Lately I’ve been thinking about someone I got to know back in my teaching days. I’ll call her Stacy (not her real name). She was at the tail end of a triple whammy transition: a midlife crisis, anxiety and depression, all rolled into one.
She’d worked for years in the family wine business. And when she’d mostly gotten through her transition, she decided to return to the university to finish her degree in adult education. She wanted to teach others what she knew, and as luck would have it, she was my student.
So there I was one day, sitting with the other students, fascinated, while Stacy presented her lesson plan about wine. She passed out grapes. She instructed us to bite them in different places in order to taste the subtle variations in each one. We breathed in their scent. We licked. Chewed. Swallowed.
Then Stacy started talking about our palates and how they change over time. She said, ”When you get to be a certain age, you NEED strong wine. You NEED blue cheese. Cayenne pepper. Greek olives.”
Almost everyone in the room cracked up, because we were all pretty much in or near midlife ourselves. We knew what she meant.
Stacy’s point was, of course, that as we grow older our taste buds change and don’t pick up flavors the way they used to.
Not surprisingly, all of our senses begin to show some effects from aging when we reach midlife. And it often helps to find a way to revive them, with new tastes and new experiences.
But I’m pretty sure Stacy was talking about more than just our taste buds.
Not only do our physical senses begin to change in midlife, but our feelings, emotions and maybe even our values and world view change too.
So much can happen at this point in our lives. We notice our bodies aging. Children leave home. We begin to lose parents and loved ones. A job that used to satisfy loses its spark. You’re bored with your routines. Relationships can grow stale and dull and fall apart.
Or, none of the outward circumstances of your life change, but a feeling of internal unrest keeps scratching at your door anyway.
But not just any midlife transition, the big three, all rolled into one: midlife crisis, anxiety and depression.
I know a lot about this because I’ve had more than one midlife crisis (yes, that can happen). I’ve been to the raw edges of anxiety and the dark corners of depression, all at the same time. And I’ve also helped many clients through their own midlife transitions.
In some ways it’s like other transitional periods, but with a decidedly darker edge.
During midlife transitions you tend to wonder, “Is this all there is?”
A brand of loneliness that’s hard to articulate arrives. A foggy depression descends, mingled with surges of anxiety. Maybe life feels somewhat meaningless, or like something’s missing. You doubt or question things you always thought were important. You might feel trapped and stuck, like you’ve lost your way and don’t know where to turn next. Regret takes up residence.
And this unwelcome threesome — midlife crisis, anxiety and depression — keep you both agitated and drained of energy at the same time. Maddening!
From my own experience, I’ve learned that Stacy was right: shaking up your senses is good medicine for midlife. I’ll never forget the time I sat on the beach for a week, mostly staring at the waves, just being. The smells, tastes, sights, sounds, textures began to bring me back to myself.
So activating your senses while doing the deeper work of midlife is an unbeatable combination, in my opinion.
It mellows out the midlife crisis, anxiety and depression combo. It gets you out of your head and helps you feel more hopeful.
So go ahead, experiment. Try the spicy food, at least a taste. Turn your music up and move a little. Let your fingers linger on soft velvet or rough stone. Get up close and inhale the scent of the lavender bush or jasmine vine. Marvel at the colors in the painting or the movement of the clouds. Whatever you choose to do to bring more zest into your life, sink into it. Really experience it.
And then, fortified by your newly awakened senses, give yourself space to explore your particular experience of midlife crisis, anxiety and depression.
The Middle Passage…presents us with an opportunity to re-examine our lives and to ask the sometimes frightening, always liberating question: “Who am I apart from my history and the roles I have played? –James Hollis
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