Ask me what I want for my 50th birthday and you will be met with an awkward, "I don't know..." or a curt, "I don't want to talk about my birthday."
If you push I'll change the subject.
My birthday is 12 days away. My birthday is a big deal to me. I realized recently (yesterday in fact) that a big part of why is that it is the one day of the year that I felt safe acknowledging my existence. You don't get called selfish on your birthday, in fact you are expected to celebrate yourself. The other 364 days of the year it never felt safe to do that (yay trauma).
I have had more than a few imaginings about what I wanted to do for my 50th birthday, but it basically came down to two - a big surprise party (because I've always wanted one), or a long weekend away with friends. Two years ago when the pandemic began these imaginings were still possibilities...they are now fantasies.
I'm not sure why I'm sharing them. Maybe it's like most things I write about; I just need to get it out of my head so I'll stop obsessing over the loss.
I was full to the brim with unhealthy coping mechanisms and had very little sense of self or self worth.
It's taken me nearly 30 years to finally feel like it is okay for me to exist and to learn how to give myself the things I didn't receive as a child. It hasn't been easy at all - healing work never is - and I am very grateful to be able to finally see myself as deserving, but in three decades of this work, of being told there was a better way to be in the world (and finally feeling like I'm there) there was one thing no one mentioned to me.
No one ever told me about the grief that is part of healing.
No one mentioned how once you know and understand what it was that was taken from you (your self worth, self esteem, self trust, sense of safety, your sense of self…), and you begin to learn how to love yourself and you finally understand how it feels to have a sense of being worthy, you can’t help but ask, who would I have been if I'd had this all along?
No one told me how to mourn that me that never was.
When I mention it, the response is generally, “well why dwell on that, just be that person now” and I want to roll my eyes. No shit Sherlock. Of course I want to be that person now (why else would I have spent the past three decades working to get here?).
But that grief is real, and we need to give people space for it. Denying it or telling people that they shouldn't feel it or just let it go is more than a bit gaslighty, especially for people who have had to do a whole lot of work just to get to a place of understanding that they and their feelings have value.
You are allowed to grieve.
"...you are in the prime of life..."
"...oh you wait and see, I blossomed when I hit 50..."
"...you still have time to...."
"...here's a list of people who didn't hit their stride until after 50..."
"...you look good for your age..."
I wish I could get just one
"I hear you."
Why can't we seem to say that aging in America is hard? That it comes will all kinds of anxiety?
Anxiety about not knowing how you will survive. I've already googled
the question of how soon I can get myself on waiting lists for elderly
housing because I know the waiting lists are long.
Anxiety about suffering alone at the end. I understand how people die alone and are not discovered until something starts to stink. How many days of not posting on FB does it take before someone calls for a wellness check?
Anxiety about being seen as no longer valuable. How many times has it already been assumed that I don't know certain things because of my age? As though my brain shut off at 30.
Anxiety about who to ask for help when the body can no longer do.
For every, "Oh, stop worrying so much..."
I'd like just one, "Yes. It's hard."
I'm turning 50 in about two weeks and I'm angry.
I'm angry I'm still doing the things that I should be instead of the things I want.
I'm angry that there is still this deeply planted seed inside of me that says I don't deserve to want.
I'm angry that I still can't bring myself to confront those who planted it there.
I'm angry that even now, saying "yes" feels unsafe.
I'm angry that when asked to give an adjective about myself
I used to think that maybe one day we'd have this cultural defining moment that would change us. I stopped believing that about 15 years ago.
Then I thought that maybe the theory of the arc of change bending towards justice however slowly as true and held that close. Sometime in the last year I stopped believing that too.
I used to believe that it was so clear why we needed to reach out to one another, why we needed to see, care for, and support "the least of us."
As a kid I heard the stories of the loaves and fishes and thought it was right that someone who could produce abundance like Jesus supposedly could, would also feel compelled to share it with those who did not. The message was so clear to me...
It is the pandemic that has pushed me over the edge from denial to letting go. If there was any event in my lived history that could have, should have, broken through our hyper-individualism it was all of us facing a common fear. But it didn't.
Instead it just highlighted how deeply embedded the myth of hyper individualistic solitary self-sufficiency has become in our world; at least here in the United States.
And it is here that my hope broke.
I don't think we can break that myth.
We have managed to demonize human connection.
We have framed compassion as weakness.
We have placed our individual wants over the needs of the suffering,
And we have made convenience the scale on which we weigh our actions.
I woke up with a case of the Anxious Gloomy Sads.