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MADELEINE WEST: 5 years ago, I no longer recognised myself in the mirror. So I hit restart.

Ever owned a fave pair of pants and discovered one day they don’t fit? You still love them, they still have pride of place in your wardrobe but they simply don't fit. 

So you have three options: alter them to fit, alter yourself to fit, or buy a new pair. All three options require change which we willingly adopt. 

Yet for most of us, should we discover our lives no longer fit, we choose to ignore it and pretend otherwise… we just keep walking around in discomfort, silently suffering. 

Why?

Five years ago I hit restart. I woke one morning and no longer recognised myself in the mirror.

I loved so much about my life but somewhere I'd lost myself within it. It no longer fit me… so I hit restart and began a slow, painful, exhilarating transformation that would change everything.

Listen to Madeleine West on Mamamia's newest podcast, Restart. Post continues below. 


It began with separation.

I know it seems like everyone is suddenly saying "I don’t" to happily ever after. But the reality of "consciously uncoupling" ain't as conscientious as the cliches might have you think. 

I loved Sarah Jessica Parker in the HBO series Divorce, but in real life the whole sordid drama is about as appealing as running a marathon around Central Park in nine-inch Jimmy Choos. 

It hurts, it gets dirty, vicious; it brought out the very worst in me… still does to this day. 

It tore apart my world, damaged the things I held dearest and turned love toxic. You wouldn’t put your worst enemy through it, let alone the person you promised to love for as long as you both shall live.

I failed at matrimony, and heck, I wasn’t even married! 

I just wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I’d been advised to listen more, really listen, to my loved ones and my intuition. 

I wish I’d known how hard it would be to be rudderless, to challenge everything I thought I knew about myself and my world. 

I wish I’d known how hard it would be to re-establish my sense of self when for so long my whole identity revolved around being one half of a duo that was now a solo act. 

I wish I’d known how hard it would be to navigate your world single-handedly, playing both mum and dad on the weeks you have your babies, and the weeks you don’t stumbling beneath the crushing loneliness that makes you wonder: If I'm a mum when the kids aren’t here, what am I? WHO am I?

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I wish I’d known how hard it would be for my babies straddling the chasm where was once a happy home. 

I wish I’d known that divorce is more than a division of assets, it’s a division of homes, friends, hopes, dreams. 

I wish I’d known how inherently unfair it is, that the system works in no one's favour, that justice is frequently determined by who has the fatter wallet, not who is in the right. 

There are no winners, just who loses more. 

The vulnerable are invariably the hardest hit, and we can make all the campaigns we like about victims' rights but until everyone is willing to open their eyes and speak out those campaigns are just more empty talk.

And I wish someone had warned me about the guilt. I see now why some believe it's easier to simply stay, especially when kids are involved. But I fail to see how giving your little people a front-row seat to their parents' misery is protecting them.

I wish I had known that following your heart can still leave your heart feeling broken. 

But these are not regrets, regret is redundant. These are costs, often inconvenient, that are necessary to create change. To restart.

And I am still very much on my journey, as we all are when we choose change.

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I was reminded of the power of that choice, and the bravery required to make it only last year, following the passing of Prince Philip. 

I recall being stunned into silence by the sight of her royal majesty in mourning, Queen Elizabeth, on the living room TV. 

Here was a woman crushed, yet tirelessly observant of correct protocol and presentation even in the deepest grief. 

It got me thinking, what will the Queen’s restart look like? Now in her twilight years, bereft of a love played out before the world which, though not perfect by any conventional measure, still seemed destined to go beyond the bounds of time, a love blessed rather than beset by the tears and smiles they shared across the years. 

Though they both seemed married first to The Firm, secondly to each other, there was a twinkle in the Queen’s eye when she looked upon Philip that went beyond duty to crown and country.

So what does her restart look like now?

In fact, for any woman, or man, who has suffered a significant life-altering trauma or change, be it the loss of a loved one, a career backflip, a monumental location shift or illness, is it possible to hit the RESTART button, and where do you… start?

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Like many, looking at the Queen’s anguish from both the objective spectators' view, and from the subjective view of a woman who has also experienced indescribable pain, I like most asked - how will she live without him? But a more useful, affirmative and ultimately helpful question would be: What will her life look like without him? For this supposes that she will go on, as the world invariably does, and Elizabeth Windsor - widow, wife, mother, queen - will be capable of doing so despite her pain…

And so must we all as we move through life. We will each of us face many trials and tribulations. 

The saying 'what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’ seems trite but contains a truism in that we so often focus on what we lose when life throws us a curveball, rather than what we gain just by surviving the experience. 

Love lost has more potency when the focus is placed on what was gained from having loved in the first place. Which frees us up to embrace the knowledge that it’s never too late to change everything.

A life lived large, loving hard, laughing loud and dreaming big lingers long, even when the key players and events seem a distant memory.

To all of us who look back upon our lives as a new chapter beckons, don’t be afraid to turn that page. The past may have passed but it will never be forgotten, knowing that even when you feel distant from your love, your world, your self, deep within that connection lingers on. 

Despite tough choices and sometimes tougher consequences, my life now fits me. Like a pair of pants tailored to my design. 

They might need a little alteration here and there to adapt as I evolve, but I have chosen to live a big life and it fits me perfectly. I’m not an actor in my own existence. I live it fully and give myself permission to go off script.

To Elizabeth, and every other woman, man and incredible person who identifies between, I wish you every joy and much luck hitting your restart. It won’t be easy but nothing worth it ever is.

Everyone should feel like they have the power to reign over their own life. A restart might mean letting your crown slip for a moment but when you pick it up and put it back on you will truly know how to wear it. And you deserve it.

Let's get started. 

For more from Madeleine West, listen to Restart, a new Mamamia podcast looking into why more and more women are pressing refresh on their lives, and how the hell they’ve done it. From divorce to health, to appearance, to career, to sex. Restart, it’s never too late to change everything.

Feature Image: Instagram / @madmadswest