She’s known for her bubbly and extroverted personality, and for being able to laugh about everything life throws at her, good or bad. But two years ago, Kerre McIvor (48) found herself feeling despondent all the time and wondering, “What’s my point?”
Call it a midlife crisis, a case of empty-nest syndrome or a particularly harsh reality check – whatever it was that she went through, it made the usually cheerful and outgoing media star miserable. Our beloved columnist opens up on overcoming her dark days.
Kerre – now using her married name in place of her maiden name, Woodham – says her malaise was largely due to feeling her job as a mother was done, thanks to her daughter Kate getting married, combined with a sense that she became invisible once she hit her mid-forties.
“I hadn’t felt this unsettled since I was 14,” admits Kerre, who is serious and reflective as she sips a coffee at her dining table. “I was confused and didn’t know where my place was in life. I thought everyone else was doing it so much better than I was; I was the only loser who didn’t get what it was all about.
“I’m not, by nature, an unhappy person. I’m usually really positive and chirpy. But I lost my chirp; I was like a nightingale that couldn’t sing. It was awful.” At the time, Kerre didn’t broadcast what she was going through. Of course husband Tom McIvor, who she married earlier this year, knew and she also con ded in her close girlfriends, many of whom could relate to how she was feeling.
However, she has been very upfront about her struggles in her new book, Musings From Middle Age. The book is also full of her irreverent sense of humour, wry observations and snappy one-liners, as she looks at all aspects of middle age.
Already the author of two books about running, Kerre confesses this one wasn’t her idea. Staff from HarperCollins Publishers kept taking her out to lunch and asking if she had any other ideas. “They said you must have done something, and I said the only thing I had done was get old. They lifted their heads up like bloodhounds and their eyes lit up.”
Since the book was intended to be about her personal experience of ageing, and because she’s so used to sharing details of her life through her “Short Blonde” column in the Weekly (and also because she just can’t help herself), Kerre has been brutally honest about the emotional
rollercoaster she’s endured.
“Some women breeze through this stage of life – I’m not one of them. Once you start going down that slippery slope towards middle age, it
happens really fast. Your eyesight starts to go, you discover that first grey hair – not necessarily on your head – and you notice wrinkles. You
barely have time to recover from one horror and another one hits you.”
But what made this stage of life particularly difficult was suffering empty-nest syndrome, after her only child Kate (24) got married.
Kerre and Kate have always been extremely close, and although Kate had previously left home to go flatting, she kept returning for short spells. To Kerre, Kate’s wedding felt like she’d finally left for good and Kerre was no longer needed.
“It tore me apart – I was a mess. A raw, empty, grieving mass of madness. I thought, ‘What’s my point? If I’m not Kate’s mother any more, what am I?’ It’s a terrible burden to put on Kate, to be the be-all and end-all of my universe. But I felt like my job was done, and I didn’t cope very well.
“Some women kiss their children goodbye, send them off with their blessing and then go, ‘Woo hoo! This is my time.’ I wish I was in that camp. I know Kate has to carve her own placein the world, and I don’t want to be a smother mother.
“She’s an extremely clever, capable, talented young woman and the world is her oyster. But it is so hard letting go.”
Kerre, a single mum for many years, says nothing comes close to the incredible joy Kate has brought her – not even her very successful career as a TV presenter, Newstalk ZB host, writer and columnist.
“My career counts for nothing compared to being Kate’s mother. Raising her is the most important thing I have done. It’s been so lovely watching her grow up,” she says. When Kerre confessed her feelings to Kate, her wise daughter told her to stop being silly – she would always
be needed and wanted.
Kerre is coming to terms with letting her daughter go, but the fact she was going through those emotions at the same time she was discovering how women seem to become invisible after the age of 40,made things trickier to deal with.
“Suddenly it is like you don’t exist any more. Men, especially, just do not see you. You get overlooked when it comes to being served in bars and restaurants. You could take your clothes off and do star jumps and nobody would notice because they are too busy looking at the hot
young babes behind you. “You want to say, ‘Look at me, I’ve got life experiences, I’m worthwhile.’ It comes as quite a shock, especially if you are used to getting attention.”
Feeling invisible was disconcerting, and Kerre found that despite trying to tell herself to get over it, she was mentally beating herself up.
“I hated this internal monologue I had going on which was a continual whine of misery. It was so alien to me to have that negativity in my
life, especially when I was the one generating it. “There was no reason for me to be unhappy – in all respects I had a very happy, worthwhile
life with a great job and a wonderful man and a lovely daughter, yet I was so miserable. It was pathetic. I thought, ‘What is wrong? I don’t want to be like this for the rest of my life. This is really tiresome.’”
Fortunately, the worst of her midlife crisis is now over. There was no particular turning point, just a gradual realisation that she was going through a relatively normal phase of human development.
It helped to know that many women experience the same thing, and to see that older women of her mother’s generation had come through their rough patches and were enjoying life.
“Seeing my mum and her friends doing so much with their lives and being interested in so many things was really encouraging. It gave me hope.” A few counselling sessions also helped. “It seemed quite self indulgent but it was useful to crystallise my thoughts. “It was also the catalyst that made me give up extra work I had been doing, like taking groups on overseas trips and public speaking. I was exhausted and it wasn’t helping.”
Kerre is taking a year off from public speaking and also trying to be more gentle with herself. “That whiny tart isn’t in my head any more, and I’m trying not to be so hard on myself. I’m slowing down and enjoying things more, and I’m not striving so much.”
Now the book is done, she also has more time to relax. She hopes people will nd what she has written funny – there are plenty of laugh-out-loud bits, as well as angst-filled ones. “And I hope that any women going through a tough time will understand that they are not alone and they’re not mad. It’s just a phase in your life, like adolescence, that you have to go through before you get to better things.
“And hang on in there, it does get better.”