On midlife vulnerability and custard

Where’s the fucking zest?

Lisa Renee
5 min readMay 7


Group IV, No 7, The Ten Largest, Adulthood, Hilma af Klint, 1907

“There is no greater power in the world than the zest of a postmenopausal woman.” Margaret Mead

I just went to the post office, my first outing in weeks after a long, miserable (supposedly non-Covid) illness. Driving there, I felt like a naked baby bird, possibly not yet ready for the chilly, spring world. After weeks of rain and budding, it’s gorgeous out there, leaning lush. The greens are popping and the sky is particularly big and wet, all conspiring to stir awe in my raw, post-sick self. I drove, gape-mouthed and slow, into the tiny town for my big adventure, shaky like a shut-in with a day pass.

Midlife has been a study in vulnerability, in ways I didn’t see coming and still don’t totally understand. Whereas vulnerability was a bug of my youth, it’s been a feature of my midlife. It was situational before, showing up in challenging circumstances or prompted by difficult people. I’m a little ashamed to admit that, in the before times, I viewed vulnerability as a sort of weakness. Now, in the after, it’s the default, the landscape of the highly sensitive person. The universe has a way of punishing me for stupid opinions.

Have you heard of the highly sensitive person? We’re called HSPs now and it’s a whole thing, though I’m torn about the need to name and pathologize everything. On one hand, it’s good to find research and guidance, good to find others. On the other, hasn’t the world been stuffed with sensitive people since the beginning of time? Haven’t we been the unwitting beneficiaries of their art and innovation forever? Aren’t we just nice, quiet folks who feel our shit (and yours) a little too much? We’re everywhere and we just want everyone else to sit down and shut up. We’re having a very sane reaction to an insane world.

I’ve always skewed sensitive, but life was big and busy and that part got sidelined. When we were falling in love, Steven called me a ‘tough chick.’ He recently read about HSPs and suddenly realized that he married one.

“Have you heard about this HSP thing?”

He’s adorable.

There’s a tough chick in me who wrestled the HSP to the ground, hog-tied her…