Oddly enough, I have been surprisingly calm about turning 30 – maybe even a little excited, dare I say? In all honesty, my calmness has been entirely shocking to me. Typically by the time September rolls around, I start to get that metallic, anxious taste at the back of my throat because I start thinking about aging and lost opportunities and all of the societal terrors that are ever so kindly imposed on women. In the week before my birthday, I am at my worst – crying, panicking, and most of all, in an endless cycle of self-loathing and self-criticizing. I have never handled birthdays well, no matter what the age – any mention or reference to aging has always been enough to make me clench my buttcheeks hard enough to suck an entire chair up my ass, legs and all – but somehow, when it comes to this one, I feel cool. Seriously. I feel pretty cool. This tells me that I’m either growing up or about to have an absolute mental breakdown – is there even really a difference between the two?
Around my birthday, I usually spend a lot of time in Satan’s Backyard, aka Facebook, looking at my friends and wondering where the hell I’ve gone wrong with my life. I think a lot about what I haven’t done and what I should have accomplished. I talk about this stuff all the time in my writing, comparison being the root of evil and what have you, but I tell you what: never is the struggle more real than when I’m about to gain a year. And it’s always the same, or versions of the same, isn’t it? My self-punishing swan song always starts with: I haven’t gotten married, haven’t had children, haven’t wanted to do either, but am still horrified and offended that my life dare to be different. I still haven’t lost a ton of weight, I still haven’t moved out of my mom’s house, I still haven’t written a book – I could keep going and going and going until I dissect myself into nothing at all. Instead of spending time meditating on the good that I’ve experienced in the past year, I waste my time berating myself for successfully surviving another year of my life because it isn’t stacking up neatly like I reckon it should. What kind of fuckery? Typing that out makes me feel nauseated at how ungrateful I can be.
This year, instead of going hard on myself, for some reason (again, growing up or mental breakdown, just roll the dice) I just sort of started to look back at the last decade of my life with a sort of sad fondness as I reveled at how far away 20 seems from 30, and how silly I have been. 20 year old me …. I don’t even know that girl anymore – she’s a complete and total stranger now. And she would be gagging at all that I have seen and done, 30 year old me could blow the eyebrows off that girl with all of my stories. In all of the discrediting of my life that I do, I forget just how much has happened, how much I’ve seen and done – and mostly, how much I’ve GROWN! I have shed so many skins in this last decade, I’ve evolved more times than a Pokemon could ever dream of. Funny how I seem to forget all that. I wish I enjoyed honoring myself and my strengths as much as I seem to enjoy belittling myself.
Last year, on my 29th birthday, I was into my dwelling and cycling and comparing in a really scary way. I’m talking super scary. I can’t remember if I’ve ever talked about this before, and because I’m lazy and refuse to go back and look at my own writing, I’ll just potentially repeat myself. On my 29th birthday, I was in the middle of having an adverse reaction to a new medication that I had started taking as part of my bipolar disorder treatment. I did not know that extreme suicidal tendencies were a side effect of this medication (it is rare, I’ve now learned), nor was I aware of the “sundowning” pattern of extreme depression and mood swings that I had been experiencing for several weeks – I thought I just had my typical birthday blues. But I was bad. I was physically sick all the time from my constant anxiety attacks, I couldn’t get comfortable, felt a constant need to escape – I felt trapped in my own brain. And on my birthday, I decided that I was just tired, above all things. Being bipolar is exhausting, having anxiety is exhausting, it ebbs and flows and you just never know what is down and what is up, and I decided then and there that I was done treading water, and it was time to let myself go under. I was 19 stories up on the hotel balcony with the door barred, my friends panicked inside, and I had one leg over the railing and all I could think was “I wonder how much of a mess I’m going to make for these nice people in maintenance.”
It was probably not my best birthday.
So while logically I know that birthdays don’t really mean anything at all in the grand scheme of life – I know time is relative and we assign numbers and figures to things so that we can keep up with ourselves and blah blah blah – and that they certainly aren’t any measure of how well you are living your life and where you rank in the world around you – I sort of just kept thinking, as the days have been winding down, wow. I could totally have not been here for this. I was really, really close to not making it here. To go from being 19 stories up and ready to split to 30 years old and still willing to keep hanging in to find out what comes next – yeah, I really can’t complain. 30 may mean nothing in the grand scheme, but it sure means something to me, because I just honestly can’t believe that I’ve actually gotten here. I feel like a contestant on Legends of the Hidden Temple or something, like WHOA THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING! I can’t believe that chances are still being handed out to me! I get to be thirty years old – how big of a gift is that? I’m going to be three years older than Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse ever got to be. That doesn’t even make sense to me, it feels so surreal. I get to keep going, keep growing, keep living, keep learning. It really feels like the craziest notion – this universe has let me exist for THIRTY YEARS, and all I want to do is bitch about it? Nope. That stops now.
So instead of going ape shit about who I am not and what hasn’t happened yet, I am going to celebrate who I am and who I have come to be and all of the magical and miserable things that have happened along the way. A brief love note to my twenties: you were hot, cold, terrible, and wonderful all at the same time. I never thought that I would ever see a penis or meet Lady Gaga, and you proved me wrong, so thanks for that. Every day of this decade felt like walking into class just as the bell rings. Nothing was ever easy, I didn’t understand a lot, I spent half of the time scared out of my head, I was wrong many, many times, and nothing EVER went as planned – but it always worked out in the end somehow, and I could not be more grateful and will never forget what will always feel like the most electric time of my life. You know. On account of the penis and the Lady Gaga, and I guess the other stuff, too.
There’s a song on the new Bastille album, “Good Grief”, that has this amazing lyric that really stands out to me: “Every stumble and each misfire” – I think that’s how I’d like to remember my twenties and how I’d like to greet this new chapter of my life, as I move forward – with every stumble and each misfire. Because what dumb 20 something Ashley always mistook for bad and what she criticized herself for has always just been a nudge along the way to get her to right here. God, Ashley. You’ve been a numbskull. And future Ashley – I’m sure you’ll have many stumbles and misfires in your 30s, too, and I’m sure you’ll sulk and take them all really hard and that’s okay, because I know that you’ll sort it all out eventually.
So that’s it for me, myself, and my twenties. I’m really glad I didn’t jump off of a hotel balcony, because then I would have never yodeled for Jewel, and also my death certificate would have said that I died in Myrtle Beach, and that’s too embarrassing, even for me. For as pumped as I am to turn 30, I almost can’t wait to turn 40 – I imagine I’ll still be wearing a shit ton of eyeliner and will be looking back at my 30 year old self, shaking my very wise head at all of the trouble I’ve gotten myself into along the way and rolling my eyes at what I kid I was way back when.
(I mean, I can sort of wait to be 40. I really don’t want to be 40 yet. But you get what I mean.)
So, Happy Birthday to me! Seriously. As a gift to myself, I accept this birthday. I am turning 30. I’m stomping down on the pedal and gunning towards the road that is my life. I formally accept another year and another shot and another rollercoaster ride.
I will, of course, accept presents.