Turning 38

I am writing this on the eve of my 38th birthday.

And turning 38 has been a bit of a shit for some reason.

Usually I’m all like “age is just a number” and “yes I want you to make a disproportionate amount of fuss over the day of my birth” but this year I’ve been more like “I am getting older and it feels out of control” and “let’s run away to the bush (that’s the Australian countryside, just to be absolutely clear) and act like it’s no big deal.”

Now before you start to either judge my response (“silly girl, 38 isn’t old!”) or try to make me feel better (“silly girl, 38 isn’t old”), I know all of the things. 38 isn’t old.

It’s not. But it is so freaking close to 40 and 40 is middle aged according to the laws of maths and probability.  So yeah, I am losing my shit about turning 38 this year, a bit. 

The best way to describe the feeling is like some rumbling undercurrent of discontent that’s been lapping at the shore of my (honestly rather excellent) life for the last 3 weeks. It’s such a different feeling to my standard doubts and fears and #unashamedlyhuman moments, that I can be specific almost to the minute, in how long it’s been hanging around for.

3 weeks, 2 days and 17 hours.

It was like someone flicked a switch, SUDDEN DISCONTENT ON, and then forgetting where the switch was, they just buggered off, leaving me with a heavy feeling I’ve been carrying around somewhere in my soul that I’ve been trying real hard to ignore or justify or explain but mainly ignore.

THIRTY EIGHT. When did I get so old? Why do I feel so young? Where did that time go? Have I remembered it properly? What is meant to happen next? Why don’t I know what’s going to happen next? Should I have life insurance? Should I have more money? What is meant to happen next? Should I have children? Should I be wearing a short denim skirt at my age? Or at all? Wait, should I be buying a house or getting a cat? Oh fucccccc…….

It’s been fun. That was sarcasm.

And then over the Easter weekend, I went to the mountains to stay with some friends. I turned my laptop off, left it at home and my mate drove us out of the city, through the suburbs and in to the hilly forests (conveniently located an hour out of Melbourne. Praise the universe!) I felt myself breathe. I sank into the passenger seat.

In the silence.

“What if it was just a feeling?”

What. If. It. Was. Just. A. Feeling.

Instead of resisting the feeling, what would happen if I just let it come forth, in all it’s crazy-girl glory and tell me what it has been trying to say. I’m not gonna yet because it feels big and I’m riding shot gun on a long weekend road-trip. It is my job to crank the tunes and pass around the snacks and I take this role seriously. But I instantly feel better. It feels less ominous somehow now that I’ve worked out it is just a feeling and as banal as that sounds, it feels like a breakthrough because it was beginning to feel like a breakdown, to be utterly and overly dramatic about it.

We arrive at my friends’ glorious house, nestled in the tall mountain ash trees of the Dandenong ranges and it is impossible not to relax. It is like living in a magazine.

More friends arrive. And more.

The weekend unfolds with love and open fires and homemade food and Easter eggs and laughter. I feel better.

This morning we packed up the cars with blankets and left-over food, and while shoes and jumpers were being lost and found, I snuck out onto the deck to stare at the view because nature is bloody brilliant.

I look at the autumnal leaves kissing the trees one last time as they fall from branches and I am reminded that nothing is permeant, not even a feeling.

I watch as the sun chases the trees in dappled shadows across the decking and I am reminded that life is bigger than just me.

I hear my friends laughing, eating home-made hot cross buns with too much butter, roasting chestnuts in the kitchen stove and sipping on hot coffee and I am reminded that I am more than just me.

I take a deep breath. I tell myself I am safe. I remind myself that despite outwards appearances, I do in fact, got this.

And as the silence in my mind gets louder, I stop resisting the feeling. In all of its delicate ugliness I look at it. In its visceral language it screams out truth and I hear it.  I accept the feeling as part of who I am and stop pushing it away in the fear of what it could be. I begin to feel it.

Nostalgia.

The discontent I had been pushing against wasn’t the feeling at all. The discontent was the fear of the feeling. And the feeling was nostalgia.

So simple.

And so I stood, looking out across the trees older than the very idea of me, and I felt nostalgic for who I used to be, the life I used to live, the lives I will never live and the chances I didn’t take. I stood in sorrow for the wasted days and neglected moments. I saw a life I never chose, a person I never was, and a reality I didn’t create. And then came a deep appreciation for who I am, what I’ve done and how I got here. I saw the woman I am becoming, I heard the narratives I will one day tell, I felt the power of who I can be.

And just like that 38 becomes nothing more than a number again.

The story ends when just seconds later my mate walks outside to join me. He asks me what I’m thinking about. I say, “what a lovely weekend I’ve had.” And we hug. Because I hug my friends. Because sometimes life needs to be that simple.

Comments 5

  1. Wonderful … I’m so glad you’ve taken time out to breathe and feel . You work so hard and you have achieved so much but it’s the down times that you really have your best aha moments … Btw I had my last baby at 40 and I was clubbing at Heaven Charing Cross this weekend ( old skool acid rave ) …. You can have it all 😍

  2. Beautiful Emily! Thank you for sharing. I treat every birthday is a gift as so many I know never had the opportunity to experience turn 38, 40, 45, 63 etc. It reminds me celebrate every day that I get to put my feet on the ground and to take a risk, love more openly and to try again even if after I mess up.

    Happy Birthday you wonderful woman!

  3. Awesome read!!
    I think about you often Em… I don’t see you like I used to as life moves on at a fast pace and working full time I struggle to find time to get it all done including socialising!!
    I’m 58 …. I’m not old just get tired a little more than 10 years ago!!!
    No excuses and we need coffeee before Dec 31 2019
    What is age??? It is a number!!! I feel 38 most of the time !!! I think I’m 38 most of the time!!!
    What is the happy life? The correct life??
    I had it all and lost it
    I’ve got most of it all back but miss my old life!!! … daily …
    are we ever happy with what we have ?
    Yeah.., nah… yeah … nah !!
    I’ve learnt that’s life !! No perfect 🤷‍♀️
    Just perfect days here and there !!
    Perfect moments here and there!!
    I’m doing ok but one thing I realise we as we all get older!!!
    We must have friends !!!! Good friends or our ‘perfect’ lives would be unbearably lonely xxxxxxx
    All else I couldnt deal with , without friends!!!!!!!!!!
    Lots of love
    Jan xxxx

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