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How Do We Cope With A Mid-Life Crisis?

30/03/2016 5:49 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Tired woman with her husband falling asleep during breakfast

On a recent phone call to my sister, I confided in her a problem that I have been struggling to cope with. In search of some wisdom, I turned to the person who has known me since the day I was born, hoping that she may ease my anxiety with her calm and sensible disposition.

Hearing the trepidation in my voice, she reassured me that there was no problem too big and that we would get through it together, whatever it may be. I took a deep breath and blurted out the words that had been haunting me.

"In 15 years... I'm going to be 60 years old."

How can this be when I still feel like I am in my twenties? I am still waiting to grow up, to find my calling and to be at my prime, so the thought that my prime has come and gone and I haven't even noticed terrifies me.

I felt like I needed to do something radical. Do I move to an ashram in India and spend the rest of my years in a silent meditation? Do I shave my head and join the Hare Krishnas on their evening dance through the city? Do I get a tattoo, a face-lift, experiment with lesbianism? Or do I take up art, sculpturing or, God forbid, knitting? What do I need to do to slow down the years that are approaching, because the past 45 have slipped by so fast that it takes my breath away.

There was no doubt -- I was having a mid-life crisis. And as I talked about it with my girlfriends, I realised that I was not alone.

While the male mid-life crisis has been spoken about for years, less has been written about the female mid-life crisis. In his book, The Middle Passage: From Misery To Meaning In Midlife, American psychoanalyst James Hollis refers to the 'mid-life crisis of identity', a time when women are faced with the reality that our childhood dreams and fantasies may not have been achieved and we are confronted with the harsh realities of adult life.

Hollis believes that the mid-life crisis is brought on by a feeling of being cheated or let down by life. We live our lives believing that if we do the right thing, follow the rules and treat others well, then life will automatically just take care of us.

But when we are confronted by unexplained tragedy, financial hardship or other personal challenges, we realise that life is not that simple, that nothing is for granted and we cannot predict or control the outcome of our lives.

Hollis goes on to say that while this can cause panic in some, it should be embraced. He believes that this stage of life is liberating as it helps us transition to the next stage of our life, something that is much better.

Many women, myself included, have been imprisoned for so long by society's expectations. I have always felt a pressure to look a certain way, act a certain way and to have achieved certain milestones by certain ages. The realisation that so many of these things have not been achieved evokes a feeling of failure and disappointment in me, but it also allows me to question how important those things really are.

None of us are immortal; we are all on the same path, so why would I surrender happiness and peace of mind for a societal expectation that is insignificant to my overall life journey?

Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung writes that the afternoon, or the second half of our lives represents the time when we begin to shift away from the ego being the dominant force. We begin moving towards a life journey that has meaning. The 'morning' of our lives is really occupied by ambition -- getting as much as you can, collecting as much stuff as you can get, impressing as many people as you can, preparing yourself for a job, saving your money, setting goals, pleasing everybody and doing the right thing.

All of these things revolve around our ego, that part of us that tells us that who we are is what we do, what we get, and what other people think of us. In the afternoon of your life, you don't 'do' life. You do what resonates with the callings of your soul.

So perhaps it is that my life has reached the end of an era. Maybe I have yet to find my true calling because I have yet to start living my true life. So instead of asking, "Is this it?" I need to change my internal narrative to: "And so it begins".

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