Coping with "Big" Birthdays when you're ill or disabled. Turning 18, 21, 30, 40, 50... Things to be proud of.
There's no denying it, no getting away from it. At the end of the month I'm turning 30. The statement makes my heart sink and is accompanied with a sense of dread, a sickening at all that hasn't been and what may lie ahead. It's stupid really; things don't magically change because the clock strikes midnight at the end of one day and a new one begins. I'll still be me; I'll still be the same person. Not that much has changed, or has it?
I think the real reason that "big" birthdays have such an impact on us is because it's like a pumped up version of New Year's Eve, a time to look back and reflect on the lives we have, the things we've done and more importantly the things we haven't done. The saying's true, there's very little I regret doing; but there is a lot of things I wished I'd done. So many that I still want to do; but right now just feel impossible.
I think that sense of the impossible is made worse when it's illness or disability that's kept you from your dreams, an outside force that has taken over your life and changed who you are and who you wanted to become.
We all have this mental check list, these things we want to do or think we "should" do by a certain age and as with New Year's Eve, we run through the list to see how we're doing. In my case it's a success/failure situation, which is far too black and white in reality; but it's hard not to do.
And so it goes on... everything I want, everything I think I want, everything I think I should: have, done or been by the age of 30 equated to a simple yes or no answer. Is it fair? No. Is it true? Yes; but only in the narrowest form possible. Where's the checklist for all the other things, the things that aren't considered milestones by society; but are huge when you're living with them.
They are all great; but they're also just achievements the things I've done; but what about the bigger things, the emotional stuff. The things that have really defined who I am as a person, that have made me stronger.
When I think of life in those terms, when I redefine what is important, what matters, what makes up a "life" I see the past thirty years as pretty epic, all the things I've been though, all the experiences - both good and bad - the ways I've changed and grown, how I've come into the person I am, it gives me a new sense of respect for myself and for everyone else who's been through similar situations.
Maybe now's the time for us to start redefining what it is to live, what achievements should be counted as worthwhile, so that when we reach the big birthdays, or any birthdays for that matter we do so with joy and with awe at all we have coped with and respect and wonder at how pretty darn awesome each of us is!
What would you put on your list of amazing things that you can be proud to check off at your next "big" birthday? Let me know.
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The Choice - imagine a world where sugar is illegal, baking is a crime and the government use diet, exercise and shame to keep people in line. Winner of the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition, Good Housekeeping Book of the Month and The Times Audiobook of the Week. The Choice is available now as a paperback, ebook and audiobook.