The Twenty-Five Year (GL)Itch

By on November 11, 2011

By Denise Horner Mitnick –

When my husband and I were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary last January, I developed symptoms of a severe gallbladder attack. We traded the winter wonderland resort where we were renewing our love affair for a Philadelphia teaching hospital where I was poked and prodded by at least a dozen medical professionals before they removed my gallbladder. A short half-day later, I landed in the comfort of my own bedroom recovering from surgery and the flu. I was miserable.

As I recovered from the surgery, for the first time in my life I started to feel old. I couldn’t lift anything over five pounds for six weeks. I walked slowly. I was a bit down. When my husband traveled for business later that month, I wanted to be certain a friend was going to be around in case of—something. I felt vulnerable.

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I was fifty-three, and in good shape, except for missing a gallbladder, an organ only God deemed necessary. I didn’t take any medications. None. I became restless for a change and I’m not talking about menopause (who named it “The Change”, anyway?).

So, I got my hair colored, nothing dramatic; just washed away some dinginess. I resumed exercise (power walking and free weights) and bought some new clothes. It was a good start. But what I really needed had been gurgling beneath the surface for a long time, probably longer than my sludgy gallbladder. There was more missing than a redundant organ, but it wasn’t as obvious because it was an emotional, psychological part. That missing part was a clearer path to happiness.

Sounds cliché—a midlife crisis. Wow! Men aren’t the only ones going through it? The answer is that we go through our midlife experience differently. Women are so focused on everything else we don’t notice a personal gl-itch (hiccup intentional) unless we can’t get out of bed in the morning. We juggle kids, extended family, bills, and work with great skill. A funky gallbladder, a few missed periods and facial hair are like a walk in the woods compared to answering the question, “What do you want for the second half of your life?”

When I asked myself that question I became obsessed with plans (typical of a management consultant). All kinds of plans: financial, work, social, holiday, and the buzz-killer, marital plans. Planning was new for us because we dove right into having kids as newlyweds and then—well, basically, all hell broke loose and we spent time reacting instead of planning. We woke up one day twenty-five years later to an empty nest, one fewer dog, and a doctor who needed to pry my gallbladder out of my umbilicus (so that’s what a belly-button is for).

My work satisfaction had long ago become a distant second to all things family and home, so I began journaling about work and every entry started with reasons why my family life had gotten in the way of the robust career I had once enjoyed.

My happiness was directly related to my family’s life balance and so I worked diligently at attaining that equilibrium. If my kids or my husband were struggling with life and work, I’d be first in line to pick up the slack, easing their burden. My efforts helped them, but I’d become increasingly more weighted down and distant from the balance I needed between my work and life.

When I took on an extra errand here and there, I expected the same in return. No deal. I learned it doesn’t work that way. I needed to advocate for myself like I’d taught my family. I had become weary and irritable because my needs weren’t being met. I should have been part of the balance equation all along. A friend of mine gave me a visual to help me focus on myself. Her example was the demonstration airlines give before takeoff—the one about if you’re traveling with small children, in the event of an emergency, put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others. I couldn’t breathe emotionally because I’d forgotten the important life instruction of good self-care.

Putting in time for my professional growth and development is essential to our family’s sense of work/life balance. Either I simply forgot, I never got the memo, or maybe I never learned. But a couple of years later and a few bumps over the rough terrain of a midlife marriage, I am advocating for myself better than ever.

Meanwhile, everyone wins because today I am happy and tomorrow’s looking pretty good, too.

Denise Horner Mitnick is an author, a management consultant, systems thinker and an entrepreneur. She is also a working wife and mother, member of a large extended family, friend, volunteer, collector of folk art, avid gardener, foodie, and enjoys entertaining with her family, both formally and informally. Her website:

About Denise Horner Mitnick

Ms. Mitnick lives in a Main Line suburb of Philadelphia, Penn Valley, as well as one of its summer alternatives, Margate-by-the-Sea with her husband and their chocolate lab. She is very proud of her two daughters who are making their way through college and graduate school while crafting their own brand of balance between home and work. Please visit her website:

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The Twenty-Five Year (GL)Itch