Q&A: How not to grow crazier as we grow older

Here's a question for a Friday from Caro:

"This is only tangentially a parenting question, but it seems likesomething you and your readers might have thought about, or might be able to help me think about.

Right now, I know three women in their sixties who are each dealing with--or in massive, obvious denial about--Personal Issues that have clearly been building up for decades and are now crashing down on them and the people around them in huge ways. They are in vastly different situations (details are personal and don't matter much here), but each of them is in an emotional, physical, or relational state where, in her thirties, she never would have expected or wanted to end up. The common thread seems to be failure to deal with problems as they arise--failure to even recognize them as problems until they are out of control.

My question: What can we--women, mostly, here--moms with plenty going on to distract us from taking care of our long-term mental and emotional health--do now to make sure we don't wake up at age 60 and suddenly realize we're a mess? How can we make ourselves *see* the things that these three smart women I know (and many, many others, I'm sure) somehow ignored or missed for years and years?

Sorry to be so vague (too vague?). Am trying to steer away from the specific situations, as I think this is actually a widespread phenomenon with women and transcends the individual details.

Hope that makes some sense. Would love to discuss this with you and/or other Moxie readers."

Yeah. Oh, so yeah. And I'm betting everyone else who's been interacting with family this summer is processing this on some level, too.

For me, this question is really personal. I was so invested in external appearances for so long. And I'd gotten myself into a truly insurmountable (with the energy and strength I had at the time) situation that has taken every ounce of honesty and strength and heartbreak I have to get out of. So I definitely understand bad decisions, the slippery slope, misunderstanding your own needs, and then inertia and/or denial and/or fear.

For me the solution was ruthless, brutal honesty, combined with some truly freaky spiritual experiences that left me feeling like I was being taken care of even in the midst of chaos. The freaky spiritual experiences are not a replicable model for everyone (although, honestly, I never thought the kind of strange stuff that happened was going to happen to me, so how can I say that they couldn't happen to everyone else?), but the honesty is.

I also think some sort of goal-setting might help. On an email list I used to be on (Hi, enu, Num-Num, and Pennifer!), we used to all post our New Year's resolutions. Then the next December, someone who'd kept them all would send them back to the list and we could look and see how we'd done. It seems like a semi-public process of setting a course for yourself and then checking to see how well you were doing might help keep you from driving into the ditch totally. But, as with most things, it would only work if you were super-honest and took it very seriously. Because you could go along for years focusing on the surface things without really looking at where you were going as a human being. Unless you're brave enough to set some sort of life goal in the style of choosing your own epitaph and working toward that goal.

The other alternative is to start calling our friends on things when we think they're making bad decisions. But I just don't see that happening on a wide scale. Also, people who were really invested in denial would just ditch friends who were too honest with them.

So, hey, I don't know. Personally, I think I'm on the right track for the first time in a looooong time. But what would it take to derail me again? You can be reasonably together while your kids are little and still end up with too many cats and a boyfriend who writes bad checks once your kids leave the house. And how do you disentangle yourself if you've let things like your health get away from you? You can't just call Clean House to come clear out the clutter in your arteries.

What do you guys think? Do you suspect that you're struggling with things that could eventually overtake you? Or do you have some way of keeping yourself honest? Or do you even think about it? Miraculous transformations as well as cautionary tales always welcome.