A different kind of midlife crisis

A different kind of midlife crisis

I started university almost 10 years ago. I unpacked my life into a dorm and was bombarded with waves of standard questions from my parents and their friends.

“What major have you chosen?”

“You’re going into law, right?”

“Are you sure that degree will get you a job when you graduate?”

We weren’t even the legal drinking age in most provinces but somehow we were expected to have the rest of our lives chiseled in stone. It was a trying ritual. We packed antidepressants and antacids with our laundry on big holiday weekends. We all did the same dance and synchronized facepalms upon our return to the safety of dorm-living. 

A decade later I’m doing the same dance, only this time it’s a solo performance.

A baby shower brought me face-to-face with some friends from those school days. My brain shot back to the last time I was with these folks. Days when I drank a lot more coffee and wrote essays on very niche topics. We’d sit in the pub and discuss the topics of the day over terrible drinks.

I hear the rip of wrapping paper and women cooing over sweet baby gifts. I’m surrounded by glowing faces.

A certain rhythm returns: the sunny greeting. An attempt to recall when last we saw each other. Job situation, geographic location, relationship status, travel itinerary, pet projects. An in-person cover letter.

Now all eyes are on me.

“So, what are you up to these days?”

I don’t miss a beat.

“I manage my husband. It’s a full-time job.” Polite laughter.

It's not a lie. I run the household. I plan the meals. I optimize each dollar and time our bill payments with finesse. I make a killer risotto. I’m not ashamed of fitting under the banner of ‘homemaker’.

Except it’s not what I envisioned for myself. It’s not by choice. 

6 Steps to a Colossal Life Change

Step 1: Get sick.

Step 2: Get injured on the job and ensure you don’t heal properly.

Step 3: Get sicker.

Step 4: Stop working altogether.

Step 5: Meet a kickass partner by chance.

Step 6: Get even more sick. 

If you follow these simple steps, you too can find yourself married and happy perhaps with a cute dog and adequate housing!

WARNING: You will likely be happy on many levels, but it is possible you will ruminate for hours on where you’d be if it weren’t for shit entirely out of your control. You will likely ask yourself “Who the fuck am I anymore?”

There’s no real succinct way to describe what life is like now. If I were entirely honest, however, my answers would be something like this: 

“Oh, you know. I’m playing Catch-22 with different government agencies to see if one of them will pay for my medications next month.”

“I’m trying to move into a building with a better management team so that when all the elevators go out in a rainstorm, they actually fix them in a reasonable time so I’m not stuck in my unit. Oh and I’m trying to figure out a way to get ODSP supports when I have assets but would rather not destroy the RRSPs I built when I still had my health.”

“I’m playing the game with my doctor where he listens to me when I bring my partner but berates me for asking for a parking pass when I go by myself.”

“I’m dealing with the existential crisis of how to lead a fulfilling life when the things you prided yourself on — intellect, physical ability, memory — are no longer reliable avenues of livelihood.”

“I’m living with a multitude of symptoms and every week it’s a surprise at what I’m going to deal with. Now my hands do this weird thing … wanna see?”

I could say, “Shit’s a little messy at the moment and for all I know, this is the new normal and I might never work again.” But it’s super hard to be that frank — with you or with myself. And at a party? Major buzzkill.

Life isn’t bad. It’s just vastly different.

It’s challenging and is not what the bright-eyed ghost of myself expected when she stepped foot on campus all those years ago. The idea that I wouldn’t have the capacity to work as of my mid-twenties never entered any life-planning session in my head.

What does your standard non-disabled person say when they don’t have a flashy job?

Our generation has come to understand that the job market is a blazing dumpster and periods of unemployment are to be expected. Euphemisms like ‘between jobs’, ‘taking a breather before I _______’ and ‘considering entrepreneurship’ already exist in the vernacular. But they share a glaring commonality: the affirmation that you will be returning to work at some point.

There are no language conventions in place for me to describe my situation.

I could say, “Shit’s a little messy at the moment and for all I know, this is the new normal and I might never work again.” But it’s super hard to be that frank — with you or with myself. And at a party? Major buzzkill.

So, can we find another way?

My generation has an enormous capacity for compassion. Jobs may dwindle. Work conditions may be bleak as all fuck. But from my sideline seats, I notice the immense support for each other grows. 

We know there’s more to survival than simply bootstraps. Merit does not always equal advancement — far from it when you add the predestination of privilege. These mantras of a bygone era fade as we see them for what they are — myths.

On the horizon lies the opportunity to recognize that this working world is not accessible to everyone. A severe undercut to the capitalist structure we’ve been slotted into would open up avenues of pragmatic workplace accommodations for disabled folks and improved support systems for people whose day-to-day existence is their full-time job.

Then maybe there’d be more of a sense of equity and understanding.

And maybe I’ll find a way to unabashedly say, “Oh, you know. I’m retired at 27 and onto the next chapter.”

Faryn Quinn likes a nice smooth cocktail, bulldogs, mid-20th century flashback dramas — oh, that’s not what we’re doing? Well then. Faryn was destined to be NASTY from a young age, with such ominous report card comments as ‘Faryn is our resident feminist’ in senior kindergarten and later on ‘Faryn is an ÜBER-FEMINIST’ (underlined and all caps verbatim) in grade nine.  She now lives in downtown Toronto with her main squeeze, a fat little Frenchie named Sgt. Pepper, and a teeny herb garden where she’s figuring out the ins and outs of being a newly-minted cripple.