The ‘Mid-Life Crisis Continuum’ - When is a Mid-life Crisis really a Crisis? Pt 2
In my last blog, I explored the word ‘crisis’ and what it might mean when it comes to a so called ‘mid-life crisis.’ Having done so, it is clear that the word and the term is often used to describe a phenomenon which can range from mild acting out (maybe buying an ‘age inappropriate’ pair of jeans) to catastrophic (involving serious harm or loss).
Given this, and the tendency to, in my view, mis-apply the term, I think it’s important to get clear on where we are on what I want to call the ‘mid-life crisis continuum.’ This will help us to appreciate and reflect on the appropriate things we can do in any given circumstance.
In order to create a way to conceptualise this I thought I would use the idea of a line running from mild to catastrophic and then attempt to put some loose definitions around the key locations along that line. So here goes:
The Mid-life Crisis continuum:
I will provide some rough definitions for these, but they are not clinical based or fixed. They are intended to give you a rough idea, nothing more.
The first thing to note is that 'mild' is not the beginning of the continuum. I'll develop this in the next blog in terms of what are appropriate interventions at each stage, but the reason i have shown 'mild' as starting a little way along the continuum is to illustrate the fact that being human is a state which naturally leads to us having questions, thoughts, desires and feelings of being up and down with life. That's called 'normal.' And, arguably, 'mild' falls into that category. As human beings it would be very unusual to not have feelings of dissatisfaction at times. The reasons, however, for including this on the continuum are two-fold:
1. It seems to be common place to chuck the 'mid-life crisis' label around almost flippantly when we see examples of .so-called 'mild' acting out. 'Oh he's just having his mid-life crisis' can be heard from friends when, for whatever reason, you might turn up at the pub quiz sporting a pair of pink socks (not that that's happened to me you understand!)
2. It is worth appreciating that these 'mild' manifestations of those feelings may indicate the start of a move along the continuum if the individual concerned doesn't take constructive steps to acknowledge it and mitigate or deal with the underlying feelings.
So, that said, here are my rough initial descriptions for each of the labels:
Low level feelings and thoughts of dissatisfaction, questioning life and your own value, purpose and direction. Feelings of dissatisfaction with elements of your life, work, relationships, family life. These may manifest in low level maladaptive coping strategies such as drinking more, withdrawing from aspect of life a little more than usual, just appearing less buoyant and happy perhaps and irritability, frustration, with other people, situations and things.
The consequences of your lower level feelings are starting to manifest in more significant ways in your life - your health may be starting to suffer - you may be feeling constantly tired, or low mood. Your relationships are starting to suffer and risk breaking down. You might find yourself angry more often and taking it out in non-violent ways which are nevertheless causing upset, and hurt in those closest to you. You may find yourself losing motivation and struggling to get out of bed with any sense of positivity. Behaviours you have perhaps relied upon to help you cope are now becoming your default and feel almost habitual. For example drinking becomes an almost daily habit, spending time away from family, on porn sites, or sitting in the pub.
Things are getting serious now. You might find yourself in a constant state of depression or anxiety. You may feel crushed by life, or always angry and resentful. You find yourself at odds with the world and lash out at those closest to you, being verbally cruel and then beating yourself up for it later. You may find yourself with a severe drinking, gambling, porn or smoking/ drug habit. You are increasingly out of control and find that you are unable to moderate or control your behaviours, mood or emotions. Your only option is to withdraw from the world and isolate yourself. You feel you can’t open up. There may be severe consequences when it comes to your closest relationships, friendships, your work, career and finances. These may result in losing the most important things in your life - your loved ones, work, home, financial stability.
You are finding yourself so desperate, angry and lost that you become violent, towards others, or to yourself. Suicide is a serious consideration and you may have attempted or planned it. Alternatively you may find yourself drinking so heavily that you get yourself into a state where you are vulnerable to impulsive acts of despair or violence. The consequences can be catastrophic. In other words you risk your life, the safety of others or your ecology as you know it (becoming homeless, financially bankrupt or with a severe and debilitating addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc)
The above may not be doing the phrase justice as ‘mild’ implies one can have a ‘mild crisis’ and that is clearly not possible from the definitions in the previous blog. But perhaps if we consider this in the context of the consequences and outcomes rather than the way it feels to the individual experiencing it.
Anyone experiencing those deep questions prompted by the passing of years and the appreciation that the years ahead may be moving to the point where there is less ahead than behind, can start to feel and experience a powerful mix of emotions and thoughts combined with our current physical condition be that good bad or indifferent.
And perhaps, the impact of that cocktail can range from mild - feelings of dissatisfaction, questioning ones value and contribution, frustration, resentment, through moderate - growing sense of sadness, loss, anger and anxiousness (by no means an exhaustive list), to severe - mental ill-health (anxiety, depression), excessive drinking, smoking, drug taking, acting out such as promiscuity, gambling, spending, obsessively exercising, eating disorders and finally catastrophic - which could at worst include suicide, violence to others, breakdown of stable relationships with partner, children leading to isolation and guilt exacerbating mental health issues.
Obviously the above is focused on the negative aspects and that’s important for now, but we will explore the opportunities and how to take a positive perspective and more positive action to not only cope but work through these.
For now, though, it might be worth reflecting on where you, or your loved one, might be on the continuum.
It goes without saying that the further along towards the ‘catastrophic’ end, the more immediate is the need for intervention and to a more significant degree. At the extreme, it might be making an emergency appointment with your GP, ringing the Samaritans helpline (details ahead) and at the very least opening up to someone about how dire the situation is. In those instances, this blog is not the answer. Nor, to be fair are any self-help books, tapes (showing my age there) or seminars. They may flag up the situation where once insight was failing you, but nevertheless, professional help along with loving support form those closest to you is the only answer.
So with that in mind, if you have any suspicion that you are on the ‘severe’ to catastrophic’ end of the continuum or heading at a pace that way, or at any risk of doing so, then please, put down this book, stop reading this blog and take action now.
And that action? Simply speak up. Get in touch with at least one loved one and tell them. Tell them any way, anyhow, but tell them you need help. Then, get in touch with some professional support. These range from contacting your GP for an urgent appointment (if out of hours, your non-emergency medical support in the UK that’s the 111 number, or if in an emergency situation, ie you are in imminent danger of doing something catastrophic to yourself or another, then in the UK 999 and ask for help). You can contact other support like the Samaritans, or check out the other resources available through the NHS and charities such as Mind.
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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.