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.
Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Claire Wade is the winner of the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition and author of The Choice. She was bed bound for six years with severe ME, trapped in a body that wouldn't do what she wanted. She now writes about people who want to break free from the constraints of their lives, a subject she's deeply familiar with.
Oh, how I love your post!! Because I also have one of those lives that may not seem "successful" by certain standards but once I change the criteria, is the success that mattered most to me. And I have chronic illness in the way, as well, which complicates things. I know what you mean about turning 30. I felt the same way at 35. And 40. But I am proud of myself these days, so I am not so worried about 50. I hope you, too, will be proud of all the things on your lists you have checked off. And most importantly, be proud of being more "you" than you were before!
Jeanine, thank you so much for the comment and yay connecting with someone else with CFS! Changing the criteria really is essential, it can be hard to do; but it makes everything feel so much better, doesn't it?! I'm pleased it's worked for you and you aren't concerned about turning 50. What are some of your achievments?
This is truly beautiful Claire! And there's soooo much wisdom way beyond your age--I am in awe! I adore your lists--you have accomplished SO much, and you have so many things to be proud of. I wish you a MAGICAL and GLITTER-FILLED birthday surrounded by the people you love! I had the same feelings when I turned 30, so I can definitely relate. But, there's something so peaceful about entering your 30s and settling into who you are becoming...I hope you see that soon! All the best! And thank you for sharing!!
Eyenie we are clearly meant to connect, after the call with Megan. Thank you so much for your comment and the reassurance that turning 30 is actually a good thing. The thought of settling into who I am is a truly beautiful one and I can't wait to feel that. Truth is I think I'm on the cusp of it and I look forward to exploring it more! I love your glittery, magical wishes, I hope it is too!
Yes!!! Celebrate the achievements! You're putting a lot of people to shame now & rightly so. I really dislike the culture we have where milestones like 30 are seen as a problem or a negative, people focus on what they haven't done or how "old" they are rather than celebrating the fantastic achievements instead. I'm a big fan of celebrating milestones for very simple reasons - when I turned 30, I was like "Hey, look at me! I can't believe I've survived this long! I'm doing great!
Helen that is such a huge and valid point. I do feel blessed that I'm turning 30. There are so many that never get that honour and privilege. It should be something that we celebrate and show huge amounts of gratitude towards too. "Hey, look at me! I can't believe I've survived this long! I'm doing great!" Love it!
Hi, again, Claire! Can't figure out how to reply within, but here's your comment, that I am replying to here...
Jeanine I am exactly the same - I've geared my life around my illness, adapting it so that most of the time I don't think of myself as ill or different; but it's when I try to keep up with healthy friends and business women I really struggle, finding it impossible to do so. That's when it hits me all over again. Ooo I think there might be a post there...
18/3/2013 01:20:40 pm
My husband is going to be 50 this summer so now I understand more of what he's going through. I don't pay much mind to birthdays and never really have (I'll probably feel differently when I hit 50) so it's good for me to read this so I can be more sympathetic for him. He graduated from college last year and is taking his third exam to become a licensed Physical Therapy Assistant so this will be a HUGE milestone for him to have completed this 3 months prior to his 50th birthday. We're hoping he lands a job in that 3 month time frame to bring it all FULL CIRCLE. Yay for 50!!!!
Julie I love that your husband is completeing a dream, it gives me hope and reassurance that no matter how old you are, what you're doing it's still possible to achieve the things you want to. Wish him all the best for me and I hope he has a really special birthday.
20/3/2013 10:43:44 pm
Love this post. It's so important to focus on the positive and to not dwell on the 'failures'. But there is something about those big dates that have is judge ourselves.
I dreaded the thought of turning thirty: all I could think about were the things I'd missed out on in my twenties and all the things I felt I ought to have but didn't. When it came to it though, it was almost a relief to leave my twenties behind. Being unable to travel or party seems much less abnormal at thirty when even healthy friends stop living quite so recklessly. It suddenly feels like some of the pressure is off.
Comments are closed.
I'm an author, disability activist, winner of the Good Housekeeping First Novel Competition and The EABA for Fiction 2020 and co-founder of Authors with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses (ADCI).
The Choice is available from:
Title: The Choice
You can keep up to date with all my latest blog posts by signing up to my email newsletter.