Meet the women loving their midlife crisis
THE midlife crisis used to be reserved for men - think red sports cars, young women and Harley-Davidsons.
For women, it was the "change of life" that was treated with a dose of Xanax because it was thought to be purely psychological.
But now, the change of life is more inspirational than sad and lonely. It may be instigated by a crisis of health, relationships or identity, but it can become the greatest opportunity women have to live the life of their dreams.
It has also been proved as a time of immense endocrinological and biological change
for women, according to the director of the University of Melbourne's healthy ageing program, Professor Cassandra Szoeke.
But Szoeke also says that while women aged 30-60 experience a biological transition, her own research shows these are the happiest years.
"It was the first study in the world to have 30 years of data on mood and wellbeing," Szoeke says.
"What happened is that we found that women were getting happier and I can only speculate on the reason for that but certainly, as we get older, we become more resilient and more adaptive."
This rising happiness comes despite increasing challenges in terms of health and the fact that people start to experience more loss, Szoeke says.
The study, known as the Women's Healthy Ageing Project, relies on the dedication of women who have given 30 years of their lives to the research.
Now, as they approach their 70s, Szoeke says key information will be revealed as to the secret of healthy ageing.
"Overwhelmingly now, everyone working in health areas understands the importance
of lifestyle," she says.
"Other research has found that daily physical activity has a greater impact than normal blood pressure and the right level of good cholesterol, which are also important.
"Those three factors have a real effect on cognitive decline and we now think, as found by Deborah Barnes in a Lancet report, that 50 per cent of dementia cases can be prevented."
IT took three bouts of cancer, divorce and the death of her mother for Sarah Foster to say enough was enough.
When she found a lump in her breast for the third time on December 3, 2016, she was either going to break down or radically change her life.
"It was at the point where I said, 'That's it - I'm putting my foot down to do what
I must do for me'," Foster says.
"I still had a daughter in school and, like every woman on the planet with children, you're always in service to the family, which is right, good and proper, but this was a radical situation, requiring a radical response.
"I couldn't have one foot looking after everyone else and trying to get well at the same time. I had to ask my kids to help me."
Her son Alex, 24, was already living independently and his life was on track, but Olympia, 19, was about to enter VCE.
She agreed to go to boarding school for her final year while Foster, 55, sold her house in Melbourne and moved to the country, near Warragul.
As an avid gardener, she always wanted to own a country property and she suddenly felt there was no other option.
Divorce 10 years earlier had struck a heavy blow and there was an overwhelming sense of oppression in the ensuing years.
Foster is turning her 1ha property into a flower farm. She is planting only her favourite flowers - roses, lavender, dahlias, peonies - but there will be 200 plants in each variety. She is also selling pots of spring bulbs.
It's the place she always envisioned and was instrumental in her healing. She finished cancer treatment in January last year and is now clear. She was first diagnosed in 2009, followed by a recurrence in 2015 and again in 2016.
One of the greatest gifts in Foster's major life change was the emergence of Olympia as a strong, independent young woman.
While at boarding school she was appointed deputy captain and flourished.
"I knew I had done a fantastic job of mothering her to become an outstanding young woman and she's now out in the world working, she's at university and is living in a flat on her own with a friend," Foster says.
"She was incredibly generous, co-operative and understanding about my situation. I'll be her mother and love her until the end of time but can also say that I really like her as a person. As a single parent, I've done a great job."
While Foster still has regrets that she couldn't share her life with her ex-husband, the sadness doesn't oppress her any more. She finally feels free.
"I'm on my way and I'm not letting the lack of a partner stop me," she says. "I'm free to pursue my goals with absolute freedom."
She likes to reflect on the beautiful coincidence that, on the day she moved from her Melbourne home, her mother's ashes arrived, so she symbolically drove with her mother to her new life.
Those ashes will be scattered in Foster's new lavender garden, her mother's favourite, this spring.
ON the day of her twin brother's funeral, Lynette Pater felt a sharp grieving pain in her chest, but didn't know that it was just the beginning of many years of struggle.
She couldn't attend her brother Colin's funeral 15 years ago because she was too distraught, but instead asked a friend to sit with her at home.
"I had a pulling on my heart that wasn't gentle at all, it was a yanking," Pater says. "That's when he was leaving me. You can't imagine what it's like to lose a twin."
It was the start of a downward spiral for Pater, 57, as she suffered inconsolable grief that developed into chronic anxiety disorders.
She injured her back and suffered a severe bout of glandular fever and now reflects on that time as though it was someone else's life, not her own.
"I was so anxious that I stopped going out, fell into a dark depression and developed eating disorders," she says.
"When my brother died, it was more than a shocking loss. I was also coming to grips with my own mortality. It was just terrible."
Her depression continued for five years. She had a supportive husband at the time (they have since parted) but has not had children.
She decided to try to take control of her life, enrolling in singing lessons, going to yoga and having regular treatment for her back. She also found a counsellor who carried her over the various humps along the way.
As she started to recover, she ran relaxation and meditation courses near her Essendon home to help other women and gradually enrolled in courses to train in beauty therapy, but she trained too hard.
"After three years working seven days a week, I could see the anxiety was returning and I was losing myself again," she says.
"I had to have time out and pull back from the business. It took me so long to come back to myself again."
But she did. When she was invited by the Polish community to run a fashion pageant a few years ago, a new world opened up to Pater. She did a fashion design course and finally found her path.
Now working as a stylist with a good client base, ranging from children to women in their 80s, she describes her life as paradise.
She is fit, healthy and positive with supportive friends who accept and appreciate her talent and big heart.
"It's years now since I've had an anxiety attack and a lot of people don't even know about that time in my life," she says.
"I'm surrounded by creative people who love and respect me. I can't go back. There'll be no more anxiety for me.
"I'm the person I've always wanted to be. People ask me if I know how amazing I am and I say, 'Yes, I do'."
THE blues struck Chloe Parsonson in her mid 30s, but instead of diminishing her, she decided to take on the world.
It was 2012 and she was working as a sales assistant at Tiffany & Co. She loved it, but having worked in retail since she was 15, she wondered what else she could do. She felt incomplete and unfulfilled.
"I used to tell myself I couldn't do certain things and suffered a lot of self-doubt. But
in 2012, I made a decision to do things even though they may scare me," Parsonson says.
"I decided to feel the fear and do it anyway. Dancing and performing was part of that."
Although she danced as a child, Parsonson gave it away for many years, but took it up again in her mid-30s.
Now, 42, she is preparing to compete solo for the first time in November.
"Performing, public speaking and anything where I would be looked at used to terrify me," she says. "But now I have so much confidence that it's incredible. I'm on a stage in a red bikini and I love it."
Parsonson had always loved dancing, but when she was 39, she decided to treat herself to an early 40th birthday present by travelling to Brazil.
The celebration there of women of all shapes and sizes was liberating.
"It doesn't matter there if you have cellulite - you still wear shorts and bikinis," she says. "It was so great for me to be there because I gradually started to feel less self-conscious. I came back, deciding to feel the fear and do it.
Parsonson also happened to get really fit by doing samba dancing. Having never enjoyed gym work, she gradually took more samba classes and her fitness improved.
The shift in mentality also saw her return to study, even though she had difficulties with learning while at school.
A trip to Bali where she found the massages healing and therapeutic was another catalyst, and Parsonson decided to do a massage course when she returned to Melbourne.
She not only completed the course, but set up her own remedial and pregnancy massage business, Kala Body, five years ago.
A fear of being in front of the camera also prompted her to join talent agency Epic and she has worked as an extra in TV commercials and series.
"Studying as an adult, acting and dancing have both given me a lot more confidence, but it was the moment of not realising
I have to be limited that changed everything," she says.
Turning 43 in November, Parsonson has also accepted she may not have children, but she is not one to focus on what she is missing. Instead, she appreciates everything she has in her life.
"I really live life to the fullest," she says.
"I just went whitewater rafting and swimming in waterfalls for my holiday.
"No matter what you do, if you have children or not, you should be joyful in what you have. Being single means you are free to go and live life, learn a language, travel, dance and feel empowered to have so much freedom."