Manic minds in middle aged bodies!*


If I were to choose one word for my state of mind in this post pandemic era, but also for what I commonly observe around me, it would be ‘manic’. More than that, we seem to live in a world where there is a constant frenzy to catch up with all we have missed out on, travel, connecting with friends, eating in restaurants, work meetings in person and so on. It is because of this manic frenzy that I was not able to write the blog last week. Apologies to those who may have looked out for it. I was giving a talk in a day conference in Thessaloniki which meant a lot to me, as it took place in the very same library where I began my first degree and where I first discovered anthropology in my late teens! It felt like going full circle to be invited there and a true privilege too. But trying to combine this with catching up with family and friends, taking advantage of the gorgeous warm weather and attending to my practice was just too much to pack in. It all ended with a nasty cold which brought me back to London prematurely, as there was no point spending the rest of the week feeling unwell and stranded abroad. Perhaps, I also needed to do less and to just be at home for once! Manic frenzy is like flying high like a paper kite that is bound to deflate and crush to the ground when the wind stops blowing. Just like paper kites, I was bound to run out of steam and adrenaline sooner rather than later.

In a recent conversation with a colleague, she remarked that being a workaholic in manic frenzy is almost an inevitable state of mind during middle age. I felt her comment hit the nail on the head. For the last years, I have observed such supposed inevitability of work and life overload in myself and in close friends and colleagues. We all rant and complain about how unbearable it all is and how hard we have to push ourselves, and yet we all continue the vicious circle of extreme overload and near burnout, as though resigned to our fate. The one thing we all have in common is being middle aged. What is it about being in this age group that creates such a temptation for manic frenzy? Of course, there are many sociocultural factors which push middle aged people to over-perform and constantly ask too much from themselves. It is not uncommon to find oneself during this time with teenage children, ageing parents, financial worries, anxiety to climb or stay up the career ladder and on top of all this, a body that demands more attention in order to function such as a better diet, exercise and often, an array of medical appointments as well. Of course, being in one’s forties or fifties is considered ‘young’ nowadays, adding another pressure to fit the image. Can we still look good, work hard and play hard while hitting our target of a twelve hour working day? The answer to that is not hard to guess. No! And yet, we keep trying!

I think the metaphor of the paper kite may be an apt one for the sociocultural expectations commonly reinforced through social media for those of us who are middle aged. Like the paper kite, we may at times seem shiny and full of colour, we may manage to fly high, we may even sometimes enjoy the ride, but like kites need a strong wind in order to fly, middle age manic frenzy is fuelled by the survival mechanisms that generate adrenaline in the body. If we do not manage to function to this extreme level, to attend to all our duties, if our attention span trails, there may be an imminent disaster like crashing on hard ground. In other words, manic frenzy is always fuelled by a form of death anxiety, an awareness that we may not have that long left when we can still fly high. And yet, when I finally let go this week and decided that tending to my cold and taking it slowly was far more important than trying to push myself too hard, there was a true revelation; I remembered, even if briefly, the pleasure of pottering about in my kitchen preparing a nutritious meal without having to rush, the privilege of spending some quality time with the people I care about, I remembered what it feels like to inhabit my body in the here and now. And yet, if I am honest, I know I will be back flying the kite any time soon.

*Dedicated to all my friends who face the same predicament!

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