Despondency at Life's Crossroads

Medical Reviewer

I think very few, if any, people go through life without experiencing moments where they question their actions, their life and their future. Typically such moments happen at key points in life. They are transitional times where we bid farewell to one stage of life and we make a choice about our future path. These phases are often accompanied by some level of despondency and sometimes even depression as people grieve the passing of times they can never fully recapture.

The feeling of uncertainty that accompanies life changes is very natural. For some these transitions are exciting and eagerly sought; they simply can't come soon enough. For others such times can evoke mixed emotions and yet others dread the changes and their implications.

Key transitional phases for young people include leaving home, leaving school or college, relocating to a new area or country, getting married or establishing a relationship. In later life the focus may be on career prospects, but it can also take the form of reflecting on lost opportunities, or maybe failed relationships. For women, the onset of the menopause indicates the end of natural childbearing.

For men and women, middle age can be a time for taking stock. It is often a point where people realize the passage of time and they begin to acknowledge the possible limits. They perhaps begin to see limits on their future potential and their span of life.

Retirement is one of the most dramatic life changes. Up to this point everything has been geared towards work. Suddenly, all the acquired knowledge and wisdom count for nothing. People who retire lose more than just money. Recognizing depression in older men isn't always easy, but it often follows retirement or loss of a job. They may feel a loss of purpose and a loss of friends. The stimulation and challenge that work provided is gone and the future can seem a bleak and lonely place.

Despondency at life's crossroads is therefore natural but not necessarily inevitable. Transitions help us mature as individuals and while some of these may not work as we might have hoped or planned there are still choices that can be made and good things that can come from adversity. When have advance notice of a major life transition, such as retirement, it should be easier to plan ahead.

The way we cope with change is often down to a state of mind. Despondency can therefore act as an internal alarm and one that could help kick-start a different way of thinking and behaving. One person's dread is always another's opportunity, but even dread can be reconstructed in ways that move a person from victim to master of their situation. Turning the situation to our advantage sometimes requires a bit of creative thought and some risk taking, but isn't that what life is about?