I’ve been in my 30s for almost a year now. I turned 30 right before coronavirus consumed the UK and proved just how our government is a cult of personality, not capability.
But this isn’t a political rant.
When I was six, and my friend and I used to play role play games, I’d always want to play someone older. Usually sixteen. I thought that, by sixteen, I’d have it all together.
When I got to sixteen, I didn’t have it all together. I had it less together.
Maybe I’d have it together when I was at uni.
And actually, I did, for a while. All of about six months.
During the brief time when I had it together, I was watching Sex and the City. The characters in that are in their 30s, and they all seem to have it so together, romance aside. They’ve got great friends, mostly decent careers, and solid social lives.
It made me think that, by the time I was in my 30s, I, too, could have it together.
Then I hit 30.
I didn’t feel any different.
I still don’t.
This song, by Badflower, sums up how I feel pretty well:
I’m older, I’ve got wrinkles
I still complain, I get pimples
I miss when everything was simple
So far, all being 30 has done is highlight my skin problems and make me more paranoid that I’m not doing enough with my life.
On the outside, it may look like I have it together, but I haven’t hit all the goals I thought I would by 30. I don’t have the income I want. I don’t have the social life I want (but does anyone right now?). I haven’t learnt the lessons I thought I would.
Am I ahead of a lot of people, being able to focus on my books as much as I can?
But life is a weird combination of comparing ourselves to other people’s successes, while homing in on our worst failures.
We so rarely notice when we’re ahead of other people. We’re too busy focusing on why we suck.
It doesn’t really make sense, does it?
When I was at university, I wrote my dissertation about someone twice my age. My dissertation tutor (hi Rory!) referred to it as a ‘coming of age’ story.
This confused me. I always thought ‘coming of age’ stories focused on people in the YA or NA demographics.
But he said that people could go through a ‘coming of age’ moment at any time in their lives. We change throughout our lives, after all.
Change doesn’t magically stop because we’ve left school; we’re in a relationship; we have children; we have grey hair; we’re retired. It’s a lifelong process.
One of my beta readers commented that my character, Minna, sounded too young.
I raised this with Rory, who was closer to Minna’s age than myself or my beta reader. He shook his head.
She didn’t sound that young. People didn’t miraculously stop having a sense of humour or stop being insecure because they hit a certain age. There are plenty of retired folks who still speak – and act – like teenagers.
At the time, I wasn’t sure. I was still too young to really get it. I was only 24.
Now, I see what he means. I’m closer to Minna’s age than I am my teenage years.
I’ve read plenty of paranormal women’s fiction lately, which usually has a 40-something female as its lead. And they’re just as witty as a younger character. And they definitely don’t have it all together either.
As the world has changed, so, too, have we.
We’re both forced to mature at a younger age thanks to social media, but we also mature slower thanks to financial restraints.
And now, lockdown, too.
It’s a weird balance of maturity and immaturity, not that different to what children of single parents have always gone through.
Circumstances outside of your control force you to become more mentally and emotionally mature, building your self-awareness and maybe your drive and perfectionism, while also holding you back because certain things – like being from a single-parent family, or not being able to leave the house – hold back your development, too. It’s a melting pot, asking for a mental health epidemic.
It’s fucked up, is what it is.
But I won’t lie: reading paranormal women’s fiction, seeing people older than me who don’t have it together – real or fictional – reassures me.
There’s no amount of manifestation or magic than can fix the state of the world. Some things are just shit.
But some things are inherently good, too.
We spend too long focusing on the negatives in our lives, and so we end up feeding them.
And, like an overfed dog, that negativity grows until it’s so big it’s impossible to move.
It doesn’t matter how often our friends coax us, or tell us how amazing we are. We’re too busy dwelling in our own cesspit of self-loathing to focus on what we could do, or what we should do.
We don’t believe the people we’re close to simply because we’re too close to them.
It often takes a person of status, someone we look up to, to snap us out of that.
Like a dog trainer, pointing out that the dog is getting fat because he has a diet of whipped cream and lemon drizzle cake, and he isn’t walked. All he needs is some enthusiasm and proper food to get him moving again.
(Yes, that really happened.)
Most of us don’t have that authority figure, though. Either because we’re not putting ourselves out there enough to network, or because we can’t or won’t invest in someone to give us that ego boost. Or maybe we don’t even realise we need it.
We need to hit rock bottom to propel us forwards.
And most people never will.
Instead, they coast.
Coast coast coast, until they die.
And on their deathbed, they realise they’ve done nothing with their life.
And it’s too late to do anything about it.
It’s a depressing thought, but that’s how it pans out for most people. Especially if we’re wired to focus on the negatives.
Which, I’m aware, I’m doing now.
In my mind is a war.
A war between my depression and my drive.
Many people don’t see my depression and my anxiety; they see the drive and the determination and ambition and the chirpiness because that’s what I want them to see.
But the truth is, my depression and anxiety stop me from many, many things. Since my depression and anxiety stop me from doing things, people don’t know what I haven’t done.
And, as we’ve discussed, since we only focus on other people’s positives, they notice the great things in my life while continuing to hate on their own.
I don’t know if there’ll ever be peace in my mind, but I do know that I won’t stop fighting.
I refuse to let the monsters in my head win. I have one life, and I don’t want to waste it.
I did that, once.
I spent over a year staying in bed all day, getting up just before my boyfriend got home from work, so he didn’t know I’d wasted another day.
Of course, he’s an intelligent guy. He probably knew I’d done nothing but watch White Collar all day. But he was too sweet to say anything.
Whenever I feel down, I remind myself of that time. Of how much I berated myself for it for a really long time.
In theory, I had all the time in the world. In reality, that time worked against me because the goal of publishing my book fucking terrified me. I was terrified of the unknown; of the rejection; of the judgment; of myself.
I was 22, and I didn’t have it together at all.
I still can’t listen to Taylor Swift’s song, 22, because it reminds me of that time. It makes me hate myself and how, when I was 22, I was doing anything but having fun like she and her friends do in the song.
I didn’t even have any friends at that time (my boyfriend not included).
I wasted that time.
And I can’t take it back.
But also…as I get older, I don’t want to.
My chronic pain stems from all the resentment I hold around the people and events that happened when I was growing up, including my dark times in my early 20s.
And I can’t truly be free until I learn to let go of that.
I was talking to my friends about it last week, and Alexa said something that really stuck with me.
I can keep focusing on the negatives, wishing things could’ve happened differently, but what difference would it make? What would it change? Nothing.
Except maybe make my fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome worse.
But if I focus on the positives, I don’t carry around as much physical or emotional pain. I’m less hard on myself and the people around me.
And it retrains my brain to focus on the positives, in a similar way to a gratitude process.
It’s not as simple as flicking a switch, but I trained myself to have an empathy switch. Why can’t I train myself to have a stop-being-so-fucking-hard-on-myself switch?
Anything is possible, right?
So yeah. This is 30.
And it’s been pretty shit so far. A lot of shit has happened that’s out of our control.
But we’re not helpless.
The world doesn’t dictate how we see it.
Just like with characters in a book, we have internal and external triggers. They go hand-in-hand, but we’re in charge of how they affect us.
We dictate how we see what’s in front of us.
And we can choose to see shit, or we can choose to see sugar.
Everything in front of us is a mirage; it’s up to us what it turns into.