I’m sure you’ve heard about the concept of a “midlife crisis”: an allegedly panicky time of life when we realize that we’re about halfway through and wonder, “Is that all there is?” I don’t think it has to be a time of panic: as a 70-year-old psychotherapist with an active practice, I’ve personally (and professionally) found midlife to be a time of great insight, wisdom and pleasure. It’s almost as good as being an elder!

But, that’s another column…

When we’re about halfway through this life, most of us have experienced a lot: we’re fallen in (and out) of love, had quite a few jobs and lived in more than a few places. We’ve had many adventures and have emerged wiser, if more humbled, as a result.

I recently read an article that said that 47 was the average age for people to begin their midlife examination (my phrase). These years can be fraught with new doubts and worries, but they can also be the opening of a whole new phase of life…if we pay attention. At this age, some people end a relationship/marriage, abruptly quit a job or buy a new car/house: all because they feel trapped in a life they’re no longer happy with.

Instead, we could ask ourselves: “How do I want the second half of my life to be? What have I learned from my life so far?  What’s missing? What is it time to let go of?” These are great questions, but not for the timid…because the answers can bring great change and growth, exhilaration and terror.

Wise woman Brene Brown says it beautifully:

“Midlife unraveling is a series of painful nudges strung together by low-grade anxiety and depression, quiet desperation, and an insidious loss of control…it’s enough to make you crazy, but seldom enough for people on the outside to validate the struggle or offer you help and respite. It’s the dangerous kind of suffering – the kind that allows you to pretend that everything is OK.”

It’s normal to wonder if you’re cracking up, losing it (whatever “it” is). Remember Peggy Lee’s song: “Is that all there is?” At midlife, most of us look back on our lives asking some version of that question. Brene Brown again:

“…maybe we’re standing in the kitchen unloading the dishwasher when we suddenly find ourselves holding up a glass and wondering, ‘Would my family take this struggle more seriously if I just started hurling all this shit through the window?’”

I’ve felt like that.

In my midlife fantasy, I decide to chuck it all, get in the car and drive east until I get to some small town and find a nondescript hotel where I check in and stay there reading books that I buy from local thrift stores until I decide what to do about my terribly unsatisfying life.

You too?

Midlife is about rebalancing ourselves. And, despite the disorientation, it’s a good thing! It’s a time to appreciate what we’ve achieved, grieve what we’ve lost and refocus on what we want the next fifty years to be about. It’s a time to ask hard questions…questions with no quick or easy answers. As a psychotherapist, I’ve helped clients address these questions. Here are a few to consider:

  • Physical health: How is my body doing? Are there any issues I need to address?
  • Psychological health: Am I relatively happy? Do I like who I am?
  • Spiritual health: Do I feel at peace? Do I enjoy being alone? Do I have enough quietude in my life?
  • Geographic questions: Do I want to keep living where I am? Where might I like to go instead?
  • Work/money-related questions: Do I want to keep working? Do I need to?
  • Relationship-oriented questions: Do I want to stay in this relationship? If so, what needs adjusting? If not, what do I want instead?

Asking yourself these questions can make your life better, richer and more satisfying. However, in the short run, they will disturb your status quo. As Brene Brown wisely advises: when you hit the magical age of 47 (or thereabouts), don’t pretend that everything’s OK. When you feel like throwing dishes through the window, instead, use these pivotal years to start a deep and rewarding investigation of your life.

You have nothing to lose but your anxiety, depression and despair.