Am I Having a Midlife Crisis? Or Is It Something Else?

How can I know if I am having a midlife crisis? I don't want to buy a sports car, but at 48, I'm definitely struggling with the idea that my life is in all likelihood more than halfway over. My marriage is solid and we have one grown kid who just graduated near the top of his class at UCLA. Neil Young sings, "Better to burn out than to fade away." I'm more fadeaway than burnout right now. My life is boring. I work a 9-to-5 job, come home, dinner, TV, walk the dog, bed. Safe, but boring. I don't want to leave this world with regrets. How do I break out of the "safe" mind-set and allow myself to live to the proverbial fullest? And what if my wife is perfectly happy the way things are? —Fading Fast
Dear Fading Fast,

I don’t buy it, the fade-away stuff. I might go for burnout, considering that your kid just finished college, which implies many years of concerned parenting, but really, I have to say that you sound very successful—together with your wife you have created a solid marriage and seen your child graduate from UCLA. You must be doing something right, and I urge you to pat yourself on your back; you deserve it. I have the feeling you’ve been working hard for your family—long, hard work can lead to burnout—and now might be the time to take stock and then use some of that energy for yourself. You have completed an important life chapter. It’s time to turn the page and start another.

You wonder if you are having a midlife crisis, but I wonder what that means, exactly. Boredom? Dissatisfaction with where you are in the world at this particular point in time? You’ve never felt that before? Maybe you’re just tired out, finished with some things, and ready to start some new ones.

Turning your attention to yourself is a challenge. Maybe you’d like to improve or make changes in your career, your marriage, or your health choices. Analyzing how to go about any of this, discussing different opportunities with your wife, can be rewarding. You can figure out what’s really important to both of you, your goals, and the steps you need to take to achieve them.

Perhaps you are having a “midlife crisis,” or perhaps you’re simply depressed. I recommend that you speak with a therapist to rule out dysthymia, a chronic depressive state characterized in part by feelings of hopelessness, ongoing negative beliefs, and a lack of energy for or interest in things you once enjoyed. Having a check-up with a physician is also a good idea. At 48, hormonal changes could account for a lack of zest and enthusiasm.

Whatever the case, it does sound like the spice has gone out of your life. Work. Dinner, TV, dog, bed. Boring. People in their forties or fifties often define their dissatisfactions, if they are feeling them, as age related. At the very least, unhappiness is heightened because you feel like time is running short. Your life is nearly half over, as you write. You feel internal energic changes, or see your parents aging or perhaps passing. I think it’s time for the next big thing.

People can lose their zest at any age. My prescription for people who feel that they live boring lives is to look around a bit and simply do something different. What are your dreams? What are the things you like to do?

I don’t know you, what your tastes and dreams are, but maybe you could fantasize a bit, or imagine doing your favorite things, then talk to your wife about them—she might have ideas, too—and then spin some of them out together, if they have mutual appeal.

If she is not interested in doing the same things that you are, so what? Who says you have to do everything together? Many couples have different interests, and that difference can in itself be spicy and stimulating. Doing everything together all the time doesn’t appeal to everyone. A little distance can make for a better relationship.

Also, who do you know whose life seems ideal? You might ask yourself who you look up to or even envy. That can be a clue, a signal for something you might do on your own or get for yourself—your own version, of course, not a copycat imitation.

I wonder, also, if you’re not maybe a little afraid to strike out in a different direction, and whether fear is preventing you from living as you would like. All change is scary, but it’s exciting, too.

The way I see it, you’re a guy in your late forties, and the world is as open as you are. It’s a big world, too, so get started.

All my best,
Lynn

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
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  • Angela

    Angela

    May 16th, 2014 at 2:02 PM

    Have you given any thought to talking to someone about maybe being depressed? Because this is what it sounds like to me.

    Being unsatisfied with your life is not a bad thing but it can get you down and lead you down that path of depression. I think that I would find someone to talk to about this.

  • David

    David

    May 17th, 2014 at 6:11 AM

    I understand that this is causing some real confusion in your life, but I also know that when I did this it was because I became very consumed with somparing my own life to that of others and that became very unhealthy for me. I started wondering why they did this but I did that, and how that could be holding me back. I didn’t stop to think that maybe these were the things that actualy did make me happy and that I should focus more on that happiness than that that I perceived that others had and I did not. I don’t know what is going on in your life and I do feel that mid life is a great time to do a little self analysis and figure out if there are things that you need to do to improve yourself. But I also think that it is a time to also nrecognize the things that you have that make you happy and thankful, and to become more aware of those things too.

  • holly

    holly

    May 19th, 2014 at 3:59 AM

    It definitely sounds like it is time to seek some outside help. You are clearly struggling with something big here and although you don’t quite know what that is you do recognize that there is something going on that you need someone else to help you process. Take that step

  • Matthew C

    Matthew C

    May 21st, 2014 at 11:13 AM

    Why do we always have to give this a name like a midlife crisis? Is it not enough to admit that you are unhappy with your life and would like to experience something else? I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that or that you have to be ashamed of that. You can’t run away from the responsibilities that you already have but I certainly think that it is okay if you decide that you need a new way to handle them and choose to turn your life in a different direction. Just because you have been doing one thing one way for a long time does not mean that that is the end all and be all. It is never too late to try something new or to become something more than what you feel that you are.

  • tyla

    tyla

    May 31st, 2014 at 7:16 AM

    I am all for following your own dreams, that’s for sure, but try not to hurt anyone else in the family in the process. We hear all the time about people up and leaving their families behind when they go through something like this when the family rhat you have could be the most supportive network that you have at this point in time.
    Let them help you get through this, don’t shut them out. They could be just the encouragement that you need but didn’t ever really know.

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