There’s no stopping time. It sweeps us out like a tide — further and further from the children, the teenagers, the young adults we once were. With each of our different selves eventuality slipping through our grasp like wet sand…
At 32, I’m aware of how far out I am. There’s a little voice that says I should be comfortably afloat at this stage of my life — should. ‘Shoulds’ are a problem. They come from a narrative that’s told and sold to us from our first steps. My story is my own and it will unfold to its own timeline. I’ve been becoming more at peace with this as I’ve gotten older.
You see, birthday’s used to be a checkpoint. Now they are a point of celebration. For as far as we are from our destination, we can always make the choice to recognise how far we’ve come. And where that falls short: our effort. Those strokes that take us no where still count for something.
I’ve accomplished a lot this year, including taking the risk of starting my post-grad studies (and doing well at it), holding down my longest job, putting myself out there on many dates, growing friendships, reaching fitness goals, publishing an article on a major website, successfully managing unstable living arrangement issues.
Its been a big year. Perhaps too big. I’ve also been wondering if I’m taking on too much. In this ‘rise and grind’ culture, we’re not taught how to recognise our limits; how to slow down; how to rest. The joke I routinely make to my friends is that I’ve started studying — learning about helping others manage their mental health, at the complete detriment of my own. I’ve been on this constantly revolving mechanism, going from one thing to the next. Living a robotic existence, ignoring many of my human needs. So for my birthday, I let myself be completely f***ing free.
I found myself on the beach walking towards a gig venue as the sun was going down. My friends and I spent the night singing our lungs out and dancing. Lost in music, lights and deep moments of connection with people we just met. The band we saw even dedicated a song to me and called out happy birthday while the crowd cheered (I know them all personally). I had been waiting for this weekend for so long, and it was absolutely everything I had wished for.
Then as I was left to look at the smoldering candles the next day, I found myself asking: ‘what now?’ I realised how much I live for the future. And questioned why it’s so hard to be happy in the here and now.
Then it dawned on me — life isn’t meant to be a happy experience. It’s not meant to be anything at all..
This is one of the many truths of life that, while initially unwelcome, have found a home in my understanding of the world. The optimism we had as a children, teenagers and young adults gets tested with time. And growing up means getting with the program. This year especially, has been a wake up call of sorts…
With people. Good and decent isn’t a default setting. As I type this I’m looking for a previous housemates family members on Facebook to ask above the $300 in unpaid rent and bills I’m owed..
With success. To really get ahead you’ve got to be willing flick your switch to whatever setting is required. I’ve been told there’s a game with workplace politics and dating. Games I won’t play however.
With dreams and ambitions. They keep us striving, but they can also cause us to suffer for every second we’re not where we desire to be. “Follow your bliss” is simplified advice. Sometimes, with the endless sacrifice and stress involved, and it may be better to just settle for what’s stable and safe.
With Pain. Well, it’s the only promise. So there’s no point trying to avoid it. This world has an endless amount of ways of breaking one’s heart. We’re bound to experience one if not a few of them. I’ve come to recognise that life isn’t about finding yourself. It also involves piecing yourself back together. And sometimes you’re picking them up or taking them back.
Someone at the gig asked me how long we have to heal for. My response was that we don’t heal, we keep healing. It’s journey not the destination. It’s a direction we choosing to step towards each moment by moment.
Another truth there – choosing. It makes all the difference. Our circumstances can feel like a small closed room, but where we cast our gaze can make a difference: the ceiling or out the window to the clouds taking shapes, the birds singing in the trees, the child running blissfully away from their parents down the footpath.
I’m choosing a different perspective. To see the other side of things in my life:
I have a chance to study, a stable income source. I know many people I can always trust. And while I’m not there yet, I have a dream to work towards where I previously had no idea about what I wanted to do. And with pain and suffering — well, there’s a saying I’ve held tightly: it takes a certain kind of darkness to see the stars.
This isn’t my default setting. So i’m working at it. And with age it’s taking more active effort to retain the optimism and laughter that came so naturally in my younger years. It unfortunately doesn’t take much for the clouds of pessimism and depression to roll in and block my perspective. But I’m working at it — keeping up with my writing, journaling, creating. With my healing, moment by moment.
So here I am at 32. Far out, and with far more ahead out me.