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How To Deal With A Midlife Crisis

by - Thursday, January 16, 2020

"I think I'm having a midlife crisis", I said to my husband Sean as I washed a sink full of dirty dishes.

"Ya think?" he responded, in that sarcastic tone that would normally offend and garner a death-stare from me, were he not the person that knows me best. The tone that implies 'what took you so long to realize it'?

It's true. I feel like I'm in the throes of a midlife crisis, and today, on the day of my 49th birthday, I've decided to give myself some therapy and share these thoughts with all of you.

It's not a topic we hear a lot about on social media is it? Sure we read about self-care, taking care of one's mental health, doing a social media detox. But how to deal with a midlife crisis... is that even real?

A midlife crisis is a transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals, typically 45-55 years old (Source: Wikipedia)

I feel like we think it's not real because we don't talk about it. The truth is there are many women and men just like me but we struggle in silence. We talk about it with our closest circle of friends, our partners, but beyond that, there is an expectation that this is just a part of life, do what you can to survive, and cope with it.

Can I give you a glimpse of what midlife looks like?

  • You have a job that is unsatisfying but the stable paycheck keeps you there. And who would hire someone close to 50 anyway?
  • Or you have a business idea but you don't know how to start. Want to be a 20-something girl boss? The world is your oyster. Want to start your second career or become an entrepreneur at 45? Good luck finding any resources and role models.
  • You have tweens and teens and young adults you're raising. Your relationships with them are complex and filled with emotion and you're simultaneously ready to kill them and mourning the day they move out of your home.
  • Bills bills bills. Have you ever spent more money on a daily basis in your life?? Mortgages, car loans, college funds, family trips, extra curricular activities, groceries, sports gear, clothes, renovations. Lucky you - you get to pay for everything.
  • You're experiencing adolescence in reverse. Your hormones are out of whack, you're in perimenopause, your skin, hair, bowels, metabolism, waistline, emotions, body temperature, energy levels and sleep patterns are alllllll different.
  • You have parents that you are caring for. You get a front-row seat to their mental and physical decline. You take on the responsibilities for managing their housing, financial, and health needs. You watch the vibrant parents that raised you slowly slip away and unwillingly take on the role of having to be the strong one in the relationship.
  • You see friends and family and perhaps yourself develop chronic illnesses and daily ailments. You know people battling cancer, having strokes, going in for emergency surgery, and dealing with mental illness. You know people who have died by suicide and feel immediate empathy because you can understand the pressures they were under. You attend more funerals than weddings.
  • You experience loss. Losing a spouse, a marriage, your job, your perfect health, a parent. All very real and immediate possibilities.
  • You look in the mirror and don't recognize what you see. You feel 28 inside but don't look it. 
  • You wonder if you took the right path in life. You think about what could have been. You feel like time has run out on many things.

It's a depressing picture, isn't it? Dealing with many of those things can make you feel like you're in a crisis. If it sounds like I'm wallowing in midlifedom, I'm not. I'm the most self assured, positive, and confident I've ever been but that's not to say the struggle isn't real.

Part of the lack of discussion around midlife crises is because of social media. We've become accustomed to seeing curated, perfect lives online (dominated by younger generations) that there is a belief that the equally very real, difficult, and painful parts should be hidden. And that's not going to change anytime soon. We want others to connect with us through our lifestyles, our homes, our vacations, our cute family, our positive outlook... do we really want to be commiserating over financial struggles and decisions on whether to put your parent into a nursing home? I'd say no. For the most part, we like visiting that Instagram perfect life when we need an escape from our own.

So what is my point in writing all this?

My point, I think, is to just open the conversation. To say "hey, this is what I'm feeling, and if you're feeling it too, that's okay". Maybe not only that, but to come up with a game plan too so I can do more than just survive.

Sometimes the only way out is through

They say that lifetime happiness is a U-curve and once you get through this bottom pit of midlife, you start on an upswing and become your happiest ever. I want to get that point, at least mentally, sooner rather than later.

I'm a doer and goal-oriented by nature so let me share the actions I'm taking to get through to the other side. Here's 5 ways to deal with a midlife crisis:

1. Start Something New

The best way to feel alive and vibrant? Do something you've never done before. Whether it's buying a road bike and joining the weekend biking crew, learning to knit, or taking cooking lessons, the newness of experiences can get your mind going and your heartbeat racing. Me? The new things I'm doing tend to be business oriented. I've taken lots of online courses related to blogging in the last three months, I'm exploring new content, and I'm setting up an online shop with my daughter. I've got a new bike too that I can't wait to use this summer. Always be learning and trying something new.

2. Battle Boredom

It's so easy to get into a rut and do the same things over and over. And while it might feel comfortable and familiar, boredom can lead to unhappiness. Over the holidays, Sean, Chloe and I all fell into a trap of spending the day in our pjs, playing on devices, and doing things independently. It was nice, yes, to have the down time but we weren't connecting. So one day I forced us to go out and head downtown. We didn't arrive till mid afternoon but it was enough time to visit a museum and eat an early dinner at the market before it closed. And we had so much fun! The fresh air, the city bustle - it was just what we needed.

It was a good reminder to step out of the comfort zone. If you're bored - at home, in your marriage, in your job - look for ways to change up the routine. Without obliterating the routine that is - a shiny new sports car, an affair, or spontaneously quitting your job are not solutions to anything!

3. Prioritize Relationships

The older I get, the more I realize that it is the people you have in your life that matter. I've been blessed to come from a large family, and have the same core group of girlfriends in my life since I was 14 years old. My friends and I been through so many stages of life together and I know they will be there through this and beyond too.

Nurturing strong bonds with family and friends is so important. You can do that in small ways like meeting for coffee, going for a regular date night, or having a group chat in Whats App, or by entertaining at home and hosting big holiday dinners. When those opportunities present themselves to be with the people that you love most, always make the effort and say Yes.

4. Engage in Self Reflection

Do you know your Why? What's that reason you get up in the morning, you work, you do what you do? What is it that you want to contribute to the world? We all have a Why. It's like the lighthouse you see in the distance. Even when you don't know where you're going (or doubting where you've been), you can continue to take steps forward if you focus on that light.

The difficulty with middle age is that Why shifts and changes. Your reason for being changes. Age brings a different perspective on so many things and questioning your Why leads you to question... everything.

But you can get back to yourself. You can get closer to what motivates you now, your Why, by actively seeking activities that provoke thought and self reflection. Journalling, listening to podcasts, reading, meditation, deep conversations... all of these can bring a greater clarity and understanding of who you are today.

5. Practice Gratitude

That long list of midlife challenges at the top of this post? It is overwhelming. Focus on any one of these for too long and you'll be paralyzed with stress. So take a step back. Focus on what you have right in this moment.

When you're down in the weeds, you can't see how beautiful the day is. I worry about lots of things - my family's health, our finances, work stability - but I make it a practice to start and end my day with just one thought and express gratitude.

Try it. Before you get up from bed, think about all the things you have to look forward to. And at the end of the day, celebrate all the good things that happened. Even if you've had a terrible day otherwise, bookending it with happiness always makes it a positive one.

A midlife crisis is a transition. I'm convinced that every single one of us experience it, some more severely than others. So we should talk about it. But the good thing is, the crisis part does end and what you're left with is midlife. A good life.

And today, even though this woman in the mirror sometimes feels she's sitting at the bottom of the curve, she's pretty darn thankful to be here.

Are you struggling in midlife? How have you been dealing with your changing sense of self?

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