For the last year, I have been telling people that I am “nearly 30”.
This isn’t an exact lie, but next week I don’t turn 30, I turn 29.
I think a lot of people feel a sense of dread as they approach 30, but for years I have welcomed this new decade with my arms wide open. I’ve looked forward to the certainty, the assuredness, the many years of practice made perfect- or close enough.
When I turned 20, I had a life-altering existential crisis. I was “in my 20s”, which according to every TV show, film and adult aged 30 and above on this planet, was meant to be the greatest years of my life.
This put an immense amount of pressure on my shoulders. How was I to make the most of my next 10 years of life? I guess, according to the media it was drinking lots of wine and getting in and out of relationships and living a coming of age novel. And guess, in a way, I did that. But on November 4th, 2009 it was like as if a massive stopwatch descended from the sky and sat on my shoulder, getting heavier by the second. Every day as the clock buzzed at midnight to let me know I’d lost a day and in that time had done very little of consequence.
For more than the first half of this decade of my life, that was how I lived. Watching the clock tick down endlessly. It paralyzed me. I spent so much time anxiety ridden about how to live out my life the only thing I accomplished was the very thing I didn’t want to do: nothing.
And yet, now, at the end of this plaguing decade, I can look back and see how incredibly untrue that is.
Under what I can now clearly see to have been a debilitating case of depression and anxiety, I graduated from college. It was a long, hard four years and I somehow came out of it alive. I navigated my way through and ill-prepped moved to New York City and eventually flourished. I continually found myself on the worse off side of broken relationships, but took only the things that made me stronger and wiser from them in the end. I watched my family fall apart without me and learned how to rebuild without the comfort of what I had always known. I left a job that was well paid, cushioned, reputable but an incredibly toxic, bullying, soul destroying environment that once I was free from I felt myself transform into a new woman. I saw as much of the world as my budget would afford and lived out experiences that were too wonderful to have even dreamt- let alone come true. I met and married my husband, in the most magical, unexpected delight of life. And in a turn of events no one saw coming, moved across the ocean to live a new life in Scotland. And in the middle of these catalogued life events, there were so many small moments, little victories. Moments that can never be told in stories, that won’t ever be relived.
But at the time, in the days between, the long days with never-ending minutes, I saw none of this. I felt none of this. Just that clock counting down as the wasted years went by of this ethereal decade of life. And honestly, so much of it was wasted. So much. So many missed opportunities. So many nights in the dark, cocooned by self doubt, wrapped in mental disease. So many days feeling attacked by the sunshine
and its goodness when I was drowning in my own self pity and gloom.
So many of my “greatest” days were, by far, my very worst.
Like the rest of us, it appeared as if everyone else was doing better, doing more, doing something. And I, it seemed wasn’t.
The world continually turned and I stayed perfectly still.
This lyric, from the Broadway musical, In The Heights went through my head on an almost daily basis:
Yeah, I’m a streetlight, chokin’ on the heat
The world spins around while I’m frozen to my seat
The people that I know all keep on rollin’ down the street
But every day is different so I’m switchin’ up the beat
but I couldn’t switch up my beat, not for a long, long time, but after a cocktail of catalysts that I couldn’t have planned, the fever broke just after I turned 26.
The clarity was astounding. The first moment of sobriety after years of a clouded mind. It was exhilarating, all consuming. The most gorgeous and pure air going into my lungs after 6 years of choking nearly to death. It was like I had absorbed all the knowledge I would ever need to know.
And I learned a secret that should have never been a secret.
Your 20s will most certainly be the greatest years of your life. But great does not mean wonderful. It does not mean perfect. It does not mean exciting. And this is what I, and I think many others have misunderstood.
Great means that they will stretch you beyond your limits. They will break and reset your bones so that they can regrow. It means terrible, cruel quite literal growing pains. Aches all over your soul, discomfort in every single unexplored part.
When I was 22, I took an unexpected trip to New York, the trip which lead me to moving there 6 months later. During my time there, I came across a quote while reading,
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are” – e e cummings
And that is was your 20s are. They are the courage to grow up and become who you really are. And that’s what mine were, and will be for one more year. This isn’t to say that by 30 I imagine to have the words of my life story neatly fitted between two lines. But to be honest, I wouldn’t be 20 again for anything. I wouldn’t re-live those years of self organization for anything.
But I also wouldn’t erase them. Because they gave me the power and the courage and the knowledge and the will to be myself. To become every single thing that I have become to be.
So here is to 29, and 30, and the rest of the decades. I’ve become who I really am, and it’s been the greatest years of my life getting there.
20 on the top left corner to 28 on the bottom right corner