What can I tell you about my journey to becoming a middle-aged man? Well, it has not been marked by the stereotypical crisis that leads to purchasing a new car, though I have been eyeing a new bike (the type you pedal) for a while now. And sure, it can be a red bike.
From the moment of conception, we go through various stages of transition. These physical changes are far more obvious in our younger and older years. The emotional changes are more subtle, particularly as we become more socially adept and learn to mask our behaviors based on the social expectations and cultural norms. But the one universal marker of aging is change in all areas of our life.
I have always heard people say that change is hard. But let me clarify what I think that really means. Changing habits and patterns of behavior is hard; changing others is hard; but change, well, it is a natural part of life. It is our responses to it that make it difficult. The reality is that many of my middle-aged male brethren do not respond particularly well. We are not simply losing our muscle tone, hearing, and hair.
Unfortunately, too many men between the ages of 35-64 respond to this stage of life by getting divorced, changing jobs, having an affair, abusing substances, going into debt, and increasingly, committing suicide. In fact, 56% of the yearly 40,000 suicides in the United States are from this group. So, every hour, over 61 middle-aged men take their lives. As always, in tragic events such as these, the question is, “Why?
Initial studies are targeting where men are most comfortable: home, work, and online. Researchers are also seeking to address the problems often associated with suicide: relationship, financial, and substance abuse problems, along with the attitudes men have towards seeking professional behavioral health services.
Midlife is a part of the process of aging. This time of life is seen as an exit from our youth and early adulthood and an entrance into a time of contemplation and reflection. The energy of youth is still there, though dissipating, and the wisdom and experience of those older is valued. It is what I like to term, particularly because I am in it, “the sweet spot. For many of us men though, it is not seen as a sweet transition in life. Questions of value and reflection on the meaning of our lives cause a great deal of uncertainty. Have we made the right choices? Did I choose the right job? Who is this that I am married to, and why are they not the same person anymore?
Reflecting on where you have been and where you are going, coupled with ever-increasing responsibilities, worries, and concerns can create a crisis in our identity and worth. It is fairly obvious, then, that all of this takes a toll on marriage, raising children, maintaining friendships, and our work performance. As human beings, separating the issues and tensions within life is essentially impossible. Anxiety is a natural response to our physical, emotional, and mental worries.
The solution for anxiety does not have to be radical. Anxiety is rooted in where we find our identity and worth. Buying a car, quitting your job, using drugs, or taking your life does not solve any problem. It simply digs us deeper into the holes we are in. That is the nature of depression and angst. When we are in the midst of struggling, we do not see clearly, and so we need an outside perspective. We need people who will help. We need voices that will help us center our identity on something that is permanent and real, not on any form of accomplishment we think is necessary or circumstances we think define us.
For none of us is our true identity and meaning found in our jobs; no job can adequately fill that need. For none of us is it found in our marriage; no spouse can adequately fill that need. For none of us is it found in our children; no child can adequately fill that need. That is too much responsibility for any job or marriage or child to carry.
As a middle-aged man who is a follower of Christ, it can be easy to be weighed down by worries. Am I good enough, do I measure up, does my life have value? Those worries or points of anxiety, however, are only rooted in me. That is not where my real identity truly comes from, and therefore, it cannot be the source of my value as a person. Identity is found in relationship, which I find in Christ. If you are struggling with your identity and value, seek counsel from someone who will help you anchor to something permanent and true. Our responses to the points of crisis in our lives will always make an impact, for the good or the bad.
If you are seeking help or advice, please contact Paul Anderson Family Strong Center at 912-535-2128 or visit www.familystrongcenter.org.