Later Life Crisis
Taking stock after illness, income loss, bereavement, etc
We've all had those days when we look in the mirror and don't particularly like what we see. Who is that person, their lined and pained face looking back with indifference masking desperation? Well, you earned those lines and beyond those tired eyes is your soul, and that's who you are. If you're questioning who you are, then maybe you're going through some kind of crisis.
Later-life versus mid-life crisis
Most people go through at least one major life-questioning period where they feel like something's missing from their lives, like they've steered off track or run into a ditch. Psychologist Elliott Jaques told the world this was called a mid-life crisis, because he observed it was most prolific in people aged in their mid to late 40s. The truth is, Jaques was vague about the details. Although the phrase has been used more and more since its 1965 conception (creating a billion pound industry to help counsel and medicate people), the exact symptoms were sketchy. Clearly, it's because we all suffer in our own way. Only the end manifestation is the same - we become stressed and do stupid things.
A questioning of values, mortality and what direction your life is heading can happen anytime to anyone. The way most people lived, especially for the baby-boomers, meant a mid-life crisis occurred in their late 40s, realising they married young and have just spent 20 years raising a family and making their mark on the world. It's a 'now what?' situation. But a later-life-crisis is different; perhaps the questions are deep and your future looks bleak. The reasons behind this feeling of impending doom are usually because you've suffered a few catastrophic losses, like losing a loved one. If this is beginning to sound a bit like you, it's no cause for worry, because it happens to one in three people in your age group. You're in good company.
What triggers a later-life crisis?
There's been a lot more research into the issues we face in later life than what Jaques covered back in the 60s. Things have changed a lot since then too. For starters, our life expectancy has gone up, but our lives are also more stressful than they were in the 60s. Most of us were told to shoot for the stars and aim big. The pressure was on. More to lose: nice house, good job, great kids, loving partner, etc. Taking better care of your health would come later.
Research shows that it's suffering two or more of these precious losses which triggers a later-life crisis. One trigger is almost always losing a partner. Head of Relate Ruth Sutherland said, “There are three pillars to happiness in old age—health, financial security and a good quality relationship. If you don’t have the third, you don’t have anyone to share the first two with.”
Sometimes, it's no single issue that triggers a crisis, more like a cluster. And each part of the cluster fuels the next until you feel trapped under a cloak of uncertainty. Like Sutherland says, health, financial security and a good quality relationship are three fundamental parts of our existence. When these go wrong, the effects are long felt and can send us into an early grave.
Recovering from financial loss when you're older is not easy. You know too well that time is not on your side. You start to worry. Worry causes more stress, meaning you lose your appetite and can't sleep properly; any extra worries become disproportionate. We live in an age where there have been some fantastic economical downturns, and if you've escaped unscathed you're lucky. Still, being poor or destitute when you're old can cause a string of problems, including mental health issues.
Losing your health or watching the declining health of a loved one is heartbreaking for all concerned. Growing older comes with a list of ailments, which ones we get and how severe they are can be a lottery. If you've not looked after yourself properly in the past, your failing health might come for payback. When you don't feel well enough to do even the simplest tasks like get dressed in a morning, it's easy and perfectly acceptable that you'll start to feel depressed. It's never too late to start being kind to your body; regular exercise and diet can help lift your mood and give your body what it needs to function.
To lose a partner is one of the worst experience we'll got through. Some people never recover; others don't get chance because they soon follow. The loss itself leaves a gaping void, but there are other implications too, such as finances to organise and health to (try) maintain. This is why bereavement is usually always a trigger for a monumental crisis after hitting 60.
When you know you're in trouble
Under severe stress, some people cope but others start to question their sanity; or perhaps even question the point in it all. If you recognise any of the following symptoms, it might be time to take stock and ask for help.
No sense of purpose
Chances are, if you had kids they've already flown the nest; they return with their flock occasionally but not as much as you'd like. The empty nest syndrome is a common one and getting used to the quiet doesn't always come. But if you've suffered a bereavement and you're on your own now, it's easy to start feeling very alone. Even completely lost. A life of purpose, especially if you've retired, feels like it's ended.
You're turning into a grumpy old person
One great thing about growing old is that you've honed a few valuable life skills. You can relate more to the hardships suffered by others, so you've developed an aptitude for empathy. Having walked the challenging road of life you've met a few undesirables and so know trouble when you see it, so your perception is razor-sharp. And generally, before this episode began, you've learned a few lessons, so you make better decisions. However, what this means is that you can become a little impatient with those not yet equipped with these valuable life skills. Three hours' sleep a night doesn't help much, either. You might also be projecting your own failures onto others, which leads to the next issue.
You're living in the rear-view mirror
One sure way to risk depression is to sit and think about all the things you should and shouldn't have done. If only this and that. Why didn't I save more money, work harder, tell my partner I loved them more, spent more time with my parents before they died, be a better grandparent, travel the world...? Regret will eat you up and spit you out. You're not done yet, you're still alive.
So, as you're feeling short on time, you might be wondering what your options are?
First, Stop looking back. You probably spent your early years dreaming of what your life would turn out like; the following years spent working hard to put those plans into action, followed by more planning. And finally you're here. While it's good to reminisce, consolidate your thoughts and, if you must, reprimand yourself for the odd mistake, don't spend all day every day inside your head. You spent half your life looking forward, don't spend the rest looking back. Now's your time to fully indulge in every precious moment of the present.
Make a bucket list
You've heard about the bucket list, right? Well, a good starting point might be to make your own. It doesn't have to be full of daring things to do like skydiving, nor unlikely things such as flying to the moon. Be reasonable and, if you can, avoid becoming a cliché like many mid-lifers do (and embarrassing yourself). You don't want to try riding a Harley Davidson because if you crash you won't mend. If you start trying to re-live your youth by hanging around with people much younger than yourself, you'll only feel even older and out of place.
Don't quit life just yet
Be assured, whatever it is you want to do, there will be a group or website dedicated to it, with a whole group of potential new friends to do it with. Talk to your GP if you're feeling down. If you're feeling alone, find out about what's going on your area to get you out and about. Whatever support you need to get you through this, help is never more than a few clicks or a phone call away - take advantage of it. Leave this world with purpose.
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