I was listening to the car radio — depressing lately, but isn't it almost always, unless you're tuning into KFOG (because I love 10 at 10 and am so happy Dave Morey will continue it post retirement) or The Bone (which always seems to play Pink Floyd just when I absolutely need to hear "Wish You Were Here") — when I heard the news.
Women offing themselves. Well, more specifically, women of a certain age — like, um, my age — committing suicide at alarming rates.
What is up with that?
That's the big mystery, or so researchers say.
Which in a way is kind of odd anyway; it's pretty much acknowledged that women tend to be more depressed than men in general: in fact, we gals are twice as likely to suffer from depression, (panic and other anxiety disorders, too).
And we're often the at-home parent, and full-time "mommying" rarely earns the same respect in society as women who "work" (wow, it's so much harder to care for kiddies than to go to a job every day!); and women who do work earn less than men. That's depressing in an of itself!
Plus, we all know that a woman's beauty is a major factor in her self-image and how the world perceives her; hell, a recent study indicates that even female political candidates have to be seen as attractive to get the votes, which I blogged about a while ago. Beauty fades, as we all know, and as much as we joke about it. a la Nora Ephron's "I Feel Bad About My Neck," there is always a certain sadness (for many) with each wrinkle, sag and age spot.
True, white men are still committing suicide more than white women (although according to the Suicide and Mental Health Association International, women attempt more suicides than men; men are just better at finishing the attempt). But while the rate for white 40- to 64-year-old men rose 2.7 percent, the rate for middle-aged women rose 3.9 percent" according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Says Susan Baker, a professor in injury prevention with a special expertise in suicide:
"The biggest increase that we have seen between 1999 and 2005 was the increase in poisoning suicide in women — that went up by 57 percent. ... Definitely these are not just little blips."
Doesn't seem like blips to me, either. But then ... what is it?
It's not enough to chalk it up to midlife crises, she says. But Baker wonders if these are people
"living alone, with no major responsibility or others to take care of, or are they people overwhelmed with all of the jobs and responsibilities they have. We need to find out more about the conditions under which these people are living."
Indeed. And does this spell doom for the whole Quirkyalone thing?
Well, I can't speak for everyone or even most women of a certain age, but this is what I have seen among my peers.
A lot of them find themselves divorced. Sure, sometimes it's of their own doing but not always, and the ones who are blind-sided by it often feel quite devastated.
If they find themselves alone at 40-, 50-, 60-something, they discover (quickly) that the world has changed on them, that it's not OK to just be a nice, reasonably smart and attractive person. The need to be "hot," have boobs (real or not), look youthful, be fit and buy into the "40s is the new 30s" mentality. For many women, that's OK — they're that way already. But not everyone, and I imagine it feels like being strangers in a strange land.
If they've been out of the workforce for any length of time, they are at a huge disadvantage, not only trying to get back in the game after mommying for x-number of years, but in earning a salary that matches the cost of living around these parts. It might work in Podunk, but it sure as hell isn't going to pay for a two-bedroom in Marin. (And if they get any sort of support from their former husband, even child support, they're seen as gold-digging whores who are living high off of his hard work.)
Many have been in an abusive/addictive relationship for so long that they are facing a long, hard road to get themselves back in a healthy, happy place. They lost their sense of self-worth, their ability to trust their own gut. And this doesn't just happen to "certain" populations — it happens to all populations — rich, poor, black, white, young, old, with college-degrees and those with GEDs. Even women here in tony, entitled Marin.
And even the ones who are reasonably happy and reasonably fit and reasonably smart find themselves in an odd place if they're arrived at middle age without ever finding a husband or a life partner or a boyfriend. They are often invisible, as the homeless often are. As I've written about before, middle-aged men don't necessarily want middle-aged women for any number of reasons. And those men seem to be doing fine without us. (Of course, we don't really want to be with the men who want younger, firmer women, either, so at least that's a win-win situation).
A study earlier this year even pinpointed the Year of The Unhappy Woman — age 48.
Now, I am not saying that these are the definitive reasons for so many middle-aged female suicides. Nor am I saying that men don't experience similar unhappiness and situations; I'm sure they do. I can only speak of what I've seen, and yes — there are many middle-aged women who feel lost and alone, despite those who have discovered themselves happily in far-flung destinations a la "Eat, Pray, Love" — the ones with money, and no kids, and a certain open-mindedness about FWB or casual sex (although I'm just now reading the book and I'm at the part of Ms. Gilbert's depression in Italy; I have to assume things get better!).
So, what do you suppose it is, based on what you've seen or perhaps even experienced?
Is there something about middle-aged women the researchers aren't getting?