Something is happening in my friend circles, and I believe it’s called midlife. Last month, one of my best friends, who is the most outwardly successful of my squad, had a mental breakdown requiring hospitalization. This month my college roommate, who works insane hours and is always in a rush, slipped down a flight of stairs and broke her face.* Another close friend called recently to say his partner has been diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease — at age 38 — and he’s in a tailspin. Several friends whose weddings I attended ten years ago are divorcing, or it already happened and I only just learned about it because you don’t advertise these things.
For me, my main issue is I don’t know what to do next — I already did the things I wanted to do “when I grow up.” Now I’m off the breaking news treadmill, which I wanted, but it removed the constant external reward system of deadlines and delivery that journalists get fixed on, so it requires me to be ALONE WITH MY THOUGHTS, shudder.
It feels dissonant to be going at a moderate speed, but also satisfying, as I get to reconnect with … me.
A couple weeks ago I was in Sonoma Valley with old, hyper-smart friends. I’ll shout out in particular Colin Maclay, who lives in LA but on the East side of town, which feels like such a hurdle that we hang out more when we’re both in a city we don’t live. And Eli Pariser, who I’ve known since the days the filter bubble was just one of his brain’s many thought bubbles.
Eli told me he pitched an idea to his therapist about “The Millennial Midlife Crisis.” The idea is not about a generation of us feeling burnt out, while that may be true. He wants to explore what a midlife crisis looks like — how it manifests — in those of us now in our mid-to-late-thirties.
“It’s not muscle cars or superficial stuff like trophy wives,” he says, of the stereotypical boomer midlife crisis.
Instead, he posited, it looks exactly like what many of us are doing: a bunch of meditation and therapy and time away from striving and screens. (I realize that to have resources and time to do this is a privilege in it of itself.)
I decided to try slowing down and looking inward because midway through last year everything felt like it was going too fast and I couldn’t reflect and process what I was going through, emotionally. It was like a Shinkansen of new assignments and stupid bureaucratic fights and constant change, a train I couldn’t get off until I moved back home.
Two thoughts about this, early into this chapter of stillness. (Well, relative stillness.)
One, we have got to be brave enough to lean on one another for help. And to reach out when you sense someone you love might need you. The only thing that’s gonna get us through the challenges that come our way is our relationships, which give us meaning. It’s the timely and evergreen message of the Netflix show Russian Doll, which you really should watch if you haven’t.
Two, we should be more curious about our feelings. I’m coached to do this, but I’ve also learned from my own parenting. When I have a child in meltdown mode, I’ll try to empathize first and say, “You are really angry, I see you’re so angry” so the child is heard (this works to varying degrees). But then I try to get them to talk about it and dig in, so they can learn to be self-aware.
I realized sometime along the way that I hardly ever do this for my own anger or dread or whatever it is, so now I’m doing the work on myself. Especially during my quarterly existential dread.
Me: [In tears, playing Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ in a loop]
Stiles: Ahhhh, is it time for your quarterly existential dread?
Me: Oh, god. Don’t talk to me. [Eyeroll, more tears, more Radiohead]
I find it’s useful to be less hard on myself when I’m cycling through my ennui. I’m trying to be more curious about my feelings and what they’re saying. While we all have an internal voice, we get a little disconnected from it sometimes.
*This did not stop me from sending her flowers with this card …