Saturday, July 06, 2013

Crisis? What crisis?


If you are the writer of an amusing BBC sitcom about comfortable suburban families, or you have been tasked by a Hollywood studio to create a motion picture about a man - for it is usually he - coming to terms with being at the equator of life, the prevailing direction for your penmanship to take is that of the mid-life crisis.

Ever since a Canadian psychologist in the mid-1960s first drew attention to adults of a certain age suddenly becoming aware of their own mortality and deciding - often abruptly - that a change of direction is needed, the mid-life crisis has been a comic staple.

Thus, in your urban sitcom/adult rights-of-passage movie, He will get a hair transplant, buy a Porsche, ditch the faithful wife of 20 years and shack up with a yoga teacher half his age called Naomi, while She will chop off her hair (or grow her hair) and dye it blonde/black/strawberry blonde, trade the people carrier for a drop-head convertible, dump the dolt of a husband of 20 years and shack up with a tennis coach half her age. Of either gender.

So, apart from these clich├ęs, how do you know when you're going through a mid-life crisis of your own? A recent poll of 1,000 people by the hair transplant people Crown Clinic (thought: why not 'Thatch of the Day'?) revealed a list of 40 symptoms to watch out for. Strangely, none involved either a hair transplant or buying a Harley.

More alarmingly are the number of symptoms that I identify with:
  • I have started listening regularly to BBC 6 Music
  • I am professionally and privately tech-savvy
  • I yearn for a simpler life
  • I have realised that paying off the mortgage may never happen
  • I am a social media junkie
  • I reminisce excessively about my childhood
  • I take no pleasure in my friends' successes
  • I want to leave the world a better place than I found it
  • I dread calls at unexpected times from members of my family
  • I go to reunion tours of my favourite bands from the 70s and 80s (check and check)
  • I do notice that politicians and business leaders are getting younger and more successful than me
  • I cannot envisage a time when I won't be able to afford to retire
  • I dream of packing in working for a living but know I can never afford to
  • I worry about being worse off in retirement than my parents
  • I am a 'cyberchondriac', obsessively looking up medical symptoms online
  • I find that I am very easily distracted and I…
  • I have realised that I only ever read books on holiday
  • And most disturbing of all, I read newspaper obituaries with far greater interest, especially if it details how the subject went
These are just those of the poll's 40 symptoms I recognise - there are plenty more to come: for now, I have no desire to visit any kind of music festival that doesn't have its own Tube station. I don't (and cannot) flirt embarrassingly with people 20 years my junior. I can't be bothered with checking out old girlfriends on Facebook. And as for constantly trying to compare my career with those of my friends, I don't as they are all infinitely more successful than me to begin with.


Lame sitcom plots aside, the mid-life crisis isn't always as extravagant as trading the Renault Espace for a Ferrari California (though, yes please). Even the name "mid-life crisis" has become too much of a well-worn joke for the reality.

Mental health professionals don't even like to call it a crisis at all. Inevitably, they prefer to term it a "transition", as in "sorry dear, I'm leaving you for the receptionist from work. I'm going through a transition". At any other time, informing your partner you were going through a transition might render thoughts of corrective gender realignment.

There is another view that, rather than being a somewhat manic episode that could even mean the onset of a more serious depression, the mid-life transition can also represent a time of personal growth, a shedding of the skin, if you will.

The Ferrari-buying stereotype may be more of a media invention, but there is certainly evidence to suggest that men, in particular, suddenly find themselves facing an acute need to prove themselves at something, whether it is learning to play drums and forming a band, or giving up work to backpack through Nepal.

The trigger is almost always a life-changing event from the mid-30s onwards, such as the death of a parent, a child graduating from college, turning 50, or simply the first grey hair. And, according to the survey, the average onset of full-on mid-life crises is getting earlier - 43 for men, 44 for women - with the duration anywhere from three to ten years for the chaps, and two to five years for the ladies.

The difference between men and women, however, is what they evaluate: men, experts say, are more likely to evaluate their professional achievements and economic status, whereas women are more likely to stop and evaluate their performance as a partner or as a mother, or both.

Psychologists also point out that there is nothing wrong with getting to a certain point in life and re-evaluating, like half-time in in football match. Perhaps there is some value in playing life's final 45 minutes differently to the first 45? Just as long as you remember that it doesn't have to mean dressing like a 25 year-old slacker and making a complete prat of yourself in front of The Pyramid Stage.

Andrew Allcock/Glastonbury Festival 2013


1 comment:

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