Our Founder's tale of the life crisis that inspired Noon

Career change, illness and a looming empty nest prompted Eleanor Mills to start her next act

It all began during a boiling hot day in the first lockdown. I went to meet an old friend. We sat on a bench in the scruffy park behind my house and drank Pimms out of a tin. “How are you?” she said. I tried to put a brave face on it, I’m known for my cheeriness. But I couldn’t.  The truth was I was terrible. I’d left the organisation I’d worked for for 23 years, had been knocked out by Covid and was surprised by how sad I felt about my girls leaving the nest.  I felt like I’d been pushed off a roof – falling with nothing to hang on to; raw, fragile – and overwhelmingly sad.

I tried to put a brave face on it, I’m known for my cheeriness. But I couldn’t

I looked up at her and burst into tears. It all flooded out. Who was I without the big job that had given me a cloak of power – think the full Game of Thrones, black velvet and gold insignia – for the whole of my adult life? Why did I feel so physically weak and fragile (I was in bed for two weeks and like a kitten for another ten days, and I got off lightly on the Corona front). I’d just turned fifty and I wasn’t loving my crepey hands and turkey neck. My girls were teenagers, increasingly independent; one was applying for Uni, for the first time I could see the empty nest on the horizon. For years I’d loved my work, felt fulfilled, and was grateful for my loving family. Yet somehow I’d arrived in this dark, unfamiliar place where all the things that buoyed me up in the past had gone. I didn’t recognise – and didn’t like – this new pathetic version of myself.

…somehow I’d arrived in this dark, unfamiliar place where all the things that buoyed me up in the past had gone.

She fed me more Pimms. Listened. Cracked some terrible old jokes as the tempest subsided and looked me in the eye. “Change is difficult,” she said. “But you’ll be alright. It’s like the tide going out, sometimes there will be a big wave which knocks you over but the general direction will be better.” Her words gave me permission to find it tough. To endure. It was such a relief.

I felt I had been put back together by a loving community; friends, family, old colleagues, people I’d helped in the past who reached out

In the weeks and months that followed I felt I had been put back together by a loving community; friends, family, old colleagues, people I’d helped in the past who reached out. Many had their own stories of midlife transition (I think it used to be called crisis).  I looked at the women around me and saw they were all coping with multiple stressors – divorce, bereavement, redundancy, difficult teens, elderly parents, health problems –  and many were feeling lost, particularly about what the next years were going to look like. One great friend said to me that she felt like she was sleep-walking through her own life and didn’t want any of it. Another said she really didn’t want to have the same midlife and old age as her mother.

I began to feel better. I walked every day for an hour with my husband. I started writing a novel, something I had always wanted to do and never had time for. I mooched around with my kids; something that as a hyper-busy, bread-winning mum there hadn’t been much time for either. I read widely – books, poetry, even philosophy. I remembered Chris Evans, the DJ, telling me that during his own period of crisis he had been saved by by Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now. I listened to it on an audio book when I was sick with Covid and I have meditated every day since.

I started to realise that I lived my life at such a hectic pace, prizing busy-ness, that when I stopped I felt like I had several extra limbs which had nothing to do. The meditation calmed that mania, I began to slow down. I would sit and listen to the birds. Watch the trees. Spend an hour cooking slowly listening to music. Simple pleasures which I had never had time for in my adrenaline-filled existence. I began to feel happier.

Our culture gives women a series of hoops to jump through…But at around fifty that map stops.

I knew I had so much more to give, that I was at a new beginning, not the end.

Our culture gives women a series of hoops to jump through – get educated, find a career, a partner, maybe have some kids. But at around fifty that map stops. It’s as if we disappear, become invisible. I knew I had so much more to give, that I was at a new beginning, not the end. But there weren’t any signposts. The kind of advice and counsel I was seeking just wasn’t out there. A mate said: “You just need to find your next act.” He was right. But it was hard to find inspiration for what that might look like.

Noon was born out of my desire to help women find a new path through midlife and beyond, to change the narrative.

I did a lot of thinking and talking. As an editor I had found that my hunches tended to be shared by others; as a columnist I knew that when I felt passionately about an issue others would too. I decided to try and be the change I wanted to see in the world. Noon was born out of my desire to help women find a new path through midlife and beyond, to change the narrative. It starts with creating a supportive, authentic and honest community of women and providing the inspiration and the expert advice that we all need to thrive.

 I wanted to start Noon so that every woman who finds herself in that dark space has a community to help her re-find the sunny uplands…a place where women could rediscover their right to fun and pleasure.

When I was in the doldrums it was my amazing network that got me through.  I wanted to start Noon so that every woman who finds herself in that dark space has a community to help her re-find the sunny uplands. More than that, I wanted to create a place where women could rediscover their right to fun and pleasure.

No-one tells older women they deserve joy – at Noon we do.

No-one tells older women they deserve joy – at Noon we do. So read other women’s stories,  send us your own Noon tale, consult our experts, get involved in our online groups and events and then join us on a retreat where Noon comes to life. And repeat after me: there’s so much more to come.

— Eleanor Mills

Picture: with thanks to Abbie Townsend

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