stage.

It’s definitely is a mid-life experience. This is the first time in 22 years I’ve really been free to do what I want to do. Now, I’m pursuing the dream I had in my 20s which I had forgotten about as life caught up with me.

The joy of being middle aged is not having as many responsibilities.

France has a more liberal society and, of course, the climate has a huge part to play, too. It will be great not having to put on wellies to go out for a walk with the dogs.

We really like growing our own vegetables and will be living a simple life with the hope of creating a beautiful place where our kids and grandchildren can come and enjoy a holiday.

It’s so easy to get stuck in your ways and, while routine makes you feel safe and secure, you’re not stretching yourself.

This move will be a fresh start and a new way of life; to help keep me feeling alive and excited about life.

I’m not ready to put my slippers on yet.”

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