June 22, 2017

This Midlife Crisis Thing is really Not About Aging.

I’m not sure what screams louder for those of us who are middle-aged—the ticking mortality clock announcing our inevitable deaths, or our knees every time we stand up.

When we hit this age, we experience fears we’ve never known before.

Have we saved up enough for retirement? (Haha! Just kidding. Of course we haven’t.) Why do we feel an inexplicable desire to now only buy “sensible” underwear? And, holy crap, what was that heart flutter? That wasn’t normal! I am going to die of a heart attack, like, right now.

These fears are intense because they are on top of all the fears we’ve had forever. Though things on top are generally pretty great (think whipped cream, melted cheese…me), this is a notable exception.

It can make us feel overwhelmed and so we cut ourselves off from the possibility of living in alignment with who we really are. Some of us kind of give up on everything, and resign ourselves to a life where the highlights include getting two-for-one at our local pizza joint.

Actually, that’s a pretty good highlight for anyone. Except those of us who are lactose intolerant. You’ll just have to scrape the cheese off.

On the other hand, some of us go into a kind of self-sabotaging, frenzied overdrive to try and beat that clock and accomplish as much as possible as quickly as possible. I did that. When I started stand-up comedy, I thought I was already so old I’d have to make it immediately or I’d never stand a chance.

Silly me, I didn’t realize it wasn’t my age holding me back. It was the fact I was so sh*t at stand-up comedy.

We get this notion that we’ll be put on the shelf forever. That our best years are behind us. And looking around at how much emphasis is put on youth by our society, it is no wonder. Anti-aging creams not only exist, but are slathered on surgery-enhanced, photoshopped babies in advertisements.

They want us to think there’s no space for us. But we don’t have to believe this.

I’ve been going through the wonderful Bhagavad Gita (whatevs, just some light reading) and a verse really stuck out to me—4:42. It contains the magnificent phrase, “Arise, great warrior, arise.” 

It’s an encouragement to be a soldier—to use the sword of transcendental knowledge to destroy inner doubts about ourselves (the inner doubts that are born of ignorance and stored in our hearts), thereby unifying both individual and ultimate consciousness in an epic metaphorical battle.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: If I had a dime for every time someone told me to do that…

But it is so true. The age-related doubts we have about ourselves are externally created by ignorant opinions, yes. But we are the ones who decide to store them in our hearts. We imprison them, really—like a red-headed stepchild imprisoned under the stairs. (I’m allowed to say that; I’m a red-headed stepchild.)

Wait, what’s the statute of limitations on childhood imprisonment? Oh, I digress. Sometimes, I lose my train of thought. Old age.

Life gives us a specific event designed to help us conquer these fears and live an authentic life once we hit middle age. Can you guess what this event is? You might be shocked.

When I was 39 and going through some serious issues, my shrink said something really surprising to me. She said, “Only Italian gangsters in films call us ‘shrinks’. Seriously, Amanda, stop.”

And then she said something else. She said that when we are in our teens and 20s, we have all these passions and interests—think of them all as different personalities. As we get older and life and mortgages and babies get in the way, we tend to lock them away. Over time, they knock, trying to get our attention, over and over. And we ignore them, over and over. And then one day, they kick the bloody door down.

That’s the midlife crisis.

The midlife crisis is not an attempt to recapture youth per se; it’s trying to handle all these escaped loves and passions of our youthful selves that haven’t seen the light of day in decades.

The crisis is the chance to reintegrate these passions into our lives. That’s quite powerful, and allowing space for these inherent parts of ourselves is the exact opposite of fear. Even if we first have to buy questionably-appropriate convertibles. Or hook up with questionably-appropriate hot young people and later transparently humble-brag about it (really, guys, he wasn’t that big a deal). Or visit questionably-appropriate clubs so we can do the Running Man and mouth all the lyrics at 80s night in front of disgusted, youthful onlookers…We can still get to that point of reintegration.

And that’s what the universe wants for us, because our job is to use our gifts in service until we die—not until the first elbow wrinkle arrives.

We are a strong group of people. Yeah, the generations before us had the Great Depression, two world wars, and Vietnam. But we survived the dark days of New Coke, the breakup of the Smiths, and 2016 killing off our heroes. That’s resilience.

So, let’s use that resilience.

Let’s look around at each other, and see the value in our collective life experience.

Let’s create things that help us help ourselves, as well as other generations, get through this thing called life (ugh, seriously, 2016, I hate you and will never forgive you).

Let’s refuse to compete against the fear of no longer having any worth or value, and make certain that we are continually aligned with and acting on our true purpose.

Let’s also give a nod to the other generations—both the ones who have been through this stage, and the ones who will face it one day.

So, where was I? My memory is terrible. Actually, the memory thing isn’t old age. It’s called the living-in-Amsterdam-for-a-year effect on short-term memory. You do the math. I can’t—I have no short-term memory.

Oh yeah! It is time to win that epic battle! So arise, grey warrior, arise. Just make sure you do it carefully—you don’t want to hurt your knees.


Relephant read:

Ladies, We Have a Choice.


Author: Amanda Graham
Image: Brian Roberts/ Flickr
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Copy Editor: Leah Sugerman

Social Editor: Callie Rushton

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