ALSO READ: Bad bachelor: Dad reappears as I'm arrested
Claire*, a 26-year-old professional in an accounting firm is an only child, the daughter of an unmarried mother. Her mother was ‘her mother’ until about 8 months (or more) ago when, out of nowhere, she turned into someone Claire couldn’t and still can’t recognise.
Claire’s mother runs three high-end dress shops. Two of the stores are located in Nairobi while the third is located at the Coast. Her life revolved around Claire and the clothing stores. Now it doesn’t. She has not been to the stores for about five months and she manages them remotely.
The last time she was at their apartment in Nairobi was three months ago. Claire runs the house. In-between, her mother makes an appearance, two days, three days or a weekend and then she is gone, to be seen again after a month.
Her wardrobe, previously that of a mature woman in her late thirties, has recently morphed into something Claire can raid, snatch a piece of clothing or two, and not feel awkward after she is dressed.
Half-the time, Claire does not know where her mother is. It is happening for the first time. The two of them lived an open life before. She admits that her mother had a boyfriend or two in the past. She knew about them.
In the last eight months however, Claire thinks her mother has had three boyfriends, and she never introduced them to her. She would talk about them on those random weekends that she’d pop up and then disappear, when she came back, she’d be talking about a different man.
“It is crazy,” she says. “I don’t not know what is happening to her mother anymore.”
ALSO READ: Six signs you’re settling in a relationship
What Claire’s mother is going through, according to Dr Karatu Kiemo, a sociologist at the University of Nairobi Sociologist, can be classified as mid-life crisis.
“Claire’s mother’s life has had form all along. But now, the businesses are stable and can run themselves, Claire is all grown up and has basically left the nest.
So, the question she is grappling with at the moment is what to do. This is one of the main characteristics of a mid-life crisis. When one starts feeling uneasy about his/her situation in life,” Dr Kiemo says.
He adds that once you’ve launched your children socially, once your career is stable and you are financially secure, once your marriage or relationship has reached that platonic near stale state, women tend to want to expand and improve their horizons and influence.
Naturally, they won’t do this with their regular partners. According to Dr Kiemo, mid-life crisis is about getting the best out of life before it ends or before you are unable to — permanently.
“The strange thing, is that women rarely know or understand what they are going through. Since menopause also causes behaviour change, most women assume that what they are going through, or what their friend is going through is just menopause but sometimes, it is not menopause, it is mid-life crisis,” he says.
But isn’t mid-life crisis something only men go through? Shouldn’t we be looking for the signs in our fathers and not our mothers?
“True, it is a life stage for men,” Dr Kiemo says. “mid-life crisis has not been looked at in detail as an issue affecting women. But that does not mean that it does not exist or that it does not affect women. There is a growing body of study and research on this as we speak.”
So could it be that mid-life crisis, aside from being the period when 42-year old men buy motorcycles and chase 24-year old female models, is also the period when women at 35 suddenly make drastic career changes or a married woman at 39 unexpectedly develops lesbian tendencies?
According to Dr Kiemo, mid-life crisis in women just manifests itself differently from men. The motivations for women tend to be a bit different from those of the men.
On that point, Dr Catherine Syengo Mutisya, a consultant psychiatrist agrees.
“On top of the physiological and physical changes and experiences that are brought about by the onset and continuation of menopause, women experience anxiety, depression and an acute sense of self-evaluation — thoughts of stagnation or failure,” she says.
Dr Mutisya adds that she has handled such cases on her counseling couch in the past. Coming in on their own, saying they do not understand what is going on in their lives, questioning the choices that they have made, wondering if they are really happy or are just going through the motions of life or brought in by concerned members of the family who are worried that their aunt or mother is going off the rails.
But they need not be worried. The aunt or mother is not going off the rails. She is just experiencing her case of mid-life crisis, probably combined with menopause, and characterised by severe body changes, physiological changes, hormonal changes and behavioural changes.
Lending a hand
When your mother, aunt or elder sister starts staying late nights at the office, begins traveling to lands where people speak languages she doesn’t speak or understand, starts seeking new relationships, begins withdrawing from the public or starts having endless and sometimes meaningless conflicts with the spouse, she is not going off the rails. All she needs is helpfulness and understanding and she will be fine in no time.
Dr Mutisya advises that it is proper for those concerned (and the woman in question) to keep track of the situation.
“People keep changing. It is good to track who they are. Sometimes the changes occur so fast, even the lady in question may be confused about who she is.
“Obviously, these stages are accompanied by physical and physiological changes, they need to consult doctors and counselors to get to understand each and every change that they are going through,” she says.
Modern studies on mid-life crisis have largely been building up on the findings of Erik Erikson, the 1950’s psychologist who explored the stages of human development.
The one thing that has kept changing in these studies is the place of women in the mid-life crisis conversation, the reaction and response of women to mid-life crisis and finally, how the society is responding to this new frontier in mankind’s sociological study.
By the looks of things, the society, in this case, the Kenyan society, is not responding how it should.
“People misunderstand women who are going through this stage. There are those who believe that these women are simply being naughty or that they want to take advantage of this stage to get away with age inappropriate behaviour. That is so not true,” Dr Kiemo says.
“These are not individual or conscious decisions. Mid-life comes with hormonal changes for women. There is nothing deliberate in how they act, it is the hormones that could be exciting them,” he adds.
The good thing is that this stage of anxiety and confusion does not last for long. If handled properly, the person can be back on their feet and on proper grounding in under five years