Today, I turn 40. (Well, today when you read this, not today when I write this, as it’s a few days prior. Anyway.) The big 4-0. An age that, while it doesn’t sound old, no longer really sounds young. It’s as good a time as any to pause, to reflect, and to examine where things have gone and where they might be going.
My thirties were, in a word, rough. There is no other way to look at it. A huge battle with depression that I can generously state ended in a stalemate, but looked for years I was going to lose. A divorce, caused by that depression and my inability to decipher what it was I was feeling, let alone what I needed from my partner. A complete emotional breakdown, a suicide attempt, and the realization that if I didn’t change things, I wouldn’t hit this day. Leaving my career to focus on my mental health, and the sad conclusion I’d likely never be able to have both.
For so much of the decade, a large part of me didn’t expect – or want – to live through it. And yet, here I am. My choice, hard as it was, to prioritize my health now finds me more than three years removed from the worst of that depression, though daily battles are always being fought inside my head. I have spoken and written about mental health to try to help those who, like I was, are so ashamed to be branded as “crazy” that they hide what they are going through, only making it worse.
I’ve dedicated the remainder of my life to try to live. That’s it, just to live. It seems like such a simple statement, and yet for most of my thirties, I couldn’t have really been called living. I was just surviving, and that only barely.
And so, at 40, I am here, living an existence that doesn’t make me wake up each morning disappointed to be alive. I travel, and in so doing I connect with parts of me I didn’t know existed, and I find commonality with parts of the world I’d never known. And then I share those experiences with you, how they make me feel, and how they make me think. I’ll never again make anything approaching a good monetary living, but an emotional and spiritual living isn’t a poor consolation prize.
When I planned out this article – and I’ve been thinking about it for some months now as the day has drawn ever closer and Covid has kept me mostly inside – my goal was to come up with a bucket list for my forties. You know, things like: set foot on Antarctica, learn to scuba dive, jump out of a perfectly functioning airplane, up my country count to 80 or 100 or some other arbitrary number. But the reality is that those aren’t the things that matter. At least not really. So here is my real bucket list of what I want to accomplish in my forties.
1. Cry more
Crying is good for the soul, but this is also a euphemism for “feel deeper and be unafraid to show it.” Most boys are told that only girls cry, only girls show emotion. That’s not true, it’s dangerous, and it isn’t the way I intend to live. I will cry, and I will not be ashamed at the tears.
2. Love more
There is no such thing as too much love in the world or in a life. My loving one person – romantically, platonically, familially – doesn’t prevent me from having enough for someone else. There is no bottom to my love well, and I intend to draw from it more regularly.
3. Admit to mistakes and move past them
It is a hard thing to balance the admission of wrongdoing with the ability to not drown in regret. I wasted more than twenty years – more than half my life – focusing on the wrong things and neglecting myself and my health. I turned down incalculable opportunities to better not only my life but those of people around me for a selfish refusal to admit that I was struggling. I drove away those I loved. And then I wasted more time, more years, hating myself for those mistakes. I am flawed; I will continue to be flawed. I will make further mistakes and I will own them. And I will learn from them, move past them, and not let them define me to myself.
For someone who has, in the not-too-distant past, made the choice to no longer live, this one is both easy – after all, it is just a doing of nothing but allowing it to continue to happen to me – and so dauntingly hard. With life comes pain. With life comes anger, sadness, disappointment. I will endeavor to choose life, regardless of those things, in the pursuit of those rare moments of sheer beauty, and in the hope, against all hope, that they may be more abundant.
I don’t know what the next decade will bring. I’m afraid, I’m hopeful, I’m excited, and I’m anxious. There will be ups and there will be downs. But I walk in eyes open, head high, confident in who I have become and eager to find out who I will be. Thank you for being part of this journey with me.