Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Melancholy and middle-age

One of my Twitter friends asked recently: “Is everything slightly melancholy after you reach a certain age?”

Most of the people who replied said yes.

Although for me melancholy has always been there in the background, I think he is right.

In some ways I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve thrown off many of the factors that were making me miserable. My general state of mind these days is a mixture of contentment and anxiety, and I can live with that.

But there’s something else there too.

Since I passed the mid-50s mark, I find I am thinking about death a lot. It’s not that I feel it’s imminent – my grandmother lived to be 96, so that’s my benchmark – but it’s there as a possibility in the background. And of course I know I don’t have as much time left as I’ve used up.

Maybe I should say, I am thinking about life and death a lot. Because there’s the looking back, too: the losses, of many kinds, and the regrets: time wasted, opportunities missed, doors closed. Wondering if it’s too late to change. And sometimes wondering if it’s worth the effort. (Disclaimer: I am not, at the moment, depressed.)

I met an old university friend the other day. It was nice, but having that “what have you done for the last 30 years?” conversation was strange. In a way, the answer was “not a lot”. Got married twice, worked hard for little reward, spent too much time and energy being unhappy. Partly circumstances, partly that melancholy again.

It holds you back: I haven’t had many adventures, I haven’t changed career radically, I haven’t seen much of the world. Because I’m someone who lives in my head a lot, I don’t have a lot to show for those years apart from several volumes of fairly angsty diaries.

Things have improved though. Now we have the internet. It’s a great place to whisper “Is it just me?”

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