I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve probably had a mid-life crisis every six or so months since I was fifteen. I know, I know, you’re all envious. Who wouldn’t want to have a major meltdown twice or so a year? For me it’s influenced the purchase of three motorcycles and a number of kick ass cars and one truck. Who wouldn’t want to have regular break downs if you can look cool in your ride? I mean, c’mon!
But seriously, I’ve always had more than a hint of envy for people who claim to be in that special club that experience only one mid life crisis (that inevitably leads to the cliche’d purchase of a sports car, the ingestion of large amounts of drugs, the seeking out of extraneous lovers, and/or the sudden urge to join a stamp collecting group). “What’s that like?” I’ve often wondered, “Yes, please tell me what it’s like to have relative stability for most of your life and not be constantly fucking stressed out and terrified that shit’s going to hit the fan (again)?”
I’ll be the first to admit: from a great many perspectives I’ve had a bloody comfortable life. I grew up in a quiet ranch house with two parents and two siblings, a dog, cats, and sometimes cowsies and sheepies. I attended the same school system with the same set of kids for twelve or so years. Our family was card holding members at Our Savior’s Lutheran. After leaving home I always had a roof over my head and food on the table. I’ve had some good paying jobs over the years and even during periods of downtime I’ve had a safety net of some sort. I’ve traveled to the states of California, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and I’ve been to the countries of Australia, Canada, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Germany. I’ve always had health care, I’ve always had access to a computer, and I’ve always had shoes on my feet. That’s a shit ton more than 99% of humans to have ever existed.
On the other hand, I grew up in a home with a verbally abusive father who often targeted me as the eldest son. My mom was involved in a co-dependent, sometimes abusive, relationship with him and, sometimes passive aggressive, seemingly had no qualms about hiding my little brother from his fury while putting me directly in the line of fire. I may have had the same handful of kids around me for over a decade, but I rarely had more than one friend at a time and I often found myself in tears as I walked around alone on the playground wondering why the other reindeer didn’t let me play in their reindeer games. I may have had a solid community in my church, but even at four or five I was asking unwelcome questions like, “How can God be Jesus and Jesus’ dad?”, questions which became increasingly nuanced and forceful over the years, and eventually left me moving away from the Faith I’d been born to accept as the entire meaning behind it all. I may have always had a roof over my head, but sometimes it was on a friend’s couch; since I was 18 I’ve known that I’ve often been one paycheck or “Act of God” away from homelessness. I’ve always had food on the table though it might only have been a peanut butter sandwich (couldn’t afford jelly!) or plate of the cheapest spaghetti noddles drowned in Heinz ketchup. I’ve had some good paying jobs, largely due to my decision to change my major from psychology to computer science, but I’ve frequently found myself trapped in toxic work environments, certainly ones where some colleagues did not encourage or respect my unique personality traits and needs and others where my special health requirements were treated in such a way as to put me in the ER. And hell, don’t get me started about job security in this industry (there is none!). I’ve traveled the world and seen a lot of things, but on my parents’ leash as a kind, or as an adult, under the constraints of my fears, anxieties, and overall personality as a highly sensitive person, introvert, and high functioning autist. I’ve always had some form of health care, but when I started to need it in the mid-2000’s the prices, even with “good” insurance, started to go through the roof—I literally spent ten years of my life, and at least $70k, trying to find a doctor that would take my symptoms seriously, making decisions about what care, treatments, or testing, I could or couldn’t afford, and it’s left me an utter mess. And that’s just the frosting!
As a psych student I learned about this thing called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As a basic explanation, it’s an organization of human needs in a triangle, sort of like the old food pyramid, where our core needs are listed at the bottom, our next level of needs one step up, and so on, until the needs we have, or maybe more accurately, the things we can have, when we’ve fulfilled the needs in lower areas of the triangle, allow us to become fully fledged, well balanced, individuals. For me, it explained a great deal about why I was always going into or coming out of a crisis despite seemingly having everything I needed to lead a purposeful, successful, and happy life.
Here’s the run down of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, starting from the top:
- Self-Actualization: Morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts
- Esteem: Self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others
- Love/Belonging: Friendship, family, sexual intimacy
- Safety: Security of body, of employment, of resources, of morality, of the family, of health, of property
- Physiological: Breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion
At the most basic level the hierarchy can be interpreted to mean that if you can’t breathe, good luck having any confidence. But it’s more complex than that; the levels aren’t mutually exclusive. One can have food and water, sex, and family, but maybe no friends and a shit self-esteem. It’s not an all or nothing check-list nor an absolute, scientifically “true” depiction of how the human mind/heart/psyche works, it’s just a model or easily digested portrait than can provide us insights into ourselves.
My introduction to that magic pyramid explained my depression and the many “mid life crisis” in more concrete terms. Sure, I could breathe. Sure, I always had water. But that was about it. My dietary choices one day might be a piece of toast while the next it would be a harvest at a friend, family, or stranger’s house. Sometimes I’d be getting laid (“Woohoo!” and “Yeeha!”)—and certainly I’m the type of partner/lover that knows how to combine the act of sex (i.e. fucking) with sexual intimacy—but more frequently than not I haven’t had (substantive) friendships outside of my romantic partner (if and when I’ve had one). And sleep? Don’t get me started! Up until I was introduced to the miracle of Ambien [for me at least], falling asleep took on average two to three hours; any attempt at mental, emotional, or physical homeostasis was a pipe dream.
My purpose in sharing this is not to bitch, whine, or moan—I’ve spent more than enough of this life waxing poetic about my circumstances. Nor is this a competition or attempt to gain your sympathy: I have no desire for either. Instead, it is an exercise in communication as I use the stone knives and bear skins at my disposal to build a better life for me and hopefully, a better world for you too. So I’ll leave it at that for now, dear friend, as I soon hope to pick up from where I left off and compare and contrast this to the idea of “meltdowns” as they’re sometimes referred to in the autistic community.