“How did I get to be a grown up? At times, I find myself still sitting on the hillside, plotting revenge against the adult world.” ~Erica Jong
I turn 50 years old in a few weeks. This feels like a milestone year. 50 feels significant. It’s odd, I’m about to turn 50 but I feel much younger on the inside. Don’t get me wrong, my body feels every day of 50 years old. I’ve earned every wrinkle, scar, laugh line, freckle and stretch mark. I claim every faded tattoo. I just keep waiting to feel like a real grown-up on the inside but it hasn’t happened yet.
I’m a Gemini, which apparently means I’m fickle, creative and adventurous. I’m also a monkey in the Chinese zodiac, which is much the same. I’m not certain how I feel about star signs but in my case, these things are true. Even as a kid, I was a daredevil. I played alone, wandered the park behind our house, found trails and when I couldn’t, I created them. I was always dirty. I was an adventurous child.
I spent my teens and twenties swimming upstream. When conformity mattered most, I was a bent spoon in a drawer full of matching silver. I didn’t really find my stride until my 30s but by then my illness had truly taken hold. I was finally properly diagnosed in my early 40s and by then, conformity was not necessary. In my 40s, I finally felt at home in my own skin. The world made room for my quirks. In my 40s, I learned to coexist with my illness.
As I approach 50, I find I’m struggling a bit. I’m so grateful to be here but I’m also sad that there’s more road behind me than in front of me. I suspect most people need a moment to make the transition from their 40s to 50s. I‘ve been quite introspective for the last month or so. I suppose the reality is finally setting in. I remember a time when 50 seemed old. It doesn’t anymore.
It would be so easy to allow shame and regret to claim this birthday. All this introspection has dredged up some pretty painful stuff. I’ve spent a bit more time than I’d like to admit wondering through rooms I thought I’d walled off years ago. There are long, sweet memories of people I’ve known and places I’ve been but there are also short, sharp memories of painful moments and loss. These memories are so intertwined that I could not experience one without the other. I suppose that’s the way nostalgia works.
Examining my life has been more difficult than I expected. I have felt compelled to take a personal inventory; to ask myself if I’ve done enough, been enough, seen enough? Always, I fall short. Because I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder until my 40s, I realize I’ve spent half my life being sick. Almost every memory is colored by where I was in my bipolar cycle.
I’m not able to really conceptualize fifty in terms of years. Instead, fifty feels like a culmination of events; beginnings and endings. Fifty is a lifetime of birthdays, graduations, friendships, marriages, and funerals. I’ve always thought of a birthday in terms of gifts or a party; as a single day when your friends and family come together to celebrate you. This year, I want to celebrate other people. I want to celebrate the friends and family who’ve accompanied me on this journey. I want to celebrate the people who’ve loved me fearlessly but also those who helped me grow through conflict and pain.
I want to enter the next phase of my life with gratitude not shame. I want to spend the day by the pool. I want to cook out, swim, watch the sun set, and eat s’mores. I want to hug my family and friends and hold my grandson. I want to share my celebration with my favorite people. I am reminded that I didn’t get here alone and I don’t want to begin the next 50 years without honoring the people who’ve made my life worth living.
I image I’ll still feel a little sad. I’m only human. I’ll always carry more regret and shame than I should. Still, this year, I want to love the years behind me as much as I anticipate the ones ahead. I know it may sound corny but this year, I’m going to find that daredevil inner child and bring her with me for the rest of my journey. She’s fearless. I want to be fearless, too.