Mid-Life Crisis (Part II)
From harrowing experiences to
Confessions of a middle aged
My second brother Raul, 44, has recently been sending me fillers
e-mail that he is undergoing midlife crisis. He does not go much into
details -- just little complaints about being tired, unable to decide
he wants out of life, staring at crossroads and dead ends. It's the
problem, which I find difficult to react to - that philosophical crisis
the soul, a pain that transcends the physical and emotional planes.
I should know. Four years ago, I was in the same boat. I woke
morning and felt depressed. I was 32, overweight, loveless, broke,
and felt like nothing was happening to my life. The worse part of it
didn't know what would make me happy. This feeling dragged on up until
34th birthday. After passing the denial stage, I was finally able to
the fact that I am indeed suffering from midlife crisis. Ever the
conscientious researcher, I tried to know more about this much-talked
My readings were limited to books written by American authors
Filipino books, which were written by middle-aged Filipino celebrities
belong to the upper crust of society. Which makes me sometimes wonder:
poor people -- those who live in the slums and shanties -- do they
through midlife crisis, too? They probably don't. Perhaps the struggle
physical and material survival doesn't allow them to reflect and dwell
their respective lives anymore.
According to my readings, sometime between the ages of 28 and
33, a person
normally experiences the first stages of stagnation and discontent.
according to midlife guru Gail Sheehy, is that stage where we push
reappraise our relationships and either reorder or intensify our
commitments. "In the 10 years after reaching 35," writes Sheehy, "both
and women confront an often harrowing passage when mortality first
real and time suddenly begins to press in. As we examine the gaps between
our youthful illusions and where we actually are, we may experience
same confusion and fears we thought we have left far behind in adolescence.
Such inner turmoil has become well known as the midlife crisis."
I liked the way Sheehy used the word "harrowing" to describe this
for that was exactly what I felt during that time. Physically, I saw
manifestations of time's betrayal: worry lines started to appear in
forehead; unwanted and stubborn avoirdupois grew in my belly; my hairline
receded. When I woke up one morning and found strands of falling
my pillow, I was petrified. My defense mechanism shot up to stratospheric
heights. I told myself aging is natural, it's all in the mind, etc.
quoted Shakespeare by saying, "We owe God a death." But my ego simply
refused to wholeheartedly accept these facts. I'm too young to feel
too old to feel young.
Mentally, I felt more inadequate. All my life, I've always regarded
as somebody who can think well. I know I'm far from being an Einstein,
I could easily analyze problems, command words and punctuation to behave,
do simple arithmetic, and absorb facts, figures, and insights like
sponge. Imagine my surprise when I discovered one morning that I couldn't
even identify the subject and predicate of a sentence, which I was
Was that five years ago when I said my work was insultingly easy? How
my bosses complained about my written work?
Emotionally, I became insecure. My fears doubled. I began to compare
myself with my colleagues. Among our college group, I'm the only one
doesn't have a graduate degree. I carried that chip on my shoulder
years! When I was 25, I told myself I'd make my first million by the
30. When I turned 34, I had to close my bankbook because my money was
20 pesos. I felt like a junkie.
My temper also flared up easily. So much so, that one time right
had an argument with a former officemate, I banged the door, kicked
waste can, and threw things in my office. What cooled me down and made
embarrassed was when our secretary talked to our staff and made an
on my behalf. She quitely said: "pasensya na kayo kay sir, tumatandang
binata na kasi. (You have to forgive sir, he's becoming an old bachelor,
you see). And just as my angry emotions intensified, I also discovered
unknown part of myself - I was turning mushy and lachrymose. I would
misty-eyed at sad stories and cry over dramatic novels. When I found
sobbing while watching the cartoon movie "Bambi," I went into panic.
something must be terribly wrong with me!
My spiritual side was even worse. For the first time, I started
doubts about my faith. I even engaged myself into a debate with an
priest friend regarding the authenticity of an afterlife. What if there
no such thing as heaven and hell? I asked him. "Huwag naman, lugi naman
kami nyan," (I hope it's not true, we're at the losing end if that's
case), he seriously intoned. See? I told him. If a priest like you
unsure, can you expect me to have firm convictions? He threw a question
back: "So what do you believe then?" I don't know, I confusedly replied.
thought I've done my spiritual search in college. Now I'm back to the
And if that wasn't enough, everyday of my stressful life, I have
contend myself with that irritating nagging question: "Why aren't you
married yet?" Rather than be rude, I found myself explaining that this
my choice and that my status does not in any way make me a freak of
But then, I found it difficult to keep on explaining to people every
Midlife crisis is harrowing because you wrestle with your personal
deconstruct and challenge your self-postulates, go into private wars,
cope with your own malaise, maladroitness, and sense of disarray. It's
flummoxed stage, which can pull the sail out of your boat, while your
seemingly woebegone life unreels before your eyes like a mythological
monster, evoking a sense of doom.
But just like the changing seasons, a refreshing breeze flows
and through time, one slowly learns to romance tranquility. Changes
dead ends. As my former editor would often say, "the most dramatic
happens to a person when he is pushed to the wall and he is left with
choice but to make that change." In my case, it was my first trip abroad
that became my turning point. From my very fast-paced life in the
Philippines, my new job took me to a research institute in Taiwan,
resembles that of a monastery. For months, I hanged on to keep my sanity
intact while I acclimatized myself into this cold, impersonal, and
non-English speaking environment. I survived on long letters and phone
calls, but after awhile, when I realized that my friends have lives
families of their own, I unwittingly surrendered to the counsel of
wisdom. I began to pray even if I had doubts that someone was listening
me and learned the art of talking to myself. When you're helpless,
have to believe in a higher force or a Supreme Being. I did what I
was right. I was baptized Catholic so I went to mass, participated
bible study group, read till my eyes drooped, became conscious about
health, ran daily to experience the endorphin rush, and slowly socialized.
Before I knew it, I graduated from awkwardness to comfort.
Physically, I've come to accept the painful fact that I could
compete with teen-aged dudes in the strength and looks department.
body's metabolism is slowing down. I believe that my parents' genes,
carry a long history of ailments such as obesity, cardiac arrest, cancer,
diabetes, and hypertension, are all within my system, and unless I
healthy lifestyle, those ailments would start to activate. And so I
aware of my meat, salt, sugar, and alcohol intake and started to replace
them with fruits and vegetables. My occasional smoking is the only
that bothers me but I am trying hard to quit.
I likewise discovered that if one just hangs on and relies on his
wellspring of strength, new passions would emerge. I never knew I could
cook until one day, I experimented on making my own version of spaghetti
bolognese. The word spread around and I have started to get a regular
of followers who eagerly wait for my next kitchen appointment. With
help of cookbooks, hours of hanging around the kitchen, and reliance
discriminating taste buds, I have slowly earned the reputation of being
promising chef. I used to be chained by the glamour and stability that
white-collared job offers. But now, the thought of shifting jobs from
corporate work to odd ones even sounds exciting to me. I've always
of becoming a chef, like Richard Gere in "Autumn in New York" or a
bartender, like Tom Cruise in "Cocktail."
For many months, there was an inner voice that dictated me to write.
been ignoring this voice, but it won't stop nagging me. It yells at
all times: in the middle of the night, when I'm taking a shower,
exercising, riding in buses or trains, or even in the middle of a boring
office meeting. I'm becoming docile to this voice now. I write no matter
what. I just let this voice guide me. It might lead me somewhere, and
no longer afraid.
I've become more tolerant, and my temper has leveled down. When you're
foreign country, you'll always think twice about blowing your top because
this might mean your immediate deportation. And so I count up to 500,
sometimes even up to 1000 when I'm steaming just to cool myself down.
still cry over sad novels and movies, but I am not ashamed of it anymore.
I've thrown stereotype gender roles out of the window a long time ago.
reached that stage where people's opinions about myself don't affect
all. I figured that life is too short and to dwell on negative things
going to take a toll on my health.
By any known standards, I am still very far from being rich, but I no
longer dream of making millions. As long as I know how to work, I told
myself I wouldn't go hungry. I've paired down my needs Just give me
comfortable bed and some money to spend on books and decent meals,
survive. My only form of vice right now is traveling, which could really
expensive, but that only happens every now and then. I could always
buying expensive shoes or electronic gadgets in exchange for plane
and hotel accommodations.
No longer pious, my spiritual life has taken a different course, too.
don't go to church regularly but I rediscovered God and talk to Him
day. I'm even thinking of doing some volunteer or apostolic work because
want to help people. I feel I have been so blessed, I want to share
blessings with others.
At midlife, we do take stock of things, and our discoveries oftentimes
surprise us. I guess the important thing is to nurture our solitude
at the same time, not totally neglect our social life. We should also
take the stigma and negative tags that go along with the term "middle
too seriously. I used to feel awkward getting more interested in yoga
yogurt rather than rap music and cognac -- but not anymore.
The shining leitmotif of midlife, I suppose, is managing change.
mellow, do our reality checks, clean up our acts, acquire a level of
persnicketiness, slow down, simplify, and forgive ourselves. I still
believe in the magical power of love, but I no longer go crazy for
kind of feeling, which Gwynyth Paltrow mouthed in "Shakespeare in Love"
the "love that overthrows life."
After five years, I am proud to say that I am peaceful and happy.
this is not and will never be a perfect state. I still feel blue every
and then, experience silly moments, and am contented with my loveless
status. But who doesn't feel blue from time to time? Does everyone
smart 24 hours a day? And was it "Time" magazine that recently ran
on the escalating divorce rate and that more people are choosing single
life over marriage? If this is the case, I must be in good company
Somebody said the worst form of loneliness is when it is shared
someone. If this is so, then maybe the best form of happiness is when
experienced alone. Recently, I wrote the following in my journal, and
discovered that almost every weekend thereafter, I succumb to this
level of joy:
5 April 2001
It all sounds like a coffee and bacon advertisement, but it's true,
sometimes I wake up to perfect mornings. Just like today, I opened
with a smile on my face knowing that it's a holiday. No rush bathroom
rituals, hurried breakfasts, and making on-the-spot decisions on what
office attire I have to wear. The thermometer, which hangs on my wall,
registered 20 degrees Celsius. There was no sunshine but the wind was
From my glass window, birds chirped in unison. For almost a minute,
swept by the natural sweet cadence of what seemed like a thousand tweets.
The sounds came from a mango tree where the birds nestled. The marvelous
thing was, after they rendered their musical performance, a gust of
blew, and they all flew towards the north. It was a sight to behold
flock of birds in graceful flight, fading before my eyes. I said my
prayers, made 50 push-ups, and jogged in place to allow my blood to
circulate. And then I went down to the kitchen and started to brew
While the coffeemaker was making those gurgling sounds, I stared at
kitchen window and noticed the tall blades of grass swaying slowly
herb garden. It was a sight I wanted to freeze. I could have painted
scene if I was an artist. I went back to my room and played Antonio
Vivaldi's Concerto No. 10 in C Minor. I was overjoyed. I felt like
I am confident that my brother will soon be happy, too, because
that goes through a harrowing crisis can always discover his or her
self. People in midlife have to fight. We have to believe that we deserve
second lease on life. We should vow to be better.
22 September 2001
Shanhua, Tainan, Taiwan
From Rev. Fr. Erick Santos