Clinical psychologist and blogger Berenice Meintjes takes an honest look at midlife crisis, and offers a daring recipe for making the most of this creative time of life …
A midlife crisis is a badly wrapped gift which brings great opportunity for immense freedom and untapped wells of joy. It starts painfully – slowly the scales fall off your eyes and the well-trodden path makes you weary with despair. You may become depressed and anxious, but fear not – this is temporary and is happening simply because you are not heeding the call of your deeper self. You grow in intolerance and courage and become ready to eschew the heavy expectations and break free from the dull drudgery and oppressive stress which somehow became your life. There is youth and life and adventure within you, calling to be set free, making you restless and disgruntled. You see those adverts where a business person breaks free from their tie and shoes and walks away barefoot on green grass and something within you leaps unexpectedly, then hisses a firm and gentle “yesss.” This is the call of your true self, which will not be silenced. It will only be satisfied when you shed the layers of false self which you have accumulated over the years. And perhaps surprisingly, it is a gentle and kindly soul – not nearly as reckless and vicious as it sounds when caged. It simply seeks wide open spaces, wind in your hair, and the opportunity to be completely yourself in the wilds of nature.
You may find yourself going into “all-or-none” thinking – imagining quitting your job, leaving your spouse and kids, moving to a tropical island, selling the house and buying a shiny red sports-car, Harley or Jeep with which to trek through Africa. This causes cheek-chewing pendulum swings of “but”s and “what if”s.
However there is another way… which is neither destructive nor unhealthy and really quite possible when you get over your own importance. Instead of giving up everything, give your soul the escape it needs, and test your new-found freedom in different ways. Book off a month or three from work (oh come on, it’s not that impossible – it’s your ego that starts writhing in discomfort). Yes there might be some wailing and gnashing of little teeth, but try to look on this with compassionate resolve – they will all be better for it when your fresh new you returns with oceans of spaciousness and kindness and wisdom to spare.
Rent the red convertible, Harley or Jeep. Take along a good camera with which to release your creative passion. Do not rush when making the tricky decision of whether to go alone or with your favourite person – the soul loves solitude but grows in the context of honest and vulnerable relationship. Next find yourself the perfect route by listening carefully for that quiet “yes.” Be selfish and real.
You could start on safari at Kruger National Park, game viewing from the luxury of Rhino Safari Lodge and rhino walking from Plains Tented Camp. Don’t be alarmed if looking into the eye of the gentle, giant rhino breaks open your heart. From there you could drive through Swaziland to Kosi Forest Lodge, where the silence of the forest will claim you and set you free. Take the 4X4 coastal trail to Thonga Beach Lodge and live out your tropical beach resort fantasies in the Robinson-Crusoe style huts. Walk off the past on miles of unspoilt beach and let swimming with dolphins heal and delight you. Marvel at the immense diversity of ocean life while snorkeling in a parallel blue universe.
Come back to the animal kingdom at Hluhluwe’s Rhino Ridge Lodge, and this time your encounter with great beasts may bring you strength and direction for the future. End your stay at Isibindi’s Zulu Lodge, where the wild drumbeat under open African skies will reignite your libidinal passion for life. Let the stories of the battlefields fill you with courage and hope as you return to your new life wholly changed, with clarity and purpose to reinvent it with creativity and beauty.
Photographs by Sharon Grussendorff