I had an interesting conversation with my doctor this past week as I often do. My doctor is one of the nicest, most caring and compassionate doctors I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. As busy as he is (and he is terribly busy) he never rushes a visit and always takes time to listen to me and answer all my questions. Known for his likable bedside manner, he has a unique way of making you feel like you’re his only patient for the day.
I’ve been thinking a lot about midlife crises. I asked my doctor if there was really such a thing as a midlife crisis. I was curious mostly because I had just started reading a book, When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions by Sue Monk Kidd. Many years ago I read The Secret Life of Bees by the same author and have always been interested in reading more books by Sue Monk Kidd. So when I searched the Internet for more of her books, I came across this one. It was described as her spiritual memoir and is about her midlife spiritual crisis. Let’s just say it peaked my interest in the subject.
I remember my mother making the comment once during my teenage years that everyone experiences a midlife crisis and I clearly remember her saying that men and women tended to experience and deal with these crises in different ways. I sure wish my mother was alive today as I would love to delve more into this conversation with her, but at the time, my teenage mind couldn’t seem to identify with anything she was saying. I was also interested in knowing if my doctor felt midlife crises REALLY existed because of a comment I remember a therapist making to me years ago. I had used the term “Nervous Breakdown” in front of her once and she quickly said to me: “What’s a nervous breakdown? There is really no such thing.” I was a little dumbfounded as I had heard that term all my life. When I replayed that conversation to my doctor, he furrowed his brow, shook his head, and said, “Well YOU know what you meant and I know what you meant– I think she was just splitting hairs or something.” He went on to say yes, that he believed there WAS such a thing as midlife crises and said he felt it was a time of questioning in a person’s life usually brought on by some major change– like kids leaving home, or a job loss, or a death–and it brings people to search for answers. “It’s people searching,” he said.
Personally, before I even asked my doctor, I believed in the existence of midlife crises because #1, all people (if they have the pleasure of living long enough) go through a midlife, and #2, everyone has crises in their life. It’s inevitable. It says in the bible that we will all have trials. No ifs ands or buts– they are a part of life. I happen to think that midlife crises are a normal part of life that we all experience. I don’t look at it as a disease, but a normal life transition.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a midlife crisis as a period of emotional turmoil in middle age characterized by a strong desire for change. Wikipedia had this to say about midlife crises:
Midlife crisis is a term first coined by Elliott Jaques referring to a critical phase in human development during the forties to early sixties, based on the character of change points, or periods of transition. The period is said to vary among individuals and between men and women. Despite popular perception of this phenomenon, empirical research has failed to show that the midlife crisis is a universal experience, or even a real condition at all
Wikipedia goes on to say:
Midlife is also significant as a time adults come to realize their own mortality. A mid-life crisis is experienced by some people as they realize they have reached a midpoint in their lifespan and experience conflicts or dissatisfaction within themselves because of unrealized goals, self-perceptions or physical changes as a result of aging or health issues. Sometimes, a crisis can be triggered by transitions such as andropause or menopause, the death of parents or other causes of grief,unemployment or underemployment, realizing that a job or career is hated but not knowing how else to earn an equivalent living, or children leaving home. Additionally, when experiencing a mid-life crisis, people may reassess their achievements in terms of their dreams. The result may be a desire to make significant changes in areas such as career, work-life balance, marriage, romantic relationships, finances, or physical appearance.
It is thought that midlife crises in men are usually brought on by work or financial struggles. In the USA, there is a stereotypical image of men in mid-life crises who go out and buy fancy red sports cars. Midlife crises in women are often brought on by relationship problems or changes in the relationships in their lives. Often women will sit down in middle age and have a good look at the different roles they play in their life (daughter, wife, mother, employee, etc.). People who go through midlife crises often mourn the loss of their youth and will do things to make them feel younger which often involves taking some risks. I guess that is why there is an increase in bungee jumping, sky diving, and extramarital affairs with younger people at this time.
I can see how the stressors of midlife can bring on a midlife crisis. For me in midlife, I dealt with a sudden incapacitating stroke my dad suffered while undergoing surgery (which greatly affected his mind AND his body), the illness and loss of both parents to cancer, the realization that my career in veterinary medicine, a career I dreamed of my whole life and trained for in school for eight years, was NOT the career I thought I wanted and definitely not a good match for me. There was the death of friends– by car accidents and addictions….. ways in which I had hoped to never lose my friends. There was a hysterectomy which occurred while I was still trying to decide if I wanted a third child, and the grief associated with that loss. There was the loss of a pet who was like a son to me and the totally unexpected submersion into a grief such as I had never gone through before, not even with the death of my parents. There was the beginning of my empty nest when my youngest went off to college which I discovered I wasn’t prepared for. And let’s not forget normal aging and the loss of youth, menopause, and the associated problems and changes that the decrease in estrogen brings. Am I undergoing a midlife crisis? I don’t know. All I DO know is I am searching for answers. I seem to have entered a much more contemplative stage of my life and I’m turning to God for answers. I’ve become withdrawn in many ways which seems necessary for me now. I’m questioning my purpose in life and I’m dealing with fears and worries I’ve never had before. I see much beauty in life but I also see more of the ugly and I see people becoming meaner, more selfish, and so much more unfriendly and it frightens me to near paralysis. I see people who are so glued to their phones and social media and they never seem to look up from those phones anymore to have time for personal relationships and real friendships anymore. Life is more lonely and I ponder if maybe that’s my fault. Perhaps. So I withdraw more and more into my make-believe cocoon. I’m learning to be still and it’s dark in here but as Sue Monk Kidd says, it’s a holy darkness. I only hope that I emerge somehow transformed, better able to make sense of things. I’ve even quit going to church while I search for these answers which seems totally nonsensical and illogical when I think about it. I can’t explain that part but I’ve never felt more spiritual.
What are your thoughts on midlife crises? Do you think they exist? Please feel free to share your thoughts (and stories if you desire) in the comment section.