When It Happened
Middle age is in my past. My t-shirt says, “Beware, second childhood in progress.” When people ask, I tell them it’s an old shirt. I’m long past that.
At 27, I knew everything (we all do). I would live forever. By age 40, I thought I might not live that long. Around then, I was sure that other’s opinion of me was paramount. I included everyone, especially any man who could possibly effect my life personally or financially.
Unfortunately, I often said what I thought – more than I would now. Today, I’m unlikely to answer personal questions. I may. But usually I want time to be calm and ponder consequences.
Back in the day, if my boss told me to do something that I felt was against my personal opinion, I would say, “No, sir.” Often, this happened in front of people. I enjoyed two things about it: watching him try to hide his anger (if he did) and some other middle-managers joining my mini-revolt. I wasn’t intentionally a trouble-maker. It just turned out that way.
What It Was Like
Looking back to my forties and fifties, a lot happened – both good and bad. But, I recall the difficult times well. In the 90s, I lived away from my family as a weekend commuter for two years. I drank way too much and began to ponder things that I’d never thought about. I was confused about life. I was not happy, and may have been clinically depressed. I was surrounded by others in worse shape than I, thus my problems went unnoticed. I was fine with that. Men do not have such issues, right? No longer did I feel safe. I didn’t understand the rules or what to do. I had morphed into a people pleaser, but I wouldn’t have admitted it.
Add to this, my wife had gone to work and was living as a single parent on weekdays (and nights). She had her issues too. And we had teenagers who’d aged up to their early twenties. Life was not easy for us or them – certainly not emotionally. Denial was my strength and maybe hers. Our dysfunctional family was extended and there were problems in that area over the horizon.
I’ll spare you details. But during the 1990s all hell broke loose in my life and I thought it had gone into the proverbial toilet.
I recall giving consideration to suicide. I also seriously considered homicide. To be clear, while I never seriously intended either, I considered both as solutions as I never had. But then, I made an important decision. I decided that I would try everything possible to get over it. If my life was not working, it would not be my fault.
If you type middle age American male in Google, you’ll find articles relating to suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction, and the almost inevitable consequence of death. Middle age male suicide is a bigger problem today than 20 years ago. But I can relate to middle aged men today who secretly struggle with something they don’t understand. Looking back over the years, I think I figured out a few things.
What I Did
I like to joke that I’m recovering from middle age. But, I am simply living my life. My life is good now, but recovery is an ongoing process. While many of my decisions may have been random, they seemed logical at the time. I was desperate, but knowing that I was not alone mattered.
I read books on self-help, mental health, and recovery – all were about mental and physical well-being. I attended counseling sessions for family members. I became active in a 12-step program. I started to learn about eastern religious thought and philosophy. I took a deep and detailed (analytical) look at myself. I did that twice, six months apart. This was much less about who I am and more about me being me, or me not being me, but being what others thought I should be. This may seem minor; it wasn’t.
My discovery was two-fold: I didn’t know myself, and I wasn’t being true to myself. I couldn’t be. This was important for me to figure out because the solution that followed was not complicated.
My change was from the inside-out, and from the outside-in. I simply was myself. While I could continue to be a good employee, a good friend, a reasonably nice person, and a willing family member; I no longer identified myself by what others thought I should be – what I should think or what I should feel. I was not only ‘okay’ with this. I was delighted. It was not a new me, but just me being me. That is the way I saw it. My motivation was inside and based on how I felt. But as I changed my behavior, that effected more emotional adjustments, which led to being more able to do more with my behavior.
A short while after all this my son told my wife that he didn’t recognize me because of the changes. That was 20 years ago. I’ve hung onto that way of thinking ever since. Being comfortable as me (‘in my own skin’ is the cliché) did not change my life so much as it revealed my life to myself. Now, as a senior American male, I am still as wrong and as programmed as anyone. But when I realize my error, I’ve learned to admit it quickly.
How It Turns Out
As much as I like the phrase, it is what it is; I have my own motto: It is all about how we feel.
Probably my most positive boost has been retirement. No longer subject to the corporate nonsense and politics, I feel “free at last” to keep moving forward with my life on my terms. Virtually all that drama is in the past, and there it shall remain (at least for me).
May you find a path through life that is long and revealing. While giving up is an option, may you never choose it as long as you have any others yet to try. May your days of light be long and may your dark days pass quickly. May you be constantly aware; you are not alone. We are one.