My birthday was almost a month ago. As hard as I try to convince myself that my birthday—and similarly, New Year’s Eve—is just a day on the calendar, it always serves as a source of anxiety. They are days of introspection. That can quickly turn into periods of melancholy and ennui. Not that I’m not checking in on my “self”—probably more than I should—but those dates serve as reminders that time is continuing whether I’m ready or not.
Aging is not something I’ve ever done particularly gracefully. I distinctly remember walking to the mailbox on my 10th birthday to check for cards and sobbing once I got there at the realization I would never be a single digit again. I would have to live to 100 to be special. A concern that still nags at me.
But what does that even mean? To be special? I guess it’s like porn. You know it when you see it.
I see it often in others, I just struggle to see it in myself sometimes.
Perhaps to my determent, what it meant to me at 10 versus what it means now at 43 hasn’t really changed. I think it’s about being relevant. A feeling that if I was gone, I would be remembered. And not just remembered for something I did, but something I was doing and something I could’ve still done.
For me, it’s become more a question of am I getting better? Am I doing enough? Why can’t I do more?
It’s an internal challenge. A constant game of chicken I’m playing with—or against—myself. While I’m a competitive person, it’s always been more of a battle with myself than against other. It’s more of a game of solitaire than poker, if you will. But the rules aren’t clear and the end isn’t defined.
Anyway, throw in a series of random life events that occurred the past few weeks, and all these questions led to an overall low-grade malaise. Not depression. Nothing too serious. But a moment of really craving quiet to process what is happening right now: to me, to my friends, to my family, to the world. And figuring out what I can control and what boundaries—or opportunities—can be made.
Based on my limited social media exposure during this time, it seems like I’m not the only one fighting through these questions, with or without a birthday.
How can I do more, when I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing what I NEED to be doing all that well?
I still don’t have an answer, but I have used this time to activate my “plan”—the list of critical actions and check-ins I need to do when things start to feel like they are sinking a bit. It has helped.
The day before my birthday, I saw Feist at Rock the Garden Fest in Minneapolis. Standing alone in the front row, I started thinking about how she and I are around the same age and how much I admire her as an artist, her openness and creativity and willingness to switch things up. My birthday headspace was already activated, and I was also thinking about art and wondering if there’s value in going back and revisiting past creations with a critical eye or just moving on to something new without judgement.
She finished her set with the song “I Feel It All”—I remember the first time I heard it when her album came out in 2007 and how just the title alone seemed to speak to some unidentifiable—yet very female—feeling I was having then and was having now. And maybe men feel that way too, but it’s definitely a sentiment I’ve heard female friends and acquaintances struggle with—the cascade of feelings that can make you feel like you’re drowning under all the emotional weight.
She gets to the chorus—and she changed the words. There was immediate hush and then a burst of applause.
What was once:
Ooh, I’ll be the one who’ll break my heart
I’ll be the one to hold a gun
Ooh, I’ll be the one who’ll break my heart
I’ll be the one to put my heart back together again
Her change resonated with everyone around me. And especially me.
I feel fortunate for the life I have, for the friends I’ve made—and lost—and in some cases found again, for a family that at times can be too close, for work that makes me happy and is filled with smart, and talented and caring people, for outlets that grant me creativity, for love that sometimes feel undeserved and for safety and freedoms to live a life as I choose.
I am grateful.
But I also have periods—like the one surrounding my birthday—that require me to take a break, to rethink decisions, to revisit old—and new—wounds, to ask questions that are hard with answers I’m not sure exist, to experience the sadness and grief and loss and defeat that I try to schedule out of my life because if I don’t think about them maybe they will go away, and to stare directly at my weaknesses and see what looks back at me.
I took a break from writing—on here, but not in general as it’s part of my “plan”—but I’m ready to come back to it. I decided to start back with this post because of those social media posts I saw during my quiet time. For the others I’ve seen identify that sometimes it feels like too much, and not enough all at the same time. For those who also “Feel It All” and wish didn’t. For someone who maybe needs to execute—or create—their “plan” but isn’t sure they can.
You can. It’s hard, but it’s good. Because in the end, no matter who surrounds us, the choices are ours. Even if we can’t describe them or even fully understand them. Only we can make them.
So—I WILL be the one to put my heart back together again. Because I can. Because I am as special now as I was at 9 and as I was at 10 and as I am at 43 and as I will be at 100. I just sometimes need the quiet to see it.
And you are special, too. Dust off your plan and take whatever time you need. Whenever you need it.