I think I’m having a mid-life crisis. I’m 46 years old and I bought some ripped jeans recently. My 16 year old son was horrified. “I’d like the old dad back,” he said. “The one who wears smart jeans, a button down shirt and a v-neck jumper.” Then I tried on a muscle-fit tee shirt in a clothes shop and it was only the look of horrified panic on my wife’s face and the silent shake of her head that prevented me investing in the figure enhancing garment. I got the distinct feeling that she had other ideas about how I could enhance my figure, such as eating less biscuits!
The tricky thing is that I’ve already had a mid-life crisis four years ago, and I’m not sure whether I’m allowed another. To tell you about my first mid-life crisis I must write some words which I am always reluctant to say:
I had a breakdown.
Why do I find it so difficult to talk about my breakdown? What is it about the word ‘breakdown’ that causes me to substitute it with other, more palatable but less clear, descriptions of what happened to me?
I have often talked about it in terms such as ‘when I left my job’, ‘my period of illness’ and ‘the stress became too much’. When I do manage to utter the word ‘breakdown’ I inwardly wince. It’s painful. It feels as if something within me shrivels.I’m a failure and I’m admitting it to the world. It feels like how I imagine it would be to walk naked into a room full of clothed people. I’m embarrassed but so are the people around me and they desperately want to help me cover up; they clearly don’t wish to linger on such an awkward subject so I collude with them by moving the conversation on quickly, glossing over the detail, changing the subject.
Being a man doesn’t help. I could be wrong but my perception is that if I was a woman I would be much more likely to be at ease talking about my thoughts and feelings. My friends would know every detail of what I was going through and we would send one another little notes of encouragement. We’d cry together and hug one another and not panic when someone asks, ‘how are you?’ But we men are like movie sets: on the surface we look the part, but take a peek behind the bits that will appear on camera and things are sometimes makeshift and flimsy. In fact, we don’t often look behind the scenes ourselves; we prefer the illusion that everything is working perfectly back there.
I know I, for one, was willing to be fooled about myself, by myself. I preferred to believe that I was strong and could cope with whatever life threw at me without breaking stride. But then the truth emerged and I had a breakdown. And ‘breakdown’ is such an accurate description of what happened to me, both in the sense that that I stopped functioning and that I was dismantled bit by bit. Reassembly will be a lifetime’s work.
So, why am I admitting to a breakdown now? I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone.
Mark Chester is the Founder of Who Let The Dads Out? and author of The Soul of Football. Mark also writes for the In The Dad House.
Image Credit: Todd Quackenbush