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The Mid Life Crisis: Madness Defined
by Marjorie Dorfman

Have you ever experienced the invasion of a mid-life crisis? Would you know the warning signs if you saw them? Read on for some answers and some hope at the end of this psychologically charged tunnel.

Midlife is the old age of youth and the youth of old age.    
Proverb

Did you know that the Chinese character meaning "crisis" consists of two words, one signifying danger and the other opportunity? What can that mean to those of us in the Western world who have lived through both without recognizing either? A crisis is uncharted territory so to speak, as new and threatening as the New World must have seemed to the early European explorers. Although it has absolutely nothing at all to do with the earth being flat, this crisis can be overwhelming to the person experiencing it. It usually occurs at the exact moment when a man or woman realizes that life has a beginning, a middle and an end, and that somewhere midway he or she is terminally caught. This often forces a serious review of life as seen through the eyes of a person who may now need glasses and other middle age accessories.

The mid-life crisis is a state of psychological siege that forces an intense re- evaluation and questioning. Its stages may be entered and re-entered time and time again. A sense of mortality suddenly falls on one’s head like a ton of bricks along with a sudden drop in hormone production. To some it may feel like a loss of mooring or a trip into a state of limbo unattained by writhing under a Caribbean pole. But this state of mind is also about good things. It often leaves in its wake a second chance at becoming the person we really want to be. Some people take years to find their ‘true selves’, while others may find this part of the process short and sweet. For some, change may be resisted, while others may not wish to devote any time all to looking inwards. Still, this new terra not so firma should not be entered without a carefully drawn psychological map.

Maps come in all shapes and sizes, just like people. Each one will be different for each person following his or her course. Their purpose is to give direction and indicate a goal. A good map must also identify both the danger and the opportunity. They can be vague, only suggesting the way or detailed and provide several paths to follow. (It depends on how adventurous or conservative the interpreter is.) Middle age need not signify the beginning of an end, but rather a pause that brings new vigor, hope and dreams, (maybe not so hot and wet, but otherwise just as important, if not more so, than those of our youth).

Like so many other things in life, handling the crisis will depend a great deal on one’s attitude. The glass is either half full or half empty. (I also remember an old story about a child thrown into a pen with manure. He turned hopefully to his father and said, "There must be a pony in here somewhere.") The glass should be half full, but for some of us it will never be. I know that I have found my pony, but on some days I just see the manure before me.

Men and women usually experience the crisis in their late forties to late fifties. It is a natural process (first identified by psychologist, Carl Jung) and it is a normal part of ‘maturing.’ It’s almost like the journey of a fine wine that can only reach its summit after years of fermenting in an oaken barrel. Most men don’t like to talk about their crisis, unlike women who are generally forced to deal with the issue of menopause because of definite physical symptoms. A wide range of feelings among men typically includes increased irritability, boredom, anxiety, depression, insomnia, memory lapses and mood swings.

It is a period wrought with deep psychological changes and tremendous disorientation. The triggers are about the same for both sexes, one important one being the "empty nest syndrome." Suddenly as the last child leaves home, what is left of a marriage is seriously reconsidered. The feeling of "reaching the summit" is another stimulus for trouble. Having achieved a certain degree of power, money and success, there is often the feeling that there is nowhere left to go. Conversely, there is also the painful crash with reality when a man or woman realizes that there is no perfection within themselves, their spouses, their children or their financial situations.

Even more important than what triggers the crisis is how to deal with it. Quick fix solutions such as extra-marital affairs and sudden relocations not only don’t work but also often have catastrophic results. Change must come from within. The first step should be to see a Functional Medicine practitioner and have a complete check-up done as well as a comprehensive analysis of vitamin and mineral levels. Make sure your body is functioning at optimum levels and then change the focus to internal realignments. Don’t be ashamed of your feelings and talk about them to anyone who will listen. Close friends and spouses are fine, but if that doesn’t work don’t be afraid to seek outside psychological help. If you can recall Smoky The Bear’s admonitions about preventing the forest fire growing inside your furry brain, then you are as old as I and we are both well within the dangerous age range on the mid life crisis. Don’t forget that this is also true even if you can’t remember where you put the matches!

Did you know . . .

Copyright 2002