I just turned 30 and to my surprise the sky is still up there and I haven’t self combusted. Doughnut years (the birthdays ending in 0) have a funny way of making even the most self assured people freak out about whether they’re doing life wrong, if they’ve achieved the things they’d hoped, where their life is going and if they’re ever going to find that lost TV remote. I was no exception. The day before my birthday I was awake at 3am worrying that I don’t have a pension. It had never really crossed my mind before as I never felt as physically capable as everyone else I always figured I’d be dead by 21, then when I got to 21, I thought I’d be dead by 30. Here I am at 30 having survived (what I hope to be the worst of) several infectious diseases, genetic crappiness, deficiencies aplenty and all kinds of body malfunctions like crippling chronic fatigue, I’m now thinking ‘holy crap, I might actually make it to pension age, I should probably plan for it.’
Celebrating the day of your birth has always felt a bit odd to me. If it was really about celebrating the day of your birth, it would be about your mum, not about you. The fact that it’s about you, makes me think it’s actually celebrating the fact that you’re not dead yet. Which don’t get me wrong, is a great thing to celebrate. Everyone likes not being dead, after-all.
So to me, having been through 3 years of severe debilitating illness, celebrating not being dead felt like quite an achievement and an important life milestone. I’ve gone from thinking of my body as being sub-standard and requiring a complete reset to factory settings, to thinking of my body as being quite amazing given everything it’s been through.
So I celebrated, I celebrated me having not thrown in the towel yet, and my body for keeping me alive through all the crap. High five. I celebrated by completely overdoing it by having lunch with friends, which I got through with painkillers and carefully controlled amounts of caffeine. I even pushed the boat out and had some of my own birthday cake. I’m intolerant to practically every ingredient in cake, but what can I say, the new 30 year old me is a rebel.
I didn’t have as much as everyone else, and as a result, I don’t seem to have experienced any after effects. Either gastrointestinal difficulties OR multicoloured poop. That’s right, my friends are now blaming me for their poop being green after eating a cake that looks like this. Yu-huh….
I had a lovely time, in fact it was probably one of the best birthdays on record. It was however punctuated by the unmistakable twinge of survivor guilt. I get these twinges every so often, usually when I read about people around my age dying from these illnesses or suicide because these illnesses are just so damn awful. (Not just the illness itself, but all the crap that comes with it too.) So I often get the feeling of ‘well how come I’m still alive? Why me? I don’t deserve to live any more than that person, so why am I still here?’ There are no answers to these questions, a lot like there are no answers to why Firefly got cancelled after the first season, or why bottled lemon juice is made with artificial flavourings and washing up liquid is made with ‘real lemons’.
So, as difficult it is to get your head around why you’re still alive or the complicated pension system, here you are, staring down the barrel of <insert your age here>.
It can also be a painful reminder of the years you’ve lost to illness and the things your peers are doing that you can’t. Everyone else is popping babies out, you’re popping pills. Everyone else is saving for a mortgage and exotic holidays, you’re saving to see a new doctor overseas or for alternative treatment. The closest thing you get to an exotic holiday is going to a different far away hospital where they wear blue gowns instead of white and where they have Starbucks coffee instead of Costa. Rock n Roll. You’re probably just as likely to catch some kind of vomiting and diarrhoea bug though, so don’t feel too left out.
The thing is though, with age and illness you can see that life’s not about where you’ve been on vacation, or how much your kitchen cost. It’s about trying to enjoy every moment, about realising the worth of being alive. People with chronic illness don’t take things for granted, they may not do as much but they live more. There are a few positive things about being young and sick, but mostly I think it’s about playing the hand you’ve been dealt to the best of your ability and enjoying what you have.
Birthdays often bring up lots of mixed feelings, I suggest you squash them down with a massive rainbow cake and jokes about interestingly coloured poop.