Recently I’ve been trying to work out why sleep is my new bank balance (there’s never enough in there), why five coffees before 11am is my new normal, why the new Kit Kat Salted Caramel Whirl chocolate bar is the core of my food pyramid, why Netflix is my new exercise regime… It’s because of pressure - unrelenting pressure from all sides.
And that makes chocolate, caffeine, sugar, and Game of Thrones great ways to escape for a few moments and feel the sweet rush of dopamine and the vicarious thrill of the White Walkers. Distraction therapy at its best, and although costly and waist-full, the chance to escape the constant gnawing at head and heart is a relief too good to miss.
Where’s the pressure from? Over the last five years, life has changed. The elements are the same – wife, life (NB: happy wife = happy life), kids, work, sport, family, mortgage, bills, traffic, noise, parents... But it’s been "reconfigured". A new mash-up has emerged that’s wrapped layers of pressure under, over, and around me.
I’ve heard this phase of life being called "the sandwich years". Under you is the usual layer of pressure from a "normal" life; it’s always been there, but you can keep your nose above water, plus there’s joy that comes with it – seeing your kids develop and grow, finally gaining some understanding of what your wife wants from you (I still have L plates), getting a bit of breathing space to spend time together. Maybe even a trip - maybe even one that’s kid-free.
But now there’s the top layer. It starts thin but rapidly builds in density. It’s the elderly parents who, in a few short years, move from well and able to needing more and more care; not just physical, but emotional and social care. Case in point: My own father is descending into dementia, so we have the same conversation five times in 30 minutes, and my father-in-law, who lives with us, is on his fourth stroke and third heart attack (one more stroke and he gets a free coffee and muffin), and swallows 20 pills a day. All closely monitored and cared for by my wife, who, just when she’d thought she’d got a break from parenting, now has to parent the parent – a very tough spot to be in.
And then, just when you get on top of it, you get "toasted". Work provides that extra pressure to cause a meltdown or the "kid-ult" heads down a path you know is going to cause trouble. Sleep? That becomes 11pm to 3:30am/4am/4:14am/6am/7am. Coffee, must have coffee… One, two, three, four, five... Better stop at five. Broken sleep leads to calorie craving, which leads to end-of-day exhaustion, which leads to a Netflix workout, which leads to broken sleep, which leads to...
Am I alone in this? Definitely not. The signs of pressure from a "sandwich life" are all around the waists of my menopausal man-pals and in the escapist behaviour they display, flipping between growling lion and hibernating bear. But the issue is that the size of the "man-muffin top" is directly correlated to heart attack risk. More roll, more risk. And more growl, even more risk.
So what’s a menopausal man meant to do? We are socially and culturally programmed to bear pressure as a badge of courage, to suck it up, to stand stoic. But this not only makes the pressure effect worse: It will kill you.
So do two things:
- Stop and enjoy. Every day, find and see the joy in what you are doing. Smile and laugh (both have proven antidepressant effects). Say hello to strangers. Give without thought of return (research proven this helps fix burnout).
- Realise your wife is the most capable, special human being you will know. She doesn’t need protection, she wants connection. Release some of the pressure off yourself from having to "protect" her from your pressure. Share the sandwich.
Manopausal life is like a sandwich, so we might as well make it tasty.
TIM CORBETT LIKES TO CAUSE CHANGE AND, AT TIMES, TROUBLE. HE IS A HUSBAND, FATHER, A SPORTDAD, A SPEAKER, AN IMAGE MAKER @TIMCNZ, AND THE DIRECTOR OF CHANGE AT THE CHANGE LAB.
Image credit: Tom Sodoge