As I edge ever so slightly closer to my 40th birthday and that tipping point of life, I have begun to reflect on where I am, what I have done and where the hell I am going! It’s usually to the fridge.
In particular, it’s the word “reflect” that can create such havoc for some “middle-aged” men. It’s the looking back on life and comparing our reality to our dreams that can cause such emotional pain and anguish. Have I achieved everything that I thought I would? Are my personal relationships a success? Have I made my family proud? Is my pension pot going to support my addiction to the middle aisle in Aldi?

We are told that the period of “mid-life” is supposed to be fulfilling, but for some it involves a longing to achieve a feeling of youthfulness, a sense of remorse for un-achieved goals, resentment of our failed relationships and social status. The routine and treadmill of life have become mundane, and we may want to feel alive again. We might start to look for that excitement, the Va Va Voom that we used to get from life without the use of our zimmer or a little blue pill. We may start to spend our weekends at the Harley Davidson Dealership or a little longer browsing the back pages of Readers Wives than we need to.

I can only speak for myself, but I have always been aware of the constant battle to strive to be “more male”, the historical requirement to compare our masculinity, to “Man up”, to reach the standard, or to be “bigger” than the next guy. For working class men, maintaining a job and providing for the family has always been central to this and a failure to do so brings a fear of shame, of judgement and defeat. For some, being unable to maintain the Alpha status and bravado can be devastating. It can lead to a complete loss of identity, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. Combined with an inability to express one’s emotions or being able to ask for help, bouts of depression can quite rapidly lead to thoughts of suicide. We may have lost control of everything else in our lives, but we can still decide our own fate.

Suicide is still the biggest killer of men in the UK under the age of 45.

It doesn’t have to be.

Sometimes all it takes is a kind and caring conversation for someone to be given permission to talk about their emotions and feelings. And whilst it may be difficult to hear someone talk about what is causing them such emotional pain, we need to realise that this is about them, not us. Having this conversation may be the most courageous thing that they ever do and you can help. Just be there and listen. Accept the silences, accept the red-hot ball that they have just thrown you and hold it. Hold them. Take everything they say and treat it like gold. Climb down the ladder to be with them, to empathise and hear their pain. Take the time to listen without judgement and try not to interrupt. Only when we have taken the time to listen might they be prepared to accept our help and support. Show them that there is always hope.

Personally, as I reach the brow of the hill, I find that my life has already dramatically changed. My work revolves around encouraging people to talk so that they don’t find themselves struggling with this disconnection. And whilst, I often find myself hearing of other people’s sadness, I am looking forward to what the future might hold. Our past experiences and hindsight can teach us valuable lessons about putting one foot in front of the other. We can use the times when we have stumbled to our advantage and use them to help us make those informed decisions.

Yes, mid-life may be the perfect opportunity to change some things in your life, but don’t change those essential supportive building blocks and pillars that you have taken so long to build and nurture. You may need them in the future. You may want to dye your grey hair, change your wardrobe and dust off that leather jacket, but don’t just change your course for the sake of it. Take the time to pause, celebrate the wins and grieve the losses.

I plan to make changes that better my world and those within it. I plan to make changes that matter. In the meantime, I’m off to Aldi to see what the middle-aisle has in store…