Midway in life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood, having lost my way.Anja van Kralingen
In the space of a few years I lost my father, I lost my business, I lost my financial freedom, I lost my passion for life. And in this my darkest hour I lost even my faith in God.
The life that I had worked so hard to create disappeared and I slipped deeper and deeper into the dark night of the soul. Every day presented a new crisis, everything I touched turned to shit. Life became a chore, a struggle, filled with mind numbing, boring, endless tasks of trying to survive. Nothing made any sense, nothing had any meaning. My illusions that I could control my thoughts, my feelings, my actions collapsed. I was confused, disorientated, depressed, desperate, exhausted. I lost my drive, my sense of self, the meaning of living. Fantasies of escape crept into my waking thoughts and dreams – should I run away, escape into alcohol, try drugs, start a new life somewhere fresh, end in all?
Why, oh why, was this happening to me? I had always tried to live a good life. I had thought positively, visualised good things happening, created mood boards of what I wanted to attract into my life, prayed, been a ‘good girl’, tried to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. I had been good! Wasn’t that supposed to keep me safe? Weren’t good things supposed to return to me? Had God forsaken me? Was I being singled out? Punished in some way? What had I done wrong to deserve so great a punishment?
Up until this time I was at heart a bit of a Pollyanna, you know always looking on the brighter side of life. And so when my troubles started mounting up, I pulled out my old way of thinking, my old way of being in the world, my tried and tested strategies and I waited for the crisis to pass. When this did not work I rolled up my sleeves, tried harder, worked harder, did more. But slowly, bit by bit every day a new crisis presented itself and the shit got deeper and deeper.
I was in the midst of a midlife crisis!
Nobody in my life had taught me about life’s crises or how to deal with them. Nobody in my family ever spoke about life’s pain, depression, or any shadow aspect of life. My Mother prided herself on never having felt depressed or melancholic, she just could not relate – her motto was “You have twenty four hours to feel sad and then get on with it.” I’m still trying to work out what ‘it’ is. I discovered that pain is solitary, that there was no one out there who was going to save me, no-one was going to take care of me, nobody could or would heal my pain and hurt. I realised that if I was to survive this period in my life I had to learn about and come to some kind of understanding about what I was experiencing – what is a midlife crisis? Why do we experience pain? Is it a normal part of life’s journey? Is it a punishment for doing something wrong? Does it have a purpose, a telos? Or is it just a meaningless, random affliction? A huge cosmic joke?
I wish I could say that I was proactive, that I took responsibility for my life and began a search for answers. The truth is I found myself wallowing in my own pain and angst! I withdrew from my friends, I hid from the world. I was ashamed at failing, ashamed to be so helpless, ashamed to be found lost and without answers. I was brought to my knees, humbled and humiliated. Perhaps I would have lived out the rest of my days in this state but for the Jungian Master Class that I attend twice a month. These classes became my escape from the world, a place where no-one knew about my personal history, about my personal inadequacies, about my failure as a human being. Most importantly no-one asked in that soft, kind but oh so pitying voice “how is it going, how are you doing?” And I didn’t have to lie and say fine or think about polite ways to shit, thank you.
During this time the class was dealing with Jung’s concept of the Shadow and our ‘guru’ Stephen Farah said “Shadow work is about becoming honest with ourselves. It’s about giving up our illusions about who we wish we are, in order to know who we actually are.” Well here was something I could be good at, I had plenty of shadow material coming up in my own life, I had no shortage of material to work on. Stephen spoke about how the super ego creates within us a dynamic in which we struggle to own our wounds, hiding them and trying to be powerful. He asked the question “What is it that you personally want to do in the world? Do you want to be good or do you want to be whole? And if whole, what is that for you? What do you want? Power, wealth, sex? He said that it is the raw instinctive self that drives the process of individuation; that provides the libido. This intriguing idea took hold of me and I remembered reading somewhere that Jung had talked about the shadow containing gold and that in the second half of life, when the energy and passions of the first stage of life have been exhausted, the shadow is the place to find new energy, new life, new vitality. I began to wonder what long suppressed shadow aspect of myself, might revitalise me. Jung asked:
“What did you do as a child that made the hours pass like minutes? Herein lies the key to your early pursuit.”
On the 14th October 2013, my Jungian diary entry contains the words play, laugh, sing, dance and quite obscurely a quote from Ernest Hemingway:
“It is none of their business that you have to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
A year later, I would look at this quote and laugh delightedly at its significance but I am getting ahead of my story.In desperation I also turned to the I Ching (yes I tried everything) and found that two messages kept repeating:
“In persevering, we ultimately come in touch with our own goldenness as we emerge from the darkness and the submerged gloom of the underground that we most feared but nevertheless faced. This goldeness was always there, but it had to be discovered anew, through this descent into darkness and grief.”
“During this time, inwardly, a new development is taking place, a maturation, a metamorphosis, a tempering, which culminates in the emergence of a fully developed human being, radiant and golden but also wise to the ways of the world, no longer a passive and naïve agent. The fully developed human being embodies the unity of soul and spirit…”
Really? What did this mean? It was no help at all….but a year later, ah, what wisdom, what clarity, what a new life!
In the Jung class we began the journey of discovering the myth that runs our lives, beginning with identifying the inherited archetypes operating in our lives – the archetypes that are contained in our family, ancestral and cultural inheritance. Then moved onto identifying the complexes dominate in our lives. My notes from this class:
It’s not that we have complexes; it is that complexes have us. We can’t choose our complexes. So how do we oppose complexes that are having a negative impact on our lives? Repression of the complex will simply push it back into the unconscious where it will continue to wreck havoc. If I become conscious, aware of the complex, I am in a better position to navigate the complex, form an alliance with it. By asking what does it want? What wants to emerge? What is its telos? It is in the negative complexes that the potential for transformation lies.
And suddenly working with these Jungian concepts, doing what appeared to be completely unrelated work, unrelated that is to the crisis of day to day surviving, unrelated directly to my midlife crisis – my patterns started to shift and change, my life started to open up, energy and vitality began to flow once again.
So how did looking at my midlife crisis through a Jungian framework change my life?
I learnt that suffering, any form of crisis and particularly the pain of the midlife crisis is the psyche’s way of trying to steer us away from old habitual ways of being in the world, towards a new life. During the midlife crisis the psyche, tired of waiting for us to become all we are meant to be, pushes us, screaming and kicking, out of our old patterns of living, our safe way of being in the world to new passions, new energy, new meaning. As Jung says:
“Our attitude must be like that of the mountain pine…it does not get annoyed when its growth is obstructed by a stone, nor does it make plans to overcome the obstacle. It merely tries to feel whether it should grow more towards the left or the right, towards the slope or away from it. Like the tree, we should give in to this almost imperceptible, yet powerfully dominating impulse – an impulse that comes from the urge towards unique, creative self-realisation.” (Man and His Symbols, p.167)
I learnt that there is no need to run away, or escape and that starting afresh and ending it all should be viewed symbolically rather than literally. I started afresh by forming an alliance with my complex of play, the creative, energising, connecting energy that I discovered is at the centre of who I am and my life changed.
At the beginning of my midlife crisis I was so lost that I couldn’t find or connect to any passion or energy but I could identify what was draining the life force out of me, what needed to end. Despite the struggle for survival, the pressures from within and without to survive, to make money, I gave up a start up business that I hated – remember the question do you want to be good or do you want to be whole? I chose wholeness. I turned my energy towards finding work that I could enjoy, that I could feel energised about and doors started opening up.
Synchronistically I now work as a Social Media Writer, work that I enjoy, that allows me to look forward to each day with renewed energy and passion. While my financial crisis is not behind me yet, my family and friends are supportive and the help and lucky breaks I have received fill my heart with gratitude and love.
Slowly day by day, striving to remain conscious, being aware of my journey of individuation and facing my fears, I feel my life aligning with the authentic, real woman I long to be. My relationships have improved, my health has improved, my sense of passion, energy and aliveness is back. Life is once again an adventure to be lived and I move into the future with renewed passion, optimism and hope!
Whilst Jung says: “The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.” I offer my story to bring hope and insight into this mad, crazy, painful journey that has been named the midlife crisis. If your journey into the midlife crisis has just begun, you have my deepest sympathy; there were days I thought I would not survive.
In the final analysis the midlife crisis invites us to fully individuate, to become all we were born to be – I have begun! See you on the other side.