You’ve been looking forward to this birthday since you were 21. Most of your 20s were spent like that – wishing time would just go by faster. Always looking ahead. Wanting to be somewhere else. Wanting to be someone else. Afraid to sink your teeth into the space in which you occupied because nothing felt secure. You were always waiting for a sign letting you know you made it. You made lists – bucket lists, to-do lists, short-term and long-term goal lists. You crossed off almost every goal, but the confetti cannons never went off – there were no cymbals crashing or fireworks in the sky. Time came and went in the same way that the sun rises and sets – like a routine that makes you hopeful, yet nostalgic for more. And my God, doesn’t that sting a little? Doesn’t it feel like a punch to the gut knowing how quickly time has flown by and how most of that time was spent trying to find your footing, fighting the weight of time, and clinging onto what you thought you should be.
You don’t know this yet; you won’t feel this while you’re looking through old journals, digging through your past, trying to make amends, trying to find evidence that you are enough. You can’t know this yet, but the universe makes no mistakes. Right here, at this very moment, exactly where your feet are planted, is where you are supposed to be—even when it feels like you should be anywhere else.
You will feel things so intensely and you will hate yourself for it afterwards. You will try to stifle back tears; you will try to bottle up emotions, you will pretend. Trust me you will master the art of pretending. You’ll talk like you’re some 20-somethings expert. You’ll describe your 20s as sitting in the eye of a tornado and trying desperately to grab hold of the pieces of debris. You’ll always feel like you’re missing out. That all of the pieces of what your 20s could have been are floating and you just can’t reach them. You’ll say you aren’t comparing yourself to anyone around you, but you know just as well as they do: you are holding a yardstick to every person that you know. And you’ll never feel like you’re measuring up.
You’ll find glimmers of sunshine between the storms, but you’ll run away from anything that stays good for too long. Stability sounds good but feels like an avalanche of chaos lurking around the corner. So you learn to start the chaos yourself. You convince yourself that you deserve chaos. That as long as everyone around you feels seen, heard, and loved, you can live quietly in the throes of darkness – that you can be the fixer and they can all be the healed and you convince yourself, truly convince yourself that it will never catch up to you.
Here’s a secret: it always does.
You will make friends. You will make so many damn friends from all over the place and you are going to feel so, so undeserving. You are going to push them away because that is what you do. You are going to complain that no one is there for you. You are going to scroll through your phone all hours of the night in search of a person to talk to and you are going to feel so, so alone no matter how many people are sitting on the other end.
You are going to welcome grief into your home like a long distance relative that stops in without so much as a warning. You are going to fight with grief. You are going to go through the cycle over and over again. Denial: this is just a bad dream, right? They’re not really gone. Anger: throwing picture frames with the kind of force only fueled by the realization that the other person sitting with you in the picture is going to stay frozen in time. Just like that. They’ll never get the fine lines that are softening around your eyes. They’ll never have to dye their hair to cover a grey. They’ll never get to complain about paying taxes, or being single, or the daily hassle of waking up to go to work. How could they leave you like that? How could they get up and walk away without telling you? Bargaining: what if we hung out just one more time? What if I made it to the hospital? What if I picked up the phone? What if I spent more time with them? Would that be enough to take the sting of a billion bee bites? Depression: darkness. Sleepless nights. Tears that feel like they won’t ever stop. Memories playing over and over again of your last conversation. The last time you saw them. And how desperately you want to feel their presence if only for a minute. Acceptance: their birthdays will come and go. Their anniversaries. Moments that they should be at. You will move on. The ache will still be there, but a little lighter. You will learn to live without them, though you will fight it with all of your might. But the truth sinks in one day- you are still here, and it is your job to live while you can. You are going to learn through grief that you can miss people so much. They are going to leave you with spaces that are impossible to fill. And you’ll try to fill them. But you can’t. The spaces are there to remind you that you once loved someone so dearly and though they had to leave you, your stories are now inextricably bound to each other’s. And if nothing else, how beautiful is it that we have that?
You will go through stretches of time where you are suffocating under the weight of it all. A lot of 29 will feel like that – heavy and dark for reasons you are still trying to understand. The feeling comes in and settles down on top of your chest. You’ll get out of it. You just don’t know it yet.
You will spend nights clutching onto your steering wheel singing along to Kelly Clarkson’s rendition of “Top of the World.” You will listen to it alone. You will listen to it with friends. You will drive down dark roads searching for meaning behind the lyrics of a song that seems to mean so much to you. You’re gonna wish you were smarter, you were gonna wish you were stronger. You’re gonna wish it was easier. You’re gonna wish you could’ve stood where they would have been proud.
You are going to wait for the day when you can be proud.
You will cry when you get that letter in the mail that says you are officially a fully licensed therapist. No more supervised hours. You did this all on your own. Three more letters after your name and a world of opportunities that you’d spent the last seven years working towards. You thought this would feel better. You thought this would have felt like glitter falling on the floor and fireworks sparkling in the air. You will bend over and fall to the ground covered in tears because this isn’t supposed to be how it feels. You will realize then, at that very moment, that it will never matter. Your job, your career, your role in a very important field will never make you a better friend or a worse woman.
Those things will never keep you warm at night.
People will tell you that love will fill you. That love is the missing piece. But you don’t want to hear it. You will fight it. You will run away from any flicker of love and run straight into chaos. You’re going to be really stupid in love. And I mean really, really stupid. You’re going to fall into the same mans arms over and over and over again. You’re going to lose some people because of it. You’re going to lose yourself because of it. You’re going to convince yourself that this is the only love you’ll know. That love beyond unrequited love doesn’t exist. That this is what you deserve – late night texts, chance encounters, the constant reminder that he chose her, even when he says he wants you. You will get through it though. You’re going to hear the words that pierce your chest just deep enough to make you let it go. You are going to walk away, and trust me when I say: you will never turn back.
You will learn that love exists beyond that. That love is deeper than a boy who stopped looking at you like you turned his world upside down. That love is much more than being the girl who let infatuation blind her. Love exists in friendships that withstand heartache and hardship. In the kind of people who send you flowers to your office because you are heartbroken when you resign from a job that was so important to you. In the kind of friends who will get on an airplane to celebrate your 30th birthday. In the kind of people who call you every single day to check in when you spent months struggling to get out of bed. In the kind of people who make you feel like you don’t have to be anything other than the person you truly are. In the kind of people who see who you are and who don’t ever make you feel like you are hard to love.
You’re going to spend the latter half of your twenties desperately seeking balance. You are going to write about it every year on your birthday. You are going to make analogies about how badly you wanted to be a gymnast who masters the tightrope. That will be the metaphor for your twenties. You’re going to look in places far and low. You’re going to buy all sorts of planners to help you organize better. You’ll try to change your schedule. You’ll quit your job and convince yourself that that will bring you balance. You’ll schedule time for friends. You’ll schedule time for yourself. And you’ll realize that it never really was about balance, was it? You can find balance, sure, but you won’t feel it. Your normal will keep on changing and the balance that you thought you had will topple over.
You’re going to think it was all about balance, but guess what? It’s all about peace. It has only ever been about peace. And you can find that peace in nature. You can find that peace in friendships. You can find that peace in weekends away. But please remember – please make note – it’s only ever been about peace. Anything that doesn’t facilitate that is just noise. And noise is just not what you need.
So this is it. Another trip around the sun. Another year gone by. The closing of a decade-long chapter and the beginning of the next. This feels good. This feels right.
And you will be okay. You will always be okay.