What is a 'Mid-Life Crisis' Anyway? #mansproutsblog

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This is an obvious question to ask, but, let's be honest it can mean different things to different people and depend on whether you are male or female.  

It was the label that was attached to me, when, at the age of 34 years, I dismantled all that was seemingly great about my life.  I ended my marriage of 15 years, breaking the hearts of my wife, my kids and me.  

Into the mix, I found myself penniless and, stupidly, decided to set up and run my own business, taking the leap from my secure police career into the unknown.  Thankfully, because I didn’t know how to run a business (not sure I still do!), I had only taken a 'career break' rather than resigning.  Which meant that when everything crashed around me financially, I was able to return to some level of income and lick my wounds.

By then, a couple of years had passed and I had spent most of that time, beating myself up about how I had ruined everyone’s life, including my own.  Consequently I steadfastly refused to allow myself to create a new personal life.  Why?  Well I didn’t deserve one, did I?  it took me a while to overcome that belief and the crushing sense of guilt that accompanied it.

So, is that a typical ‘mid-life crisis’?

In today's blog, lets deal with the first half of the phrase...

The 'Mid-life'

I did a bit of research and found this quote from one of the NHS websites (UK National Health Service).  Apparently a mid-life crisis actually warrants mention by the National Health Service in the UK!  Here’s what they say…

A midlife crisis can happen when men think they've reached life's halfway stage and feel time is running out.
It's not a medical condition but people going through a midlife crisis can experience anxiety and depression.
The age at which people experience a midlife crisis can vary. It can typically occur anywhere between the age of 35 and 50
(NHS WEBSITE, REF 1)

Hmmm.  

Does what I went through fit that?  

Maybe actually.  I don’t know about the ‘halfway stage’ bit, but there was certainly something about realising my life was moving ever onwards.  And I was starting to ask myself, what I was doing with that time?  

And, I guess the consequences and choices I made, whilst not the way everyone handles it, were very much rooted in a feeling of, ‘is this it? After all I’ve done, the effort I’ve put into life, is this as far as I get?’

I think the questions to ask ourselves as men, and perhaps as a partner to a man you believe is experiencing this are…

How are you feeling about you and your place in life in general?  

Let’s face it, an unhappy marriage, or feeling unhappy with your level of fitness, your weight or your career, don’t in themselves mean you are experiencing a mid-life crisis.  We are human beings and we make choices in life that can prove to be misguided or plain wrong, or that no longer suit us.  We can also experience dissatisfaction at any time of life.  And this can often be remedied with support, action and communication - especially when it comes to relationship issues.  Communication is often the first thing to go as a relationship drifts.  It can often be the answer to rekindling former passions and interest, and overcome those resentments that may have quietly built up over time.

But, these things, especially if there are several of them, can sometimes indicate something a, little bit deeper.  And that is why, it is important to explore this question.  

Because, typically, as men we may deal with the symptoms, such as the feeling of being unhappy about the relationship, rather than dealing with the underlying cause.  Let’s face it, when it comes to something like the common cold, there are numerous symptoms (sore throat, runny nose, headache, and so on), but there is one cause - the virus.  We can spend a lot of time buying remedies to help us feel better, but ultimately, tackling the cause is the best bet for eliminating all the symptoms and providing a lasting solution (Ok, so I know they haven’t found the cure for the common cold, but they are working on it).

And perhaps that's where the metaphor continues to apply to the so called mid-life crisis.  There may not be an obvious one size fits all cure (just like the cold).  

But, one thing is certain.  

Simply focusing on the symptoms and attempting to find some ease or respite is not only likely to be a short-term fix, but could have catastrophic consequences for ourselves and those closest to us.   Destructive ‘remedies’ can include excessive drinking, working long hours, being unfaithful, getting into debt to buy the cliched sports car and so on.

I’ll deal with the ‘crisis’ element in the next blog, but for now, it is important to understand that what you think is the reason or explanation may not be it.  

Don’t get me wrong, you may still make some of the same decisions - like getting fit, losing weight or sadly even ending a relationship. 

But you will be doing so from a foundation of genuine consideration and reflection rather than simply steaming ahead with some ill thought out plan.  Or acting on a powerful impulse when temptation is placed before you.

And, before looking at the ‘crisis’ aspect, it is worth acknowledging just how vague a term ‘mid-life’ really is.  Let’s face it, we have the potential these days to live longer than our grandparents, so where does this phrase actually come from?

After a bit of digging I found reference to an article which most claim is the originator of the term.  In his 1965 article Death and the Mid-life Crisis (REF 2), Jaques, Elliott coined the phrase to describe the period in life when men and women get to grips with the reality of their own mortality and the reducing number of years ahead of them. The years between age 40 and 65 tend to be the period during which the term ‘mid-life’ refers in this context (REF 3).  

And that makes sense, especially as I now fall into my late 40’s.  I get that!  I get that sense of time passing by so quickly and being acutely aware that the number of remaining years ahead is not guaranteed.  I find myself worrying about the quality of my sleep and the impact on my health overall. Then I find myself worrying about the worrying about the quality of my sleep and I start to feel a deep sense of anxiety since I know that managing my stress is a critical component in long-term health and wellbeing.  Then I start to feel despondent at the vicious cycle of worry, poor sleep, high stress and anxiety.   And I reach for a glass of wine.  And then…

And on it could go.

The thing is, whilst I have my moments like the above, I am better at catching myself in the act and taking more positive steps to deal with all of those issues.  

And, why is that?  Well, because my mid-life crisis apparently started a lot earlier than the age range given above.  So, I guess I’m getting to be a bit of an old hand at handling these feelings.

And that brings me to one the main point of today's blog.  The term 'mid-life crisis’ need not actually manifest during ones 'mid-life.'  And it need not be a crisis for everyone.  

How many of us have had these thoughts and feelings a lot sooner than your 40's?

How many of you were, or are like me when I was in my early to mid thirties, asking myself that question…

'Is this it?’

If so, then your very own cliche may be upon you sooner than you think.  And, if significant, it can lead to you being receiving the diagnosis (from family, friends and the world at large),  ‘oh, you are just having your mid-life crisis’ early.  And that can be one of the better things to happen.  We still need to explore the 'crisis’ aspect.  What does it mean? What to watch out for?  And what to do to avoid or manage the process more positively?

For now, though, as someone who had their own early mid-life crisis, take heart from my own experience.  

You don’t need to become a cliche.  

You are so much more.

And it can be so much more.  

Rather than believing the nay sayers, and the negative Nellies, a so called mid-life crisis, can be a time for amazing opportunities and growth personally.  It can be the wake up call you are so desperate to receive.

Yes, it’s painful.  Yes it can be so incredibly uncomfortable and will be very unsettling for those around you, but it needn’t be the crisis everyone is so terrified of.

In my next blog, I will  explore the second part of the phrase and that word - 'crisis.'

As a word of advice for any one experiencing their own sense of desperation, loss or crisis, please, don't endure it alone.  Seek help.  From family, trusted friends and professionals.  Your own Doctor or GP is a great place to start.  Or there are great services provided by organisations such as the Samaritans.  For further advice on professional support and advice check out the NHS resources.  

This series of blogs is intended to encourage reflection on your own wellbeing and mental health.  It seeks to encourage you to speak up and get help where needed and take hope that you things can be better.  It is not intended as therapy or a replacement for professional help and advice.

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REFERENCES

1.  NHS Website. Male Mid Life Crisis, 16/02/2018 https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/men4060/Pages/midlifecrisis.aspx

2.  Jaques, Elliott. Death and the Mid-life Crisis. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol 46(4), 1965, 502-514.

3.  Psychology Today.  Midlife - 20/02/2018 https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/midlife

Dave

PS - Don't forget to visit the man sprouts page to find the latest podcast episodes and to sign up to the man sprouts movement - intended to promote a positive sproutlook on male mental health.

Contact Dave to share feedback and questions, or learn more about his work in developing resilience and enhancing wellbeing. 

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