That’s how Rob’s midlife crisis started. He realised he’d grown apart from his wife and felt like a stranger in his own home. A future of acquiring more companies and making more money seemed suddenly meaningless. "All this wasn’t really me, it wasn’t giving me any sense of satisfaction – just a sense of burden and emptiness," he says.
Some men in the throes of midlife panic become depressed. Some act out by squandering their retirement fund – buying a Ferrari, getting a hair transplant and a chest wax or reverting to the behaviour of their youth by staying out late and flirting with women half their age.
But whether it manifests itself in ostentatious chest-puffing or more radical life changes, a man in midlife is often in turmoil.
Studies of mental health over people’s lifetime have found that mental distress peaks in middle age for men. Depression rates rise in the 35-55 age group, but it’s not just mental illness that’s the problem. This is also just the time men’s physical health deteriorates.
"Men experience a sudden shock of fear, which is around, Oh God, I’m halfway through my life and I haven’t done all the things I wanted to do," says counsellor Anne Brelsford, author of the report The Marital Mid Life Crisis. "They think, Life has passed me by. Will I have time now? It’s now or never. There is a lot of fear."
Is that so different from what women go through at the same age? From her experience counselling couples, men fall harder, Brelsford says. Men’s validation is more tied up in work than women’s, so when their professional life suddenly feels meaningless, it can lead to a downward spiral.
Women also tend to have stronger social and support networks – in fact, midlife for many women is a time when they are freed up from their families and can take on new challenges. "For them, it’s an opportunity to seize the day," she says.
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