Turning 40 and embracing a midlife crisis changed my life

By Andrew Dickens

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For Andrew Dickens, turning 40 was a wake-up call. He thinks we should all embrace the midlife crisis

Life begins at 40! Try telling that to someone from the 15th century. If they hit 40, they’d be looking over their shoulder for an unearthly scythe held by a guy who always looks slim in black. For them, the phrase would have been ‘death stalks at 40, if you make it that far’.

Luckily, with a fair wind and a little sense, people today have a considerably longer life expectancy: 71.5 years, globally, with a few years extra if you’re born in a developed country, and some bonus time if you’re a woman.

So, while it’s patently untrue that life begins at 40, it’s true that we have a lot more time after hitting that mark. There’s no race to tick the bucket list, less need to fear the Reaper. This, though, can lead to complacency and procrastination: I don’t need to hike the Inca trail now just because I’m 40. I can leave it to 45. Or 50. 60? Yeah. Or maybe 90, using my stem-cell-regenerated super-anatomy.

More years equals more time to do stuff. Makes sense, right? WRONG!

The wake-up call

 

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56 (very hilly) kilometres later. The medal doubles up as a bottle opener, by the way.

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I don’t care what the latest buzz phrase is. 60 is not the new 40 and 40 is not the new adolescence. 40 is still, statistically, middle-aged. Dress it up in a hoody and trainers if you like, but it’s got grey hairs and longer recovery times. We may be healthier, we may feel younger – we probably act it – but we are not younger. If you need a trigger to get things done in your life, this should be it.

It certainly was for me.

When I saw 40 approaching unstoppably across the hills of time, it was a call to action. I’ve written here and elsewhere about my experiences with anxiety and depression and – let’s be honest – the subject of mental health is rarely a carnival of positivity. However, this time two of the crappier symptoms combined to produce a spectacular explosion of me doing stuff.

Symptom one: the lethargy, anxiety and self-esteem issues I’d had for much of my life, from teens to thirties. This, most of the time, has prevented me from doing things, always too nervous or too knackered.

Symptom two: a fear of mortality (particularly potent for me, as a godless man). This is my mortality, plus that of loved ones, the human race, or cute animals on nature programmes.

Individually, these two things are sh*tty. But then they collided, causing a thought process along the lines of: “I haven’t done as much as I should have and now I’m even closer to extinction.” You don’t need to be mad to have a midlife crisis, but it helps. (Mugs, posters and t-shirts available on request.

Midlife crisis? Yes, please!

 

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Trying hard not to slide backwards

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I embraced that phrase: midlife crisis. It’s mid-life and, if not quite a crisis, it’s a pressing matter. So, I did things that I wish I’d done earlier, things I’d planned to do later, and things I didn’t even consider doing before, but when the opportunity came up to do them, I decided my default response would be to say yes. Yes, yes, yes (with the occasional no – I’m not Danny Wallace).

I took my first skiing holiday – and, subsequently, learned to ski. I got my motorbike licence. I quit my job to go freelance. I got married, which also involved proposing. I bought a house. I got a dog. I slept in a capsule hotel. I got naked in public places. I tried surfing (less successful than skiing, but still). I ran a half-marathon. Then I ran a full marathon. Then I ran an ultra-marathon.

There’s more.

 

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CBT passed. Next stop: Brighton Beach.

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I got my eyes lasered. I took a horse-riding lesson. I climbed a couple of mountains. I bought a guitar (I admit, as yet unplayed). I grew a moustache and not for Movember. I took up rambling. I sang with a band. I went to as many countries as I possibly could. I broke a world record. I took up meditation and yoga (both of which have been, temporarily, put down again). I took part in a rap battle. I’ve probably missed something – I should make a proper list – but all this happened in the last five years.

There are still things I want to do, of course, and the list is growing. Unpredictable opportunities will arise and I’ll say yes. And the best bit of all: long term, this new positive attitude became a self-fulfilling prophecy, helping eases those mental health problems. The symptom is now a remedy.

Seize the peony

 

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Finally got my 40th birthday present from @flynndogmillionaire – many thanks to her, @kestermatsumoto and @redbunnytattoo

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I even got a tattoo – in Tokyo – of a peony on my left forearm when I was 40. One of the approximately 732 meanings of the peony in tattoo culture is the equivalent of carpe diem, seize the day, the moment. It’s there to remind me not to be a wuss, to say yes, to worry less. Positive thoughts, man.

It wasn’t my first tattoo. That came when I was 19. But it was my first since then and the first on public display, because before then I’d been worried, uncertain of what I wanted and other people’s reactions. It has since been joined by two more splendid Japanese tattoos on my right forearm: a snake and a group of Sakuras (cherry blossoms), each with its own meaning. Unhidden. Proud. Excellent conversation starters, popular with small children.

If I feel doubt about whether I should say yes to something, I look at the peony. It’s all very simple.

You don’t need a purple flower on your arm, though, just do it. Saying yes is simple. Not saying “maybe,” “later” or “not yet” is simple. Worrying about what to say is painful, though. I still do that sometimes and it takes years off.

And you don’t want to take any years off, because none of us is getting any younger.

Three life-changing trips you should say yes to

Say yes to the great outdoors of Norway

Norway Flash Pack

Welcome to the land of ice and snow. And fish. And fjords. And glaciers. Basically, loads of stuff. This four-night trip includes a generous serving of Nordic exhilaration, including sea-kayaking, ice-caving, cliff-climbing, RIB boating. It also includes a generous serving of Norwegian cuisine and, of course, some of the world’s most mind-blowing scenery.

I’m saying YES

Say yes to adventure in Borneo

paddling on a boat

If you fancy sweating out the muck of city life and also having your eyes soothed by natural beauty, then sign up for this incredible trip to Borneo. Posh hotels are balanced out by jungle camps, kayaking through rapids and caving is countered by spotting orangutans and sipping cocktails on a beach by the South China Sea.

I’m saying YES

Say yes to sensory stimulation in Argentina

You’ve got five senses (six, if you’re lucky), so use them. On this life-changing trip to Argentina, you’ll taste wine and beef, you’ll feel the cold whip of the wind as you cross glaciers, you’ll see sights you never thought possible, you’ll hear the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires, and you’ll smell the horse between your legs as you trek through the Andean foothills.

I’m saying YES

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