The Mid-Life Crisis Can Strike Early!
In my previous blog I introduced my intention to write a book about positively managing the so called male mid-life crisis.' I'll explore that term over time, but as promised, today I am sharing the next blog in which I share some of the back story leading to my interest in this area...
It was 3.44am.
Why was it that I always seemed to wake and notice the clock at that time? And it wasn't just a stirring and then back off to sleep. Like previous mornings, I found myself wide awake.
And thinking the same thoughts.
I can’t do this anymore.
That familiar clamp like feeling down the left side of my face, ever present lately, felt so heavy. I felt crushed.
That was it. Crushed. Physically it was like my head was being ground into the dust between the jaws of a heavy iron vice. And it represented how I felt inside too. I say felt. I kind of felt nothing in one sense. Nothing other than an icy grip on my soul.
As I lay there, I tried to think about that. Who am I? Did I ever know? Where along the way have I lost me?
I looked at the clock again, and felt a sense of dread seeping past that vice like grip. I would have to be up and away to work for five-thirty to start my shift. I closed my eyes again and prayed (I didn't even believe at that time)...
Please God, help me. Give me a way out of this. I don’t know what to do! I can’t do this even one more day.
I lay in 'quiet desperation' as the Pink Floyd song so brilliantly describes the ‘English way', in their song ‘Time.' Hoping for someone or something to show me the way.
Eventually I fell asleep at around 4.45am, knowing that I would have to drag myself out of bed, some forty five minutes later, from the deepest sleep I would get that night.
That was over 20 years ago now. I can still feel, if I try hard enough, that vice like clamp and that sense of utter despair and dread. But, I don’t indulge those memories much now.
That morning all those years, ago, like so many mornings before, I did get up. I did go into work and do my job. I was the sergeant leading a police response team at the time.
I had only recently been promoted to sergeant and didn't actually have a lot of service under my belt. Having passed my exams for promotion very quickly I guess I was pushed for ‘greater things.’ Some even mentioned ‘accelerated promotion'. I did explore that option, but for some reason chose not to go down that route. I am so thankful now that I didn't as the thought of moving up the police ranks didn’t fill me with any sense of hope, pride or excitement. Instead it filled me with more dread. After several months into my role as a newly promoted sergeant I began to realise that, as well as dealing with the challenges of the role, I was fast losing my battle to stay on top of my anxiety.
My own sense of perfectionism and desire to please and impress people grew to monstrous proportions as I found myself leading a team in a high profile city under the gaze of an inspector who wanted to succeed. He was a great fella, but his high expectations only served to fuel the fire under my own boiling pot of self-loathing, inadequacy and a belief that I was a fraud and would, at any time, be found out once and for all.
I sometimes joke (although it was true) that I didn’t change my Police Constable’s warrant card to a Sergeant’s Warrant card for the first three years of being in the rank. I was so utterly convinced, that one day I would need it again. Someone, sooner or later, would realise that I was a joke and take my stripes from me. I would then return in shame to some back-water shift to serve out my days amidst knowing and pitiful glances from my colleagues.
And, you know what? A small part of me actually wanted that. Wanted the merciful relief it represented, because it meant I would not have to face the soul crushing process of getting myself ready to go to do another shift as sergeant.
Looking back now, I do so with a sense of compassion and forgiveness. Something I never allowed myself at that time. If only I could go back in time and share what I know now.
Maybe, just maybe, I would have woken up to what I was doing to myself, taken back some power and changed my life sooner. And in not so destructive a way.
At that time I couldn’t see that I was my own worst enemy. That my sense of misery and despair, was rooted in my perfectionism and, ultimately, in my own self-loathing.
I simply put it down to being unhappy. That if only I could…. Leave my job, earn more money, have a better house, car or life, I would be sorted.
Instead I ground through my life turning to alcohol and ‘it’ll be better when’ as my coping strategies.
And the years passed.
And here I am, writing a book about how to positively navigate the mid life crisis, that cliche phrase that is chucked about whenever some 30+ male leaves their partner, buys a soft-top car or worse.
In this book, I want to share the things I wish I had known back then. And I was nowhere near my mid-life. I was mid to late twenties and already feeling like I had lost my way.
Because the truth is, a mid-life crisis, can happen anytime to anyone. Male or female. Yes this book is aimed at blokes, and blokes of a certain age, but I want to challenge the phrase mid-life crisis by taking issue with both halves of it. I want to challenge the ‘mid-life’ aspect, whilst acknowledging the data that might support the perception.
I also want to challenge the word ‘crisis,’ whilst acknowledging that for so many it can feel like a crisis and can, sadly, end there.
But I want to take a positive ‘sproutlook’ on this.
If only I knew what I know now, I could have more positively navigated my own ‘mid-life crisis.’ I could have been kinder to myself, and still re-shaped, reinvented or re-discovered the real me.
I may have made some of the same key decisions, but I could have done so in a more positive way. And I could have spent fewer months and years drifting in a sea of guilt and self-loathing.
And that's what I want for you. I guess you are reading this because the title has drawn you to it. It resonated with you. Perhaps because you are feeling this right now, or you have a loved one, or partner going through what appears to be a ‘mid-life crisis.’
Well, let’s dig in, and start to reclaim our man sprouts.
What does that mean? Put simply it means we re-connect with ourselves and what it means to be a man. Our own man. Not one defined by culture, stereotypes and the expectations of others. But our own definition. With our own set of principles, values and direction.
This blog is intended to help you reclaim your man sprouts, and be the real you: the man you really can be…
More in two weeks time.
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.
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Contact Dave to share feedback and questions, or learn more about his work in developing resilience and enhancing wellbeing.
If you need professional support and help...
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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