I’m writing this post from the comfort of my couch, the latest episode of The Vampire Diaries on in the background, and my fur baby curled up by my side. It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m pretty tired; it’s been a massive weekend. And the next few weeks aren’t going to be any quieter – Christmas parties, birthdays, weddings, dinners with friends… and tomorrow, another birthday for me.
I’ve been pretty determined to ignore this birthday. It’s one of those big, ugly ones. Thirty. Blehh. It’s not so much the age that disturbs me – I neither look nor act my age (although I really hate that feeling I’ve been getting more and more frequently that the best years of my life are flying by and I’m not making the most of them…). It’s not the fact that I don’t have a big, fancy career title. Or that I’m childless. All things considered, I’m actually pretty happy with my choices and path in life. But that nasty depression/anxiety/disordered eating cocktail, some bumpy family ties, and my eternal predisposition to instinctively go through life unnoticed has meant that I really didn’t want any acknowledgement or fanfare this year. No parties, no cakes, no gifts.
I reluctantly agreed to a small lunch on the Saturday with just my family and in-laws to mark the occasion, on the proviso that there’d be no cake or singing or any of that crap. Seeing as we’d be out for lunch and had no big celebratory plans for the night, I decided to book a hotel room in the city for husband and I – getting lost in a busy city always relaxes me.
A few weeks after that was all organised, I hesitantly, at my patient husband’s suggestion, texted my my four best friends to see if they’d maybe want to have dinner with me on Friday night – I felt like SUCH a twat asking them to mark my birthday with a dinner, because I really don’t feel worthy of celebration. But the girls were all excited, so I started to get a little excited, too..
Just before last weekend, I started getting a little anxious about it all. With more going on than I’d care to admit, I knew it was time to take the advice I always tried so hard to ignore, and just slow down and take a breath. I applied for a day of annual leave from work so I could mark this birthday on my own, privately, in a way that I could only do alone and that would make sense only to me. So, on Thursday morning, I got up and enjoyed a cup of tea and a little bit of muesli. Then, I made my way to a tram stop and caught a tram to my favourite part of Melbourne (Fitzroy and Collingwood), where I did something very uncharacteristic of me; I indulged in some of my favourite things, slowly and deliberately. I ordered myself a pastry for morning tea, without a panic attack, even though I hadn’t worked out at 5.45am that morning. I sat and enjoyed it with a pot of tea while I spent some time on my favourite hobby – writing.
After that, I did something even more out of character – I got a manicure and pedicure. It took me the best part of the pamper session to actually relax and enjoy it. I didn’t force myself to eat because it was “lunch time;” I walked around, slowly and aimlessly, and waited until I was actually hungry. I wrote a little more over lunch. I decided to get some new tattoos. Then, I eventually made my way to another cafe for another pot of tea. I ordered a chocolate chip cookie, too, because it was exactly what I felt like. I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a pastry and a cookie on the same day, let alone on a day when I hadn’t worked out for at least at hour…
That last stop was the one I needed most that day. I sat down with a hot pot of tea, that chocolate chip cookie, and a notebook that’s been sitting on my little desk at home for the last few months, with the words “THE RECOVERY DIARIES” scrawled up its spine. It’s the little notebook I write notes in that might help me along my path to be happier and healthier. Notes from books like “The Happiness Handbook” by Dr Timothy Sharp, snippets of information and quotes from Brene Brown, points from Nia Shanks’ latest e-book, notes from the Girlspo+ workbook, and other random bits and pieces. Anyway, on Thursday afternoon with my tea and cookie, I started to think about where I’m at and where I want to be, and I started writing; my birthday gift to myself (other than the new shoes, hotel night, tattoos and matcha cronut) was actually investing the time to give myself a bit more direction for the weeks and months leading up to my next birthday.
I’m a great planner, but my low confidence and self-esteem means that I’m not always great at following through (certainly not always, but undeniably more and more often, I’m inclined to just give up when I think I’m not good enough to actually achieve something). I’m an efficient organiser, but I struggle to focus (instead of having the confidence to develop one or two main passions, I tend to try everything in the hopes that maybe I’ll be good enough at one of them). Everything’s hunky dory in theory, but in practice, anxiety often gets the best of me and I never get the chance to put my step by step plans into place. So Thursday afternoon was the time I’d finally set aside to start working on a realistic game plan.
I realised a few other things things year in the lead up to the birthday:
— I’m only human. There is only so much I can do. And that’s ok.
— My mother is also only human. We are really, truly, undeniably polar opposites, and that’s ok, too. Circumstances and situations over many years that are more complicated than any standard therapist’s pay grade dictate that our relationship will never be less than complicated, and that is ok.
— I’ll always feel like I need to be strong around my dad, who I absolutely love to bits. I will always feel like it’s my job to assure him that I’m ok, even when I’m not. And I know I’m not fooling him, but he also respects me enough to allow me the dignity to carry on working things out myself without interruption.
— I cannot wear every single hat every single day. I need to learn when to let shit go. Just because I was a black belt martial artist and a dancer and a pianist and a personal trainer and a blogger and tried to be a runner and took up yoga and wanted to learn to cook from 15 different cook books at one point or another in my life, does not mean I still need to do everything. My passions and goals are allowed to evolve and change.
— It’s ok to say no to people I just don’t connect with, events I don’t feel comfortable attending, things I don’t want to do.
— I also need to make more of an effort to find my tribe and attend events that I really do want to be at, even through anxiety. Because why should anyone else make an effort with me if I don’t put any effort in myself?
— I’ve got a long way to go before I have this disordered eating business under control. But even one step forward and two steps back is a type of progress.
— Marrying my best friend was the best thing I could have possibly done. Whether we make it to our fiftieth wedding anniversary or end up divorced in a few years, I wouldn’t change what we’ve had for anything. He’s had my back from day one (God only knows why), and we’ve experienced the highest highs and lowest lows together. We’ve both had lofty dreams which we’d never have achieved without each others’ support. He can handle me at my worst, and can bring out my best.
— I might not have a massive group of friends anymore, but the ones I do have are some of the strongest, most beautiful women in the world. They’re girls with balls, with goals, with dreams, with more to talk about than a spray tan appointments and the new heels they’re breaking in. These are women that have been there for me and have allowed me the honour of being there for them. A soul mate isn’t necessarily a spouse – while my husband is my best friend and one of my soul mates, the small group of women I have the privilege to call my friends are my soul mates, too :)
— At the end of the day, when my time is up, no one else is gonna give a shit about what I did. No one is going to congratulate me for either working non stop or taking lots of time off to travel the world. No one is going to high 5 me for either having three children or deciding to stay childless and pursue my own dreams. So I need to stop giving a shit about what everyone thinks now, because none of them are going to be there at the end of it all.
– Does it make you happy? Do it more. Does it make you sad? Stop doing it. Simple.
So, I’m gonna call it a night now guys, counting my blessings for this amazing weekend and one of the best birthdays I’ve actually had in a while, despite all of my protesting… And throughout the week, I’m going to have some suggestions on places to visit in your own Melbourne backyard, places to enjoy a meal at with your friends, and some ways to treat yourself if you’re feeling a bit flat and in need of a pre-holiday season perk up – because you shouldn’t wait until your birthday to make yourself a priority :) xo