Thursday, November 28, 2013

On Thirty

I started telling people I was thirty years old back in August, even though my 30th birthday is actually this Saturday. I remember doing this when I was a kid—stretching out the time I could conceivably be thought of as "older," which might confer "older"-type privileges like, I don't know, an extra library book or more cookies. Now, as my birthday looms, I'm doing it because I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around what it means to be thirty years old.

First up: I have regrets. My twenties were a time of massive upheaval, and the last decade wasn't easy. I took eight years to do a four-year degree. My sister was sick, my brother was sick, I was sick, all with various ailments; health-wise, we were probably averaging a 7/10 on the Holy Shit scale, overall. My parents fell apart and then, blessedly, back together again. I had an ovary taken out (I miss it). To be honest, it was kind of a gong show for a few years. I've never been the most "together" kind of broad, and my twenties threw some stuff at me that was really, really fucking hard.

It's funny, because while I've totally shared this stuff before, I've never really reflected on why. I feel maybe they're the reasons I feel like the slow, fat pony out of the gate—you know, the one behind all the glossy stallions who are all busy tossing their manes at the finish lines and comparing notes on their successful adulthoods while I toddle along behind, freaked out by my own tail. I'm oddly protective of the weird hiccups I suffered/created for myself over the last decade: they're as much a part of me as the whorls of my fingertips. And the people who have never experienced a hiccup or a major life catastrophe—or who don't talk about them, as if they're something to be ashamed of—are as smooth and impenetrable as a billiard ball. I need, and I need my friends, to be open about our cragginess. It took me a long time to learn not to apologize for that.

I also wondered why I keep reflecting on these events. I think it's because I recognize that they may have played a part in diverting me from the marriage/homeownership/kids/graduate degree/career common among the people I consider to be most successful. "If only I hadn't struggled with an eating disorder and social anxiety," I tell myself, "I, too, could have had a house in the suburbs. If I hadn't had a three-year nervous breakdown about the end of my first major relationship, I could be married by now." Etc., etc., because the truth is, I feel ashamed that I haven't done those things yet. Even though marrying my first boyfriend would have been a trainwreck, and even though there's no way out of ED than slogging through it. Meanwhile, all the other horses are at brunch, comparing notes about their nannies and retirement plans.

That's not to say I haven't learned things during my twenties. I learned about love, about loss, about sickness and health. I learned about working through bad spots in good relationships—at times, this has felt less like "working through bad spots" and more like "lashing yourself to the ship in the midst of a hurricane"—and I learned that one of my favourite things to see is my best friend/boyfriend on the couch in his sweatpants (the ones I gave him for our two-year anniversary), playing Nintendo with a half-eaten bowl of ice cream beside him. I started this blog and learned about writing. I talked to upwards of a dozen different therapists and counselors and started to untie some of the knots that have plagued me since childhood. My relationship with my parents and siblings has deepened. I've made new friends in the past decade. I've learned the value of vulnerability in connecting to others, and I that need some degree of reciprocity in that vulnerability; otherwise, I'm just oversharing into the void, which is supremely unsatisfying.

Lately, I've been thinking more about the idea of a forest fire than of a horse race. Forest fires, for those of you who have never lived in California or seen Bambi, are bad news. Australia, which is generally on my "places never to go" list (giant spiders! Poisonous snakes! Horrifying human rights policies!), is rife with them. They can burn for weeks or months, ruining the air, lowering your McMansion property values, and melt your car tires. Fun! My twenties often felt like a forest fire: out of control, burning too hot for me to handle.

But after? That's something altogether different. A burn can help preserve the health of a forest's ecosystem and enrich its soil. Scientists think that Eucalyptus plants evolved to encourage fire—its oils are, of course, flammable, and its leaves are hardy are hell—so that it could grow more abundantly in the wake of a huge burn. Eucalyptus is the prime example of a species that's taken something terrible—forest fires, your twenties—and turned it into something that really sings. Horse races? That's passe. This is the image I want to take with me into my thirties: the sprouts of seedlings coming from an earth that has been enriched by the fire that came before.