I turned 40 last year and while I dislike the use of the term “midlife crisis” the event did give me a pause for thought. I don’t mean a complete existential crisis, but it did stop me in my tracks and gave me the opportunity to reflect on life.
So instead of the “a time of intense difficulty or danger” definition of crisis, I used the lesser known meaning of the word: “a time when a difficult or important decision must be made”.
In other words, not a midlife crisis but a midlife crunch.
I’ve known friends and family members indulge in a midlife crisis; you know, the stereotypical kind where they buy a sports car and/or run off with someone a lot younger. I did neither of those things. One friend actually left her husband very suddenly and moved to France to start a polyamorous relationship with another woman and her boyfriend. I didn’t do that, either.
What I did do, though, was dig a metaphorical hole and willingly fell into it. It’s hard to describe but it was like, “I’m just going to stop what I’m doing, stop everything and plant myself into the ground until I can figure out what the hell is going on.”
I realised that I’d been living a very self destructive lifestyle. I’ve neglected both my physical and mental health. Eating badly, sleeping poorly, ignoring hobbies, becoming less active, brushing aside my body’s physical little niggles, spectacularly failing to manage my anxiety, and so on.
Worst of all, I let my anxious thoughts take over. And, since turning 40, I’ve had a lot of anxious thoughts. An overwhelming amount. Life, death, purpose, fate, meaning, what it would be like to no longer exist and to have your memories evaporate into complete nothingness so what was the point of it all, anyway. You know… the usual!
I was in that hole engulfed by anxious thoughts and I couldn’t reach my mental health toolbox, the one I can usually rely upon, that I’d left up on the surface. I found myself at the bottom, looking up. Life was a pinprick of light, too far above in the distance.
It was crunch time and I had to climb back up. Because I’ve always been a loner, I won’t—can’t—ask for help. It’s just the way I’m wired. But that doesn’t mean I’m unable to help myself.
I can write down what I can’t talk about, so putting my thoughts into words was the kickstart I needed. From there, the problems on one side of the page gave rise to solutions on the other. And before I knew it, I was climbing again.
Life is fast-paced. There’s no such thing as “settling down” when you get to a certain age. An anxious mind cannot settle down, but sometimes you can try to make it slow down. Take a deep, deep breath. Take stock. Evaluate. It’s crucial, in fact. As dark as it was at the bottom of that hole, my time there, on reflection, did more good than harm.
I had the time to evaluate everything; the good and the bad. I am grateful for all the good in my life and it does, genuinely, outweigh the bad. But an anxious mind can and will distort that reality. The hole really isn’t as deep as your anxious mind tells you.
Recently, I’ve put a “self-care action plan” in place. It’s unique to me, of course, but I am sure it’s something everyone needs to do. Most importantly, it’s something we all need to regularly remind ourselves to do! Ahead, there is hard work to be done.
I’ll be 41 soon. I’m fine with that now. I wasn’t, but I am now. I tell myself now that I didn’t “turn” 40, I “reached” 40. That’s a very important distinction to make. It’s been a tough climb but I’ve nearly reached the top again. And it feels good to have the sun–life itself–shining on my face once more.