I have thought about when this thing called midlife began for me and I guess I can trace the roots back to just before my 40th birthday when I was beginning to become a little dissatisfied with my job in the Police Force. Whilst I loved the work I was doing [Chief Intelligence Analyst in the Victoria Police Counter-terrorist unit] it was becoming obvious to me that the Police Force was moving away from encouraging specialization and expertise. It was in fact being increasingly discouraged, both systemically by placing maximum limits on time in position, and culturally by making it very difficult to move laterally if you have been in one place for any length of time.
So I began to look around at other business opportunities with a view to working hard and making enough money to improve my lifestyle and give more time to pursue other interests, like time with family and travel to name a couple. I bought a franchise and the franchisor went into liquidation 6 months later. Faced with the dilemma of walking away then or continuing in another form and hopefully making the whole thing work, myself and all of the other franchisees formed a company to operate as a single business. Truth was though, we were operating with a lot of franchisee baggage, locked into supplier contracts that left us little place to go in terms of savings for cost of goods, and excess staff and vehicles that weren’t fully utilized.
Idealistically, we failed to make hard decisions at that time and rather than put people off, thought if we could grow the customer base over a short period of time, that we would need all of those staff and more. After another year, and having invested around $200,000 we closed the doors and I was left to start again.
Fortunately I didn’t lose my house but the cracks in the marriage were probably starting to appear. Not overtly, because, we both realized that we had to work harder to try and recover what we lost financially, but certainly emotionally it is fair to say that I began to withdraw. It wasn’t a conscious thing, I put my head down and bum up and worked a couple of jobs, and long hours took me from the family. I certainly didn’t realise it was happening and it’s only in the past year that I have had it pointed out to me.
So that trip down the river continued in the rapids for a while. Financially it was tough, I often felt like we weren’t making any headway at all, but that wasn’t unusual, I’d made a number of bad decisions throughout my life – investments in the stock market just before the crash the 1980’s; the purchase of an untried business; advice I acted on to buy into an insurance company that went bust a couple of weeks later. All done in good faith and from the advice of supposed experts.
Was there any sudden revelation or waking one morning to the belief that life was passing me by and that I was dissatisfied with things? I would have to say no at that stage, unlike the experience of many men I have since read of.
For me a critical point was the death of my father in August 2004. I couldn’t sleep properly, didn’t eat, dropped around 12 kilos in weight over a couple of months and began to question where it was I wanted to be. I treated people badly, again not knowingly, and I do regret that. Grief does funny things to the way you act and behave and whilst you’re going through it you cannot actually step back and analyse and assess what is happening. One day you realize that you have spent a lot of time being things for other people, but not being yourself.
What is that self? Truth is I’m still trying to learn how I came to be what I am. I went to a psychiatrist early on because some people thought I was depressed. I came away from those couple of appointments dissatisfied with the result but knowing that this wasn’t depression it was simply a re-assessment of all that had gone before. I only learnt later on that this was midlife and a normal part of life and growth. It is a sad reality in many ways that other people do get hurt along the way, inevitably, unknowingly sometimes, and certainly without malice although that may not seem to be true to those who are hurt.
This journey has been a roller coaster in many ways and if I had to describe only one revelation that has come to me over that time it is that it is now time for me. That sounds at times to be incredibly selfish, but it is the only way to break the pattern of unhappiness that has followed me for a number of years now. Some relationships have been shattered, others rekindled or reborn, and new ones begun. Whilst I am still living through these times it is sometimes difficult to believe that the future is bright. But in times of calmness I can truly believe that it is, and I can look forward to it. That doesn’t mean that everything that has gone before is invalid, nor that the rocky times are completely behind [I still have some bridges to cross with my kids] but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
There is comfort in knowing that this journey is not unique and this blogging community has helped me to understand that. I have learnt things about the spirit that few years ago I would have scoffed at. I am still not truly sure what those things mean, nor where they will lead, but I will leave that discussion for another day.