Ain’t nothin’ but a number

So, I turn 34 next week.

34.

Birthdays just tend to happen. You can’t avoid them or postpone them. They inexorably roll around. Does that even matter? Will I be any different next Monday to how or who I am today? Probably not.

But each year that passes, the expectations and pressures we put on ourselves changes, as well as the way we perceive expectations from others, purely because of how many years we happen to have been alive.

Do I feel like a 30-something adult? Absolutely not.

I don’t feel any more mature than when I was 18, 16 even. Inside I feel exactly the same. I still get tied up in knots at the prospect of going to parties, worrying that people won’t like me or I won’t be popular enough. I still get over-awed when people start talking about mortgages and insurance, how central heating works, so many things.  I can talk about clothes and shoes, toys, films, food – endlessly. I can crack jokes (usually in poor-taste that lower the tone, but hey!, it’s a gift!) with the best of them. But can I be a “grown-up”?, not really.

What I can do though, is look back on the year I’ve had, and reflect on the mistakes I’ve made, the hurt I’ve caused and the opportunities I’ve missed. This is the typical mindset of someone suffering from depression – to only see the negative.

That’s not to say the last 12 months have been all bad, there have been some wonderful days I will treasure and some things I’ve done that I am very proud of.

The trick, I suppose, is to look back on yourself as a process of continual reflection. Take stock of not only your failings or the things that don’t go to plan, but also remember the little things that gave you pleasure, or the little things you did that gave pleasure to other people.

For me, there’s that dinner I cooked that everyone went back for seconds (it was probably my Roast Chicken!). The models that I chose and painted for birthday presents that the recipients now feel obliged to put on the mantelpiece when I visit! Small things, but easy to lose sight of when the Black Dog is barking.

And so what of birthdays? Setting goals or saying “right, this year I will achieve x” is as doomed to failure as New Year’s resolutions. You can set all the timescales and goals you like, but you can only change yourself when you’re ready to. When you have reached a point that your mind and your emotions are totally open to the idea that change not only has to happen, but that it is right to do so.

I’m there. I’ve been too miserable for too long to be willing to just put up with it and become a passenger in my own mind, letting it drive me deeper and deeper down while I sit back and think it’s all too hard to wrestle back control. I’ve allowed myself to slip and slide to some real, horrifying lows – at times I genuinely could see no way out other than the most extreme.

In the process of this slide, I’ve caused a lot of hurt, worry and upset to too many people I love and care about. I can’t keep doing that, I won’t keep doing that.

It’s not going to be easy, I’ve tried before. But then, then, I don’t think I was ready. I took the “easy” option – visit the GP and get some Citalopram, then just hope I’ll magically be fixed.

It doesn’t last. The meds change your mood chemically, they make it hurt less, they make it matter less, but they don’t address the destructive thinking, the patterns and habits that have got you to breaking point.

So what am I doing about it? Well, I’m going to be starting some counselling to further address my issues of identity and sense of self. I don’t expect to start for another couple of months, but it’s what I want to do.

I’m also starting to self-medicate with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Basically, it’s a way of teaching yourself to break the negative thought patterns and give you the skills to be able to think with more of a level-head. It doesn’t mean that extremes of emotion are bad in themselves; we all grieve, and cry, and laugh; just that perpetuating a cycle of negative thought can be damaging.

I’m only just starting, and I’ve got a long way to go, but for me, today feels more like a birthday, a re-birthday than any amount of cards or gifts I receive next week (please still give me cards and gifts!).

I’ll keep posting updates on my progress here, to record how I get on with teaching myself how to think again, and I hope to be able to provide useful links and materials as I go, in the event that anyone else who feels like me can at least know they’re not alone.

Besides, even though I’ve (possibly) already lived half my live and that my youth is well and truly behind me, do you know the best thing about being me, right now? I’ll tell you…

…I still get asked for ID in Sainsbury’s!! Gotta love a baby-face and tinted moisturizer!

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