It’s my birthday this week. I’m turning thirty-one, which to be honest seems completely impossible, but there you have it. The age doesn’t bother me as much as the expectations do. I’ve touched on this before, and I know comparison is the thief of joy and often sanity, but it’s undeniable that there are expectations floating around, seemingly from the moment we’re born until the moment we die. The expectations are societal, they’re personal, they’re familial. It’s confusing to decipher who actually expects what, or whether anyone does at all. Am I expecting myself to be in a different position at this age, or is someone else entirely? Is anyone?
I don’t feel pressure or expectations coming from my parents or family. They’re pretty understanding of the joke that is currently my life. I say that with my tongue firmly in my cheek; I am (relatively) healthy, stable, I have a home, a partner, some sort of pitiful income, friends, a feral pet, family. My life isn’t actually a joke. In fact, considering the rough time I’ve had this past few years, I’d say at the moment I’m doing pretty well.
There’s still that lingering confusion, though. Should I be working harder to get somewhere? Am I taking too much time to tend to my mental health? Do I need to get back to the workplace? Do I need to start thinking about starting a family, moving house, something that feels age-appropriate and grown up?
Realistically, I am working quite hard on a lot of things. Recovery is not easy, and I can’t just sit idly and expect my mental health problems to magically disappear. I work hard on the blog, and I don’t earn a penny for it. It’s given my confidence and freedom, though, and one would argue that even at this stage in my life those can’t be overlooked, particularly not when they’ve been absent for so long. I do work, part-time and self-employed from home, and no, it’s not enough to even pay my rent. I am nearly thirty-one and scrounging off my parents. Being in work full time, though, just isn’t an option at the moment unless I want to set myself back several months and descend gracelessly back into misery and anxiety.
Entering my 32nd year is wildly different to how I would have thought it would be, had I actually bothered to think about it. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though. Having a birthday seems like a good time to take stock and think about what’s actually happening with my life. It isn’t where ‘society’ thinks it probably should be, but society needs to pipe the fuck down and realise that it isn’t the 1970s and we can’t spend £2.50 on a house with the wages we earn from our jobs for life. Anyone holding anyone else to these expectations needs a stark reality check.
If I hadn’t been roundly booted out of my last two jobs for being an inconvenient mentalist, then the chances are I would have been made redundant anyway. Nothing is safe, nothing means forever, nothing is willing to give us any sliver of stability without a huge fight first.
I don’t particularly mind my birthday, but I don’t particularly like it either. I’m a fiend for remembering birthdays, and now the birthdays of my friends’ children and things like that. If we’re talking about expectations, here is where my own expectations are my worst enemy. I expect everyone to have the same freakish memory for dates that I do – and they don’t. Many of my friends are men, who, bless them, don’t pay attention to these things despite having known me for fifteen years. Some of them do, and that’s very sweet, but it’s not something that’s high on their manly radar. In the past, I have grimly, silently, fumed about friends forgetting the date of my birth. I’ve come to expect certain things from certain people, and I know who’s likely to remember and who isn’t.
In reality, it isn’t actually a big deal, but it’s upset me. As far as my expectations are concerned, it isn’t hard to write down a date or stick it in your phone calendar, but what do I know? Not everyone has the same innate fear of being disliked that I do. Not everyone clings to these dates to show that I am attentive and a good friend.
Birthdays are awkward if there are people you no longer see or speak to regularly – do I get in touch to give them my best? Do I ignore it completely? What if someone decides to use the date to talk to me despite not doing so for the past year?
At the age of thirty-one, with my life gleefully laughing in the face of any expectations placed upon it, I’m trying to let go of the notion that my birthday has to actually mean anything. It’s just another day, another number, another year. Will people remember? Yes. Will people forget? Yes. Will I solemnly take stock of my life and decide that I need to buck my ideas up and get a job, immediately become pregnant, buy a house somehow? No. I won’t. Will I buy myself a nice slice of cake? Yes, of course. I’ll receive some nice gifts, a few cards. The best present I can give myself this year is to let go of anything I think I should be doing and focus on what I am doing.
I can try to forget my outdated notion that because someone hasn’t remembered the exact date of my turning thirty-one they don’t care about me. I need some new markers of friendship and respect; forgetting a birthday may be inattentive, but it doesn’t mean that I’m as low down on someone’s list of priorities as I think I am. I can’t project my anxieties onto everyone else. The further I advance in age, the more I hope to learn about myself and others. There doesn’t need to be a designated day or celebration for that to happen, so for that reason, here’s to many more trips around the sun.