Dealing with midlife regrets and how long does transition take?

by Angst'er
(NY, USA)

Hi Noel,
I'm 52 and been happily married for 16 yrs, stable in my career and financials, always had good health. About 9 months ago I started having unexplainable feelings of dread, 3 months ago I started waking up every morning at 4AM overwhelmed with worry, and 2 months ago, during Christmas dinner at my Brother-in-laws, I had an anxiety attack for the first time in my life, not good! Went to the Dr, had blood work including testosterone and all was normal, he explained it away as stress.

Searched the web and recognized symptoms of midlife transition so I joined a gym and go 1 hr 3X/week, taking multivitamins and watching diet helps me feel better. I also started seeing a Psychologist, extremely helpful, everyone could benefit from trying it. Within a few sessions I learned to recognize what triggers my anxiety and started exploring my lifetime's worth of learned dysfunctional behaviors and beliefs that cause it (seems that most are learned from our parents). The work is now to change myself to have more appropriate healthier ones'. It has also opened me up to discussing feelings with my wife which helped calm her fears that I'm going crazy!

I read "A Harley or My Wife" this past Sunday and I have to say you did a great job on this book! Saw myself exactly in many things you describe throughout, and it confirms I'm not nuts! Here are a couple of questions I have for you...

First, we never had kids, not by choice it just never happened and we even tried IVF. Over time my wife struggled through and accepted it, and I had as well believing it was fate. But now in my recent state of heightened emotions, I convinced myself it was time to adopt a child. My theory quickly crashed while trying to convince her (and myself) how easy it would be... she instead would prefer that we just adopt another dog. Now in my head I've accepted it's too late, but my heart holds regrets about accepting a "finality" that kids will never be for me. And no, I'm not about to leave my wife for a younger one. Some say you get through this by grieving the loss of no child. Do you have any advice for resolving a major midlife regret?

Second, I've been in transition for almost a year now and given what I'm already doing the anxiety is gradually subsiding, any similar experiences out there to suggest how much longer I should expect to go through this... is it months? years? I don't want to set unrealistic expectations, but it can't come soon enough!

Thank You again for an outstanding book and this resource-rich website.

Noel's response
Congratulations on getting help when you needed it. Many, if not most men seem to think they have to struggle through the situation alone, and end up doing things they regret later.

Re: grieving the loss of no child, I am reading 'Letting Go' by David R. Hawkins, and I think you might find it helpful. He was an M.D. (psychiatrist) and Harvard Ph.D. as well as being a spiritually enlightened man, and I find his books useful in my own life journey.

Another book you might find useful is 'The Way of Transition: Embracing Life's Most Difficult Moments' by William Bridges.

It is hard to tell how long the transition will take. For some men it is a few months, for others a few years. It took me about five years to complete the whole transition.

Daniel Levinson, in his book 'The Seasons of a Man's Life' says we go through a transition every ten years - five years of transition and five years of 'stability' before the next transition starts.

My 'age forty' transition brought many changes (quit my job, went back to university, got divorced (not my idea) and got married again three years later) but none of it felt like a crisis. My 'age fifty transition' was five years of mild depression, loss of interest in work I used to be passionate about, loss of confidence, loss of libido, and financial meltdown) and although it wasn't what I would call a crisis, it was definitely hard slugging.

During that transition I did a lot of 'mulling over' the previous stages of my life, as though I was somehow processing and eventually letting go of all the wants and disappointments of my first fifty years.

The upside is that once I got through the transition, I began enjoying life more than ever. Now in my late 60s, I still am!

Hang in there. This too shall pass.

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