My birthday is this weekend, and birthdays are always tough for me. On one hand, I loathe getting older. On the other hand, I want to give off the air of aging gracefully. Hard to do when you panic every time another birthday draws near. Plus, forehead wrinkles. The occasional gray hair. I just wanted to live in an endless summer and be 25 forever. What the hell happened?
One thing I do like about birthdays, though, is that they’re a lot like New Year’s, right? You can make resolutions. It’s a great time to challenge yourself to be better by the next year. Having a birthday in March is especially nice when it comes to this. The shiny newness of the new year has started to wear off by March. But I like to use my birthday to check back in on my goals and re-center myself for the rest of the year.
I remember reading The Great Gatsby for the first time. I was drawn to the concept of the daily schedule. If you’re a Type A like me, and you’ve read Gatsby, you surely know exactly what I’m talking about. The schedule. The ideal way to spend time such that you transform yourself from the person you are into what you dream you should be–who and what you long to become. Disregarding the rest of that book and its themes: the schedule portion opened my eyes to the world of die-hard scheduling for self-improvement. Which resulted, I’m sure, in a massive increase in my childhood-onset anxiety issues. I’ve always been easily influenced by the ideas and personalities of fictional characters. Case in point: I’ve worn three coats of mascara since the day I became acquainted with Gigi Orsini (thank you, Judith Krantz).
This year, I’ve set my mind to the concept of refocusing at the end of each month, with the hopes that the next month is better. What is better? Meeting more of my checkpoint goals. Getting closer to my mega-goals. Being a more perfect version of myself. The carrot on the stick that I’ve been chasing my whole life.
Each birthday adds another year to the statistics I track for myself. Most notably, 2017 will mark:
- 25 years of battling my mixed bag of eating disorders and accompanying self-esteem issues. A little better than ten years ago (oh God oh God, time has to stop) I had the honor of directing The Most Massive Woman Wins by Madeleine George. I credit that play with giving me a deep understanding and solid perspective of the body image issues I’ve struggled with throughout my life. But even with a logical understanding, I know my emotions will leave me constantly feeling like I’m closer to one side of the seesaw than the other. Can we talk about how annoying it is to eat well, exercise, and lose weight (painfully slowly) the right way when you know you can drop 20 pounds in a snap by simply avoiding food at all costs? I’m well aware that the fight to find the middle ground among my disorders will continue for the rest of my life. Once you’ve started down that path, it’s almost impossible to find your way back to “normal”.
- 20 years of battling anxiety and depression. What have I got to be sad and uptight about? Very little. Am I sad and uptight anyway? Yeah, often. I’m blessed to have an understanding family. I have to give major credit to my husband on this one. He can tell exactly what mood I’m in when I wake up, and he knows exactly when I’ve had enough social time. He’s far more social than I am, but he’s always happy to oblige when I need to get my space. Being around groups of people–even people I know and love–can be so exhausting. I vibe off the moods of everyone around me, and that zaps my energy level quickly. When I have to deal with quickly-vacillating moods, it’s even worse. Plus, I can have a panic attack at the drop of a hat when it comes to anger, upset, loud noises, and fast movements.
- Speaking of which, this birthday will mark almost 9 years since I fled a dangerous, toxic relationship to regain my safety and freedom. While my other statistics are more geared toward the concept that I’ve survived and I’m still here, this is the statistic that actually measures that as a fact. It’s joyful. I survived! I’m still here!
- And I’ve completed my second novel. It’s not published yet, but last year at this time, I was just shy of 50,000 on my first one. Now, my second one is in good hands for beta reading. That’s my current favorite statistic of all.
For years, I’ve kept an ongoing log of so many things–going back to the Gatsby concept of pushing myself in the directions I want to go. How many books I’ve read. How many foreign language lessons I’ve completed. How many time I’ve made donations to organizations that are important to me. How many trips I’ve taken. I love to keep track because I love to see where I’ve been and where I’m going. When we cleared out our storage unit (finally!) last year, I had a hard time parting with 20 years’ worth of notebooks that contained schedules, tracked stats, and chronicled my self-improvement journey. But even letting them go was an exercise in self-improvement, because I’m working toward a minimalist lifestyle. So, I came home and added a self-congratulatory checkmark for that in my current notebook.
Am I a better person now than I was this time last year? In some ways, yes. In other ways, no. I think I’m more firmly on the right path, though, and that’s always something in this perpetual journey.
I want every year to be a good year, but I want 2017 to be my year. So, happy birthday to me. Hopefully, by the next one, I’ll be even better than I am now.