Back in 2001, I thought my life would turn out very differently. Without going into great detail, I was living a life I had only dreamed of: I was living in Europe and doing musical theatre (my greatest passion, and what I had trained to do). I was traveling frequently. I was active. I never could have foreseen that only a handful of years later, my life would drastically change.
I moved back to the United States in 2005 and I didn’t get here on a winning streak. Everything in my life had fallen apart and it was all my own undoing. I made terrible choices. I hurt people I never intended to hurt.
I caved in.
But I got help.
Shortly after I moved back, I turned 30. That age didn’t hit me in any particular way or cause me alarm. My life was moving in a positive direction, and there were many things to celebrate. It certainly didn’t hurt that my partner threw me an amazing surprise party at a roller skating rink. It was one of the best birthdays I remember.
In the years since, I’ve come to thoroughly dread my birthdays. The roots of this are old and strong.
Growing up, my father could never remember my birthday. Never. The irony is that I have two older brothers and we all have birthdays within a three week time span. One of their birthdays is November 11th, the other is December 1st. Mine is November 28th. You would think if he could remember theirs (and he always did) that he would also find a way to remember mine.
Over the years, whether it was intended or not, every time my birthday rolled around, it reminded me how little I mattered, how little importance I held. Was the date of my birth not memorable for my own father?
As I got a little older, I started getting fed up and, just to see if I could get away with it, I changed my birthday to an entirely different month.
He never noticed.
I did that for three years.
When I finally told him, he didn’t care. The matter held no weight. It only reinforced my lack of importance. I wasn’t worth remembering. His only daughter and youngest child.
I have never been one of those people who has had incredible parties or had many people who even wanted to celebrate my birthday. Every year I try to convince myself that I don’t care and it doesn’t matter, but most years I wind up on the bathroom floor crying. It sounds melodramatic, but it’s entirely true.
My birthday is a gaping wound.
My partner always tries to make sure I have a nice day, and that means more to me than I can say. He is entirely thoughtful and kind, and last year surprised me by taking the day off to spend it with me. He knows how I feel about my birthday.
This year is even more loaded for me: at the end of this month I turn 40.
I know life is long and mine is far from over, but I have been dreading this, literally dreading this, since last November. Something about the idea of turning 40 makes me feel like any relevancy I’ve had, or tried to have, will disappear. I will have aged out from being young or potentially “cool” (whatever that means), or ever looking nice again.
I logically know that’s ridiculous. There are so many women I look up to who are older than me. I don’t for a moment think they are irrelevant or past any sort of prime. This is all me-specific.
I feel like this is the end of the line.
I know that sounds dramatic; it isn’t meant to. Believe me, I love living and I love being here, I just wish I had not lost so many years to inactivity and physical disrepair. It doesn’t help that the same year I turn 40, I spent nine months of it incredibly ill.
I keep trying to think about all this differently. I keep trying to put a positive spin on it. But I keep coming back to all those awful feeling about this being it. That come November 28th, it’s all over. I will disappear into virtual nothingness and will cease to matter however much I matter now.
That probably sounds silly. But to me, those feelings, that dread, it’s all very real. Very present. And suffocating.
I feel like it’s too late to be all the things I wanted, and started, to be.
If a friend talked to me and told me they were feeling this way, I’d certainly say it’s never too late. That they always matter because everything and everyone matters.
But I can’t seem to convince myself.
I am terribly fortunate, as my partner has been wanting to plan something for months now. Plans have been discussed and fallen through and I’m trying not to care or think about it, but all I can think about is getting through this month. Once the date has passed, I will have to pick myself up and figure out what it means to me to be 40. I will have to figure out how to come to terms with the fact that I still have no career and the one I wanted so desperately and held for a while I may never find again. I will have to come to terms that I will not look young forever, and likely don’t now.
I have always been a person to tackle issues head on, and this is no different. I wish I had been able to plan some big celebration. I wish I had been able to find a way to celebrate that had meaning for me. I know my family will forget; it’s their way. My brothers seldom remember, either, and that only adds to the time on the bathroom floor.
I am trying to embrace my age. I’m trying to embrace the fact that if people remember, they remember and if they don’t, they don’t. I know my self worth comes from me and no one else. I can logically know many things. It doesn’t always mean those things compute in practical ways.
I’m grateful to be alive and to be here and with the partner, and pupper, I have. I’m grateful for many, many things. I’m looking forward to being alive for hopefully a very long time to come.
But, in the mean time, I’m dreading this month.
I know I will get through it and I know it’s all what I make of it. I just have to find a way to avoid the bathroom floor.