Earlier this month I celebrated my thirtieth birthday. Yes, the big 3-0. It’s a milestone that my high school pals, and then my college friends, and I dreaded when we were in our teens and early twenties. Back then, we thought 30-somethings were, well, old. *lol* Later, a former co-worker told me during her twenty-fifth birthday party, “You know, 25 isn’t bad, but 30? God, I hope I NEVER turn 30. That means our lives will be almost half over.” Most recently, when my milestone day arrived, friends and relatives posted all kinds of messages about the next decade. A couple people even said, “It’s all downhill from here!” I laughed at their comments, but all of the sarcasm and humorous forebodings left me wondering: What’s wrong with turning 30?
The answer came to me as quick as lightning, yet as quiet as the beating of my own heart: Nothing. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being 30 years old.
Sure, being a 30-year-old means you can’t avoid accepting you’re an adult. It means you’re getting closer to the days when your joints will creak, your eyesight may fail, and your hair will turn white or thin out. It means that, for those who are still single, people will start nagging you (more often, if they already have) about finding a significant other, getting married, and starting a family, especially if some of your cousins and friends have already done so. It means more responsibilities to assume, more expectations to meet, more concern and anxiety about finances and the future. I’m not going to deny any of that.
Yet I’ve chosen not to look at turning 30 in a wistful or depressing way. In fact, before it came, I was more excited for my thirtieth birthday than I had been for any of my previous birthdays.
Part of that excitement comes from having a positive outlook on life. Regardless of the weather, stress, and anything else that could go wrong, there is always something to look forward to, something to hope for, something to be grateful for. It sounds so simple to adopt a mantra like this, but it takes time and effort. I know this from experience, and not a very kind one.
About 2½ years ago, I sank into a dark and scary place. Two close friendships had dissolved, and from there life turned upside-down and inside-out. Every day I found myself close to tears and feeling sad, discouraged, and lonely. I desperately yearned to reach out to others for help, but didn’t have the courage to pick up the phone or speak up for myself. Not even my favorite songs or movies could cheer me up. And even though I had no desire to harm myself to ease the pain (thank goodness), I knew I needed to do something or else I’d spiral further downward and out of control. I didn’t want that to happen to me.
So, I took my first step toward recovery: I started seeing a therapist. She never formally diagnosed me with the condition, but we both agreed I was experiencing situational depression: a short-term depression that can occur in the aftermath of a traumatic life change such as divorce, retirement, death of a loved one, or other losses. Giving the ailment a name – and knowing the disorder was temporary – brought a huge sense of relief. From there, my therapist and I kept track of how often my “depressive spells” occurred and discussed ways I could improve my mood or anxiety levels. Sometimes I followed my therapist’s suggestions (and they worked), but most of the methods I used were small lifestyle changes or additions I thought of on my own.
The single greatest lifestyle change I made during that period was expressing gratitude. Before I went to bed each night, I would either write in a journal or verbalize my gratitude for one thing that happened during the day. It didn’t matter whether that thing was an event, person, object, gesture, even an idea or emotion. The point was that I remembered to do this spiritual exercise on a daily and picked something different each time.
Within months, I was more than myself again. Not only did the depressive spells occur less often, but I was also finding joy in every aspect of life. I discovered a spirituality that works for me and that I could practice on my own terms. I was cheering for the successes of the people I care about as often (if not more frequently) than my own. Most importantly, I started prioritizing and pursuing my passions with a confidence and certainty I’d never had before. This all contributed to helping me become the happiest and most peaceful I’ve ever been, a place I’m still relishing today.
What does this dark period from my past have to do with the present, or even the future? Honestly, everything. Because of my battle with situational depression, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I don’t just know I want to be a writer. I am a writer, thanks to the freelance projects, the published poems, and the novel-in-progress. I know what I want out of life, and I’m going for it with my eyes wide open, my mind absorbent like a sponge, and my hands grabbing hold of the bull’s horns. Also, I’m not afraid anymore of being my true self, both the positives and the negatives. I’m not perfect – then again, who wants to be perfect? I’d rather be flawed yet lovable, philosophical yet geeky, introverted yet passionate me. 🙂
All this leads to the fact that I’m truly excited for this decade. Call it intuition, gut feeling, or childish optimism, but something tells me the best is yet to come. I’ve got a book to finish writing, revise like hell, query like hell, and help find its place in the reading world. And then I’ve got more books to write afterwards! I’ve also got places to visit, people to meet, a soulmate to love and share life with (I know he’s out there; I just haven’t found him yet), other goals to achieve, and surprises – and failures – to embrace. And in my opinion, there’s no better age to feel this way than the age I am right now.
How do you feel about your next milestone birthday, whatever it may be? If you’re older than 30, how did you feel when you reached that age? Do you have additional insights to offer? If you’re younger than 30, what feelings do you have about growing older or your path in life? Feel free to share your comments below.