True confession: I’ve always looked at mid-life crises with a bit of disdain. From the outside, they look like privileged temper tantrums at the prospect of growing old. That type of behavior gets little sympathy from me. Aging is inevitable.
The stereotypical midlife crisis is described as an aging man buying a sports car and a bad toupee, and leaving his wife for a ditzy 20 year old. And while that does sometimes happen, that’s really not the typical crisis. First of all, many of us can’t afford crisis-mobiles or trophy wives.
And while psychological crises can occur at any time in one’s life (or, in fact, not at all), these mid-stage ones seem to draw the most attention. According to Wikipedia, this time in life is a period of great transition. To quote the article directly:
The condition may occur from the ages of 45–64. Mid-life crises last about 3–10 years in men and 2–5 years in women. A mid-life crisis could be caused by aging itself, or aging in combination with changes, problems, or regrets over:
- work or career (or lack thereof)
- spousal relationships (or lack of them)
- maturation of children (or lack of children)
- aging or death of parents (or lack of them)
- physical changes associated with aging (or lack of them)
Individuals experiencing a mid-life crisis may feel:
- humiliation among more successful colleagues
- longing to achieve a feeling of youthfulness
- need to spend more time alone or with certain peers
- a heightened sense of their sexuality or lack of it
- ennui, confusion, resentment or anger due to their discontent with their marital, work, health, economic, or social status
- ambition to right the missteps they feel they have taken early in life.
Without going into the specifics, let me describe what I’m going through at the moment. For the past 20 years, a huge amount of my ego has been wrapped up in being a bridgetender. I love my job, and I take great pride in doing it well. When someone asks me who I am, bridgetender is one of the first things I think to say.
But lately my reputation has been getting attacked at work. Viciously. Unjustifiably. And my efforts to defend myself have gone unheard and/or have not been validated. It’s hard to prove that you’re not a (insert horrible thing here). Especially when you mostly work alone. Although my work should speak for itself, in the form of well-functioning and clean machinery, and great customer feedback, it’s as though all of a sudden these things can only be seen by me. I feel like I’m at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and no attempts to exercise logic will be tolerated.
These attacks came totally out of the blue and therefore left me stunned for quite some time. Given the sources, though, I am no longer stunned. What I am is deeply and profoundly depressed and confused and disappointed, and, frankly, pissed off.
It’s hard to maintain pride in my work when my work is being discounted, overlooked, contradicted, and attacked. But since I’ve allowed all my ego to be wrapped up in that pride, the question becomes this: Without that pride, who the hell am I?
And when you add a heaping helping of pandemic isolation to the mix, all of this turns into a toxic stew, indeed. It’s affecting my health in a whole host of ways. It’s impacting many of my relationships. It is definitely causing me to lose sleep. I’ve been crying a lot. I can’t seem to focus on anything. I’m even more forgetful than I was previously, and believe me, that’s saying something.
In a nutshell, I’m struggling. I’m at the end of my rope. I’m exhausted. I tried to take a couple of days off to at least catch up on my sleep, seek counseling (which turns out to be an enormous challenge during this pandemic), and surround myself with those who actually value me, but my supervisor questioned the legitimacy of this need, and denied the request. Apparently one has to be bleeding out the eyeballs to be taken seriously around here, unless you can come up with a doctor’s note.
So this leaves me sitting here at work, feeling resentful and not optimally competent, while trying to pick up the pieces of my stress-riddled body, even as I struggle to retain at least a few of my traumatized marbles. And now I somehow have to work up the energy to try to figure out what’s left of me. Pardon my dust as I reconstruct myself from scratch. Easy peasy. Not.
This is a devastating development for one who used to love going to work. This video, which was done based on a StoryCorps interview I did years ago about being a bridgetender, demonstrates the love I had for it. I want that back, but it feels completely beyond my control.
I need to find other sources of esteem. I am more than just a bridgetender, after all. I’m also a blogger, an author, a little free library steward, a wife, a dog mom, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a friend, and a good person, dammit. Surely, amongst those things, I should be able to find the building blocks to repair my damaged psyche. And perhaps I need to spread my esteem more thinly, over a variety of things. With it currently being so densely focused on my job, I’ll have another identity crisis if and when I retire, and I’d much rather not go through this more than once. Once is already too much.
I can’t even seem to keep up with the blogging lately, and I don’t want to hit you with a steady stream of negativity. So, I’m at a bit of a loss, here. Don’t be surprised to see more fluff posts. I’m doing the best I can.
If Wikipedia is correct in stating that it’s going to take me a few years to get my groove back, I’m not sure how I’ll cope with that. Everything about this feels bad. Really bad. The thought of it makes me weep.
I’m luckier than a lot of people. I have a wonderful husband and fabulous dogs and a comfortable home and a lot of people who love me, even if they can only do so from a distance these days. I no longer struggle economically as much as I used to, and while sexism seems to press down more heavily now, I’ve never had to cope with racism, which must add a whole other level of awfulness to the mix. I’m terrified about climate change, but I’m better positioned to tolerate it than those who are on islands, or are plagued by floods, droughts, devastating storms and forest fires. Politically, I believe this country is circling the drain, and that’s painful to watch, but I’m learning to accept what has actually been the case all along: I have limited control in that arena.
Still, I feel like I’m lost in some otherworldly maze full of dead ends, and while I truly believe the door to positive selfhood is out there somewhere, I fear I won’t have the strength to reach it again. So, for the most part, I’m just trying to remember to breathe, trying to establish healthy boundaries, and trying to be gentle with myself. I cannot control how others treat me, but I can treat myself kindly, at least. I have to remind myself that it’s okay to leave those things that aren’t really necessary along the side of the road, because right now is a time to pare things down and focus on my mental health.
When I need a pep talk, I’ll listen to this song:
And when I am overwhelmed, I’ll listen to this one:
This is not my first visit to the land of depression. Experience tells me I’ll come out the other side eventually. I just need to be patient with myself. This, too, shall pass.
Encouragement is welcome. Telling me what I’m doing wrong, or should be doing instead, will only make me feel defeated. Rest assured that I’m making all the standard efforts (this ain’t my first rodeo) and I will get through this with time and help.
If you’re wandering this maze with me, here’s my hand, dear reader. Hold on tight, and pass the tissues.
Now is the perfect time to stay at home and read a good book. Try mine! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5