Birthdays. They usually come with several emotions, and depending on a person’s overall mood at the time, they can carry a lot of weight. This is the case for all people, no matter if you have a healthy brain or not. Birthdays seem to evoke various feelings in people.
My birthday is fast approaching – it’s this week actually – and as it gets closer, I feel an increasing sense of dread. My feelings are not based on the number, though. I stopped focusing on the number when I hit 21 years of age. Although, I guess it technically was not, it sure feels like such a long time ago.
I’ve changed a lot in the years since that age… some ways for the positive, but in regards to my mental stability, many have been not so positive. But, we all know about that, as that is what my blog is based around and about what I’ve written these last few months. My screwy, wacky, over-sensitive brain… it always exists there in my head. This post is not about that, though. Rather, it’s about reflection of different sorts.
You see, when I hit 15 years of age, I began to feel “old”. I know I know… what the heck was I thinking? But, my reasoning was based on a local baseball park’s promotions. It was always advertised on television that on certain days they had “Souvenir Days”, which were when kids 14 and under would receive a free baseball bat or some other souvenir upon admission. I had never even been to a baseball game. Actually, I still haven’t. Geesh! What kind of American am I? Anyway, back to my point… those promotions made me feel old. I felt as if I was no longer a kid. And, well… that was true. I wasn’t. Fifteen years old is a young adult, not a kid. Sure, teenagers are often referred to as kids, but technically they are not… they are young adults. And, I knew it. I knew my childhood was over, and I was now getting closer to a world for which I wasn’t sure that I was ready.
Then, I hit 18 years of age. The “old” feelings were out in abundance that year. Not only was I no longer a kid anymore (18 years old is officially an adult in the U.S.), but also I had just graduated from high school. I was no longer a kid and I was no longer a high school student. I was entering that world that I had worried about three years earlier.
Those feelings did not change as the celebration for my first 21 years on this earth crept ever so closer. I had class on my actual birthday that year, so my day was pretty normal. However, the weekend had a lot of fun in store. I was looking forward to going away with my family and a good friend of mine to celebrate my chance to finally go to a casino and have some adult-sized fun! I do not drink alcohol, and still have not had my first drink due to my childhood memories of family members and the negative effect that alcohol had – or has continued to have – on them. So, I would not be trying out that part of life. But, oh how excited I was to be able to try my hand at those shiny, sound emanating, and multi-colored lit machines. I never tried the table games, as the slots seemed much more appealing to me.
I had a blast that weekend, playing the machines that I so badly wanted to try. However, I found myself spending a heck of a lot more time in the arcade areas with my nieces and nephews. My friend and I had fun at the slots, but we also wanted to get something more out of our time, and before we knew it, we found ourselves at the nearby mall and the arcade, hanging out with the underage folks. I will never forget one particular experience. It was awkward, disgusting and funny all at the same time. One of my nephews and I were playing one of the games, and a little girl (maybe 6 or 7 years old) came up to watch us play. She then looked at me and asked in the cutest little voice, “Is he your boyfriend?”
Um… ewwwww!!!! My nephew immediately replied, “No! She’s my aunt!” The little girl had a look of shock and embarrassment on her face, and immediately walked away. I felt so badly for her, ‘cause she was asking such an innocent and sweet question, really. But, my nephew was completely grossed out by it. I was too, but my reaction would have been much more understanding of the mistake. Maybe it’s the female in me, who knows? Although, I’m not trying to say men can’t be understanding. I guess I’m referring more to the motherly instinct we tend to have. But, either way, it hit me then just how unique my life had been up until that point. Growing up with most of my nieces and nephews was just natural for me. It was all that I had ever known and I never saw anything unusual about it. We actually all loved freaking kids out in school by confusing them with our family dynamic. “What?!?! Your nephew? Your niece? But, my brothers and sisters are my own age.”
Once the kids understood how our family was not the norm, they actually seemed to not care. We didn’t act like aunt and nieces/nephews. They didn’t even call me “aunt”. It wasn’t until the last ten years that they all started to call me, “Auntie” as more of a nickname. It actually started when one of my younger nieces started calling me, “Auntie”. That was my identity to her, and she began calling me that upon learning to talk. Up until that point, I was usually just “Summer” for everyone else. Then, all but one of my older nieces and nephews with whom I grew up, started calling me “Auntie” in a jokey and nickname kind of way. However it stuck… and well… I think it’s cute.
But yeah, back to our childhoods. We were very close growing up. We played, we had sleepovers at my house, we got in trouble together, we played pranks on both the adults and each other, and we fought… oh boy, did we fight at times! We were siblings in our own way. Of course that meant that my true siblings were more like parental figures. They were allowed to discipline me and I have plenty of memories of that discipline. It’s confusing when you’re sibling can discipline you, yet turn around and act like a brother or sister and get away with it. It’s strange, but it was my life. And until I grew up, there wasn’t anything out of the norm about it in my mind. I realize now that some of those situations had a negative effect on me, but I am doing my best to move past all of that. It’s in my past and whether or not I like it, those experiences did shape who I am today as a person. So, I need to embrace it and not try to hide it away in the minefields of my mind. All that will do is lead to them exploding at some point.
So, on my 21st birthday celebratory weekend, it didn’t surprise me that my friend and I were spending a bulk of our time with my nieces and nephews, as opposed to with the other adults and the slots.
So, what does this have to do with feeling “old”? Well, everything really. It was then that I realized that no matter what the number was, I was still me. Age is just a number. It means absolutely nothing, except to categorize us all into various societal generations. But, that is it! I essentially had an epiphany. If I continued to worry about the number throughout my life, then I was never… I repeat, NEVER… going to enjoy life. I realized that at 15 years of age, I felt old and wished that I was younger. Once again, when I hit 18, I felt old and wished that I was 15 years old again. And 21 years just made me wish that I was once again 18 years old. It was never going to stop. I was always going to wish that I was the age that I once was in life. I realized then, that I would only one day wish I were 21 years old again. While in the meantime, I never enjoyed that age due to my worries about the number.
So, that is when I stopped caring about age. I don’t care what the number is. I do not divulge it here as I am one paranoid person and worry about my personal details. Someday, maybe I will, but for now… I’m not ready. But as I’ve said before, I am old enough to be a U.S Representative in the House, but not old enough to be the President of the United States. I know that I will continue to get closer to my eligibility for the latter, as the former strays further and further away with each passing year. And, that’s ok. I still play games. I still watch shows and movies that I loved as a child and teenager, and I watch new ones with the same intensity that I did as a child. I still turn to my mom when I need a hug and a sense of security that only she can provide. And, I still enjoy hanging out with my nieces and nephews. If I had the choice to go back in time, then I would never want to grow up any other way, than with them.
However, with all of that said, I do feel a sense of dread coming with my birthday. In addition to feelings of failure about where I should be at this point in my life, and yet where I’m not, I am also filled with much anxiety. I know my phone will be singing its ringtones all day. Please don’t get me wrong. I greatly appreciate the birthday wishes, and frankly I’d be pretty hurt if that phone did not make any sounds all day. It’s just my brain wants to ruin my birthday for me. It wants to take the joy from me that I wish so much that I can have. I will have a good day, I know. I will spend it with my mom mostly due to my social anxiety, but that is the best way possible I can spend it, anxiety or not. I love my mom so much and she has been my rock through everything, including the days of my extreme unpleasantness. I look forward to her birthday kisses and hugs in the morning and her smiles all day long. And, as much as I know the thoughts of my failures in life will try to crush me all day long, I will try my best to hold up strong, so that they don’t win the fight.
In my years on this earth, I have learned quite a bit. However, as Brett Dennen – one of my favorite musicians – would say, “The more I learn the less I know… I got so far to go.” I am just trying to live this life in the best way that I can. I have struggled a great deal with my illness, but at the same time, I keep going. I often have not wanted to, and have thought intently on how I can end it, but I still haven’t. I am still here, trying hard to keep going. I know that I need to take it one day at a time, as one day can be great and the next can be awful. But, I am still here trying. I am still here living.
I thank the Lord for gifting me with this life. He did not have to choose me to live in His creation that will lead me to His ultimate gift of eternal peace. Yet, He did. I should feel privileged. I want to make Him proud. I know that no matter what, He will always hold me and I will feel Him if I allow myself. But, I want to also know that I am doing what He wants me to do with my life. I don’t know where He is taking me, but I pray that it is somewhere that I will one day discover. I know that He has already brought me here to this blogging community. So, I have a feeling that this is only the beginning.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Matthew 28:20 (NIV)
The Lord, my Father will never give up on me. So, I need to follow in His loving example.