Midlife turbulence a chance for change

Midlife turbulence a chance for change
Kayte Walsh and Kelsey Grammer. This is Grammer’s fourth marriage

A mid-life crisis can happen to anyone, particularly those who feel they are on a treadmill of obligation when all they want is a feeling of freedom, writes Rita de Brún.

Paul Hollywood and his Aston Martin. The one he allegedly bought or was lent. The one that added the latest layer to the theory the 53-year-old baker’s in the throes of a midlife crisis.

One so caricatured it should be played out cartoon-style, in panels and tiers. Then sandwiched between the covers of a graphic comic book.

Trolls recently put Heidi Klum in the same category as Hollywood. But only because the 46-year-old married a man of 29, Tom Kaulitz, and her honeymoon pictures upset the haters.

Kelsey Grammer’s another who’s been accused of succumbing to midlife shenanigans.

Perhaps because the actor left his third wife for a flight attendant, Kayte Walsh, who is a few decades younger. Perhaps because he had her name tattooed somewhere private. But also because he told chat show host Conan O’Brien all about it.

Many will relate to the partner swapping or acquiring that links Grammer, Klum and Hollywood. It is after all, a yawnmakingly predictable midlife move. A time for starting over.

It’s no different in Ireland, where CSO figures show that in 2016, the peak age for separation and divorce was between 45 and 54.

Despite all the gags to the contrary, midlife doesn’t typically generatecrisis. But it can be confidence-sapping. Just ask the many who’ve had more injections in the past year than they’ve had in the previous four decades. It’s the midlife cry.

Asked if ‘crisis’ is too strong a word to describe the midlife affliction so often triggered by balding, sagging, paunching, and cheating, Dr Declan Lyons, consultant psychiatrist at St Patrick’s University Hospital agrees that it is.

“It’s too extreme. Yet, it is a time of confronting the existential, a transition stage in life that can be turbulent.”

Is turbulence inevitable? “Our coping ability with previous transitions dictates how we respond.

“It helps if we can be flexible, creative and inherently adaptive while seeing the advantages and reaping the harvest from each life stage. That, instead of mourning the passing of what’s gone.”

As for who is most likely to succumb, Dr Lyons says it can happen to anyone.

“Those experiencing a particular loss or transition over which they have no control may be particularly vulnerable. It could be a death, or perhaps children graduating from college, leaving home, or emigrating. Even a dreaded zero birthday can trigger reflection that leaves an uncomfortable feeling until adjustments are made.

“It often occurs at a time when there’s maximum responsibility, including authority over other generations. There might be a feeling of maximum pressure and minimum satisfaction, of being on a treadmill of obligation, when what’s sought is freedom.

“Those looking on might see restlessness, damaging sexual behaviour, increasing vanity, spending or an obsession with material things.

Sometimes, it’s parents trying to over-control their kids, delaying their becoming independent. But while the indirect presentation of midlife turbulence is largely invisible to the individual, mental health professionals need to take distress indicators seriously, and explore the themes behind them.

Explaining that depression may be a factor in the midlife transition stage, he adds:

“Anything perceived as a stress or a major adjustment can precipitate a relapse.”

Asked about the stereotype of the wealthy, older man, starting over with a much younger partner, he replies:

“It happens often. Yet, people get very temporary relief if they abandon familial responsibilities to achieve it. It’s illusory to walk away and assume otherwise. They can be incredibly vulnerable if the new relationship breaks down; suicidal even.”

Paul Hollywood.
Paul Hollywood.

Suggesting then, that we should try to see midlife as an opportunity for growth, he continues: “We need to fear aging less.”

Isn’t that a big ask? “It can be tough. But it helps to remember that change is necessary, imminent and productive.”

He’s right. As is veteran Cork based psychologist, Dr Colm O’Connor, when he says:

The tragic strain in all of life is revealed in the second half, when through loss and suffering, we discover we are not fully in charge of either our destiny or fate.

Since we can’t halt the march of time, or alter fate, is career change something that better reflects one’s values and interests, it is something Dr. Lyons would recommend for restless, unfulfilled midlifers?

“That would be a courageous thing to do and most worthwhile,” he says. “The important thing is to do so while one still has the energy.”


  • 1. Your dream holiday involves a beach rave in Ibiza.
  • 2. You whisper when utility providers ask for your date of birth to confirm you’re the account holder.
  • 3. You frequent the same clubs as your kids’ friends.
  • 4. Romance with people your own age seems unattractive: they’re just too old.
  • 5. You persist in wearing in-ear headphones that irritate your ears.
  • 6. You recently got the tattoo you wanted when you were 17.
  • 7. You fantasise about starting your life afresh.
  • 8. You lie about your age.
  • 9. You borrow your teen’s clothes and...
  • 10. You really believe you look great in them.

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