How Many Midlife Crises Can One Person Handle?

I never seem to get enough of them

Danni Michaeli, MD
Crow’s Feet
6 min readFeb 13, 2024

--

Photo by ulziibayar badamdorj on Unsplash

I was in couple’s therapy with my boyfriend a while back, discussing some big decisions. Jobs, where we wanted to live, having kids. It was an important but normal conversation, wasn’t getting heated or anything, but at one point he said something off the cuff to the therapist, something like, “He just bought a convertible; it’s so classic for someone going through a midlife crisis.”

Hmm. I was almost 40 at the time, so the numbers were there.

When does middle age start?

I moved back to New York City when I was 25 years old. It was a fun period, living the dream as an adult for the first time with my own income, renting my own apartment, hanging out with friends, and constantly exhausted from inadequate sleep. I didn’t have a car then because who has a car in NYC?

As the years passed, I started having this new feeling of stagnation. I was in my mid-30s and recall being aware of the numbers, that I was entering middle age. I felt an urgency about shaking things up and buying a car seemed like an affordable luxury that would improve my mobility. A friend was selling his Honda Civic, a great opportunity to pick up a well-kept super-reliable car for a good price.

That car did everything I needed it to do but had absolutely no style. After years of living into my established adult life, comfort and indecision brought back that feeling of stagnation. One day I said, “Fuck it, I need a change.” I wanted something less practical. My boyfriend, a major bargain hunter, liked researching stuff like this. He got me another great deal on a sweet cream-colored Beetle Convertible.

And just like that, my midlife crisis was assuaged.

For a while anyway.

When I was 45, my spirit started vibrating again. This time, I wanted to challenge myself professionally and embarked on an advanced therapy training program. Right off the bat, I knew something was wrong. I went in with expectations of being taught by national experts but wasn’t learning much and didn’t agree with a lot of what I was getting. I was often agitated and frankly, sometimes behaved like a jerk.

At the end of the program, I put a ton of work into my final project. I spent hours watching myself on tape, analyzing my choices and plugging them into the paradigm we were learning. That effort paid off. I came away with some surprising insights which I was excited to share. On our final day, I got up in front of the school and presented my work. What little feedback I got from the faculty was mostly scorn. And I really should have expected that.

That afternoon I came home and flopped down on my bed, demoralized.

To be honest, I wasn’t bothered by the rejection of my work. I appreciated what I learned and liked my final project. I was upset with myself for having stuck with a program I didn’t believe in for all those years. I felt that something was wrong with me. I should have known better and handled the whole experience differently, either walking away early or working to make it better rather than just behaving like a spoiled teenager.

I’m a psychiatrist, a New Yorker, a Jew, and a gay man. I hate to be such a stereotype (or maybe I love it…), but needless to say, I’d had lots of good therapy by this point in my life. I did not want to do more of that. I wanted something different, so I signed up for a large group coaching program. It was awesome, really different from anything I’d done before, and it gave me a lot of important new skills relating to myself and the world. I still feel very changed by the whole thing.

After that, everything was very cool for a few years.

When I was 50, my son was born. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s not the crazy part. By then my boyfriend and I had gotten married, and right before my kid was born, my husband started having weakness and weird muscle twitches. Within a few weeks he was diagnosed with ALS and it progressed quickly. By the time my son was born, my husband was in a wheelchair, and by my son’s first birthday, my husband was completely paralyzed and mute, hooked up to tubes and machines that breathed and fed him.

A lot of shit happened during those years, too much for this story. But the circumstances were heavy.

In the midst of it all, my friends and I grew very close and started a bunch of community development projects and fundraising. For worthy causes, I got into long-distance biking for the first time.

Eventually, riding 100 miles in a day was quite effortless, something I previously imagined was completely out of my reach. Together we raised lots of money, got into amazing shape, and met loads of cool people.

I was always a perfectly good person, but things happen in life that change you. Now I wanted to make a tangible difference for the better, be part of something, have fun, and grow in the process. That was the beginning of my mission-driven life.

Later on, after my husband passed away, I spontaneously decided to have liposuction. “Spontaneous“. It happened quickly because, unlike my late husband, I’m not much of a planner. In actuality, I’d been thinking about it for 20 years. I didn’t do any planning, and it wasn’t the greatest job. So my belly is kind of lumpy now, but I’m still so happy with it.

Last year, I started having pain in my shoulder. Now my knee is bothering me as well. A sports medicine doctor told me I have old joints. Meanwhile, a friend got me into triathlons. Now, after staying out of the water for 50 years, I’m swimming again.

Like the rest of us, I did dry January, and stayed away from sugar and chips, too. I feel really good. My training partner told me he exercises for an hour a day, so I’m trying that too. My kid and I have been watching all these nutrition docs about health and longevity, so I’m changing my diet now. More plants!

Another friend recommended Alison Bechdel’s fun graphic novel, “The Secret to SuperHuman Strength,” about her lifelong journey with fitness. She’s my age, and I’m really feeling it.

I’m almost 60 now. I’ve been telling everyone that for my 60th birthday, I want to be in the best shape of my life. Does that seem crazy, given my old man joints? Let’s put it this way: when I was younger, a lot of things seemed pretty easy for me. Now everything I do feels hard, so whenever I work out, I always feel like I’m working hard. Silver lining! As well, I’m enjoying the journey.

Altogether, I could call any of these moments of my life a midlife crisis, and maybe with more gravitas than the time I bought a convertible.

The bottom line is that I’ve had many midlife crises following hard times, failed exams, work troubles, coming out experiences, painful breakups, and financial missteps. Deaths. They’ve all hurt, and they’ve all been the beginning of something new and good.

The funny thing is, as a young man coming out as gay, I enjoyed freeing myself into a world of glitter, parties, and liberal sex. People like to call this Delayed Adolescence. It seems that I’ve jumped from Delayed Adolescence to Mid-Life Crises and completely skipped adulthood. Maybe that’s been my secret recipe for life…

Is any of this true? Would my life have been OK without the convertibles, the secret to superhuman strength, the lipo, and the coaching? I’m sure. But all the midlife crises have made my life infinitely better. And the story’s still happening.

Midlife Crises develop around moments of despair, and I’ve certainly felt that, but they always seem to deliver cool stuff, good health, new friends, and personal growth. Even though they‘ve been painful, I’m a big fan of my midlife crises and hope I’ll have a bunch more. I’m excited about what’s next for me.

The only thing is the numbers. What do you call a midlife crisis when you’re an old man?

--

--

Danni Michaeli, MD
Crow’s Feet

A psychiatrist and a dreamer, I'm always listening for the magic and wondering what we're all doing here.....