I’m turning 30 in three days time, so I thought I’d write a slightly less conventional “turning 30” post because following any kind of convention is something I do badly. In some ways turning 30 can’t come soon enough, many of my friends are already in their 30’s so I feel I’ve finally caught up, but in other ways, I don’t feel old enough to be 30. I lost much of my teens to mental health and other teenage rubbish that seemed magnified for me, and then a lot of my 20’s vanished to more mental health, bereavement and other difficulties, you literally couldn’t make up. It’s often joked that I’ve gone through more in my 20’s than most people do in a lifetime, something that amuses me now I’m in the last few days of that decade. In some ways having another crack at being a 20 something would be great but in other more realistic ways moving on seems a much better plan.
My 30th is at a really awkward time to do anything productive, at a week before Christmas, everyone is either too far away, too busy, tired or all three. My 21st was lovely, but bad weather meant half a ceilidh were left stranded in far off lands. So, I’ve decided to visit friends at more sensible times throughout the year. Instead I’ve chosen a meal with family and cocktails with my now not so little sister who will be home from university, to mark the day.
As with most almost 30 year olds, I’ve read a lot of those “Things to do before 30” and “Things you know when you turn 30” listicles, and apart from being amusing reading, it’s not helpful for any of us, especially people like me who’s 20’s have been pretty unconventional. I’m now in the age group where everyone has babies and gets married, and seeing anyone becomes more problematic because people are too busy with work. It’s also the age group when you’re finally “too old” for many schemes/programmes aimed at young people. Over 30’s are too old because by now, we’re expected to have our shit together and to not need these things. In the summer I even bought a book about turning 30, that I’m not even half way through because I can’t stop screaming at it. I was once told; “We’re all on our unique timeline,” and this alongside, “Remember to take some time off,” is probably the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given. So with this in mind, I’m feeling much better about Tuesday.
There are some things that I have learned in the last decade:
Friends: I’ve got better at working out who’s worth sticking around in my life, and people who are less than useful. My 20’s were spent being used, making all of the effort in friendships and looking up to people a decade older than me, who didn’t feel the same about me. I’m also now good at seeking out potential friend material, and noticing this is a massive thing in itself. I think I’ve worked out that whole friend thing now, so if you’ve made it to this decade, you’re in it for the long haul. And for that I can only apologise.
Work: I finally have a clearer plan about what I want to do with my career, getting there is hard and hasn’t been the most conventional, but I feel closer. I’m also all job-interviewed out for the year. I’ve really enjoyed work this year and being around people who are as determined as me to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination. Sometimes I think I’m just lucky, but then realise that I am just as entitled to this luck as the next person.
Remembering I need time off and that I deserve nice things: I’ve always been bad at sticking to this and guilty about the latter. I’ve often tried to keep going and work until I break, and only taking some time when people remind me to. I’m getting better at knowing when I need to stop now and realising that running on no energy has never been good for anyone’s mental health.
Understanding myself: It’s taken me a decade of trial and error, and lots of confusion, but now things make much more sense. Being less baffled about who I am is bloody brilliant.
Saying no: I’m getting into the age bracket when not going out is seen as “sensible” and not “weird”, which helps here I think. Recently I told a group of mostly late teens – mid 20’s people who were discussing nights out, that a night on the sofa, with a hot water bottle, cats and a film, is much better than going “out out.” They looked at me as if I was an alien from another planet. I like being that alien. Although if you’ve ever been out in Newcastle’s big Market, you’ll understand, and probably want to join me. A younger Alice would always feel guilty for saying no or letting friends down, but now I’m much more comfortable looking after myself and doing what I need to do, rather than things I believe are expected of me from others.
Realising that I have made a difference to other peoples lives: This is an odd one and something I thought I’d never accept, even if it was true. Four years ago I set up a local dyspraxia support group, something I’ve seen go from strength to strength. I’ve guided teenagers through to university, watched young people learn to travel independently for the first time and seen their confidence grow. I’ve reassured parents and talked about myself to demonstrate that their teenagers would get there too. And when they do, their parents thank me for bringing them together. All I did was send emails and expose my life slightly and looking back this meant the world to them. People regularly write to me now, telling me about the difference I have made to their lives. It always feels good to put the “shit” into something productive and gives me that ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling, that to date only a few things can. People are wonderful and are probably more grateful for you, than you first realise.
The words; “You’ve Brought us all together, Alice, and we couldn’t ask for anything more,” will always stay with me.
Speaking at my old secondary school wasn’t as traumatic as I first thought AND they might have just started to accept me: Linked to the above and the teenage rubbish, speaking at my old secondary school was always going to be a gamble. I weighed up what it would do to me and for me, and then how it would help others. I decided to go for it, and ended up being invited to do two talks this year, one on mental health in four school assemblies and one about dyspraxia to parents of young people with special educational needs. Before the first talk, about my mental health, I was terrified. And I NEVER get nervous about public speaking. It’s something I’ve always managed to do with ease. Speak in front of hundreds of people as a teen? No problem. Play fiddle on stage with the most famous romany Folk band in the whole of the Czech Republic? Go on then. Double act leading an event with the director of education (who then became children’s commissioner? Totally in my comfort zone. And this was all before I reached 20. However, putting me in a social situation was a completely different story.
Yet, here I was about to tell a group of 14 year olds about my anxiety, in the same school hall, where I was heckled for playing my fiddle in the school ceilidh band sixteen years ago. Looking back it was probably a jealous kind of heckling but still I was heckled in a bloody school concert. My talk was well received by the young people and teachers present, in a totally unplanned way one was my old tutor. I reduced her to tears, and after she came up to give me hug and tell me she would have never imagined I’d be standing there, doing what I just did when I was at school. I finally felt accepted as an adult who had a story to tell, rather than an ex pupil who it was assumed wouldn’t get to where I am. I think in a strange way going back to school was therapeutic for me. A few months later I was invited back by the special educational needs department to talk about dyspraxia, I was less nervous this time and felt I had a place doing this, and that people wanted to listen to me. One of the parents face lit up when I talked about my experiences, and after she told me my story echoed her daughters. I might have future work through the school, the teacher I met seemed keen and grateful to have me there, a door, that for the moment remains open…
Staying in touch with the best people from the best bits of my teens and 20’s: As I’m getting better at realising who isn’t healthy for me, I’m also pretty good at making sure I hang around people who are good for me. I’m going to a reunion (that I helped organise) with a group who I first met when I was 15 and at a time when I was very unsure of myself. It will be lovely. They are lovely. And in some ways they made a complicated life a little bit more bearable. I also discovered things I could do (the speaking in front of hundreds of people/being pretty good at debates) because I was always told I could. They believed in me, I was never told I wouldn’t be able to do something. If anyone needs to grow self esteem, joining a local youth assembly/youth council or youth parliament is a step I’d advise any young person to take. I also have friends in my life from later on in the 20’s decade who aren’t allowed to go anywhere. They know this and have agreed not to.
Checking in on friends and letting friends check in on me: I’ve always tried to be there and look out for others, but sometimes when things have been difficult I’ve struggled to look beyond my own life. I’m better now at dropping people a text to see how they are and offering to call. I’ve always struggled letting people do that to me though, believing that I was a burden or a problem if I told them how I was really feeling. I’m much more comfortable with this now and I’ve learnt to be honest (probably too much in some cases), but I’ve certainly learned to recognise when I need support. So as much as I’m good at listening to others, I’m more comfortable with letting others check in on me more. The Time to Change #AskTwice campaign is a brilliant representation of why it’s important to really find out how friends are. Friendships are a two way process and it takes both parties doing the above for it to make it into the next decade.
Doing stuff and not letting anxiety tell me otherwise: I’ve gone from being terrified of the tube in London to traveling there for work and to meet friends quite regularly. I’ve learned to deal with uncertainty (not overcome, because we never really overcome anything…) with lots of planning, understanding people and a back up plan if things go wrong. Even if that back up plan meant using Twitter as a massive distraction during an anxiety attack in Kings Cross station and hiding in Leon’s until I felt better before I travelled anywhere. I’ve also worked out how to pace myself, so I don’t get into situations where I feel I need to leave immediately. A work in progress as always.
Finding distractions and things to look forward to if something doesn’t go as hoped/planned/imagined: With anything like a job interview or exam results, I’ve tried to look for something to distract myself with or plan something nice if it doesn’t go as I wanted. I still need to get into the habit of actually doing the nice thing, but at least I understand the concept.
Not comparing myself to others: I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time, partly because I’ve realised that comparing myself is unhealthy. I haven’t completely stopped doing this, but I can recognise when I’m doing it before the comparisons get too far. We are of course on our own “unique timeline”, being expected to be at a certain place by a certain age, just feeds anxiety and makes natural over-thinkers, ruminate more. I just wish I knew all of this much earlier.
All in all I’m pretty excited about my 30’s. It can’t be much worse than the last decade. And I’m going to have a crack at learning to drive, which will be mint or terrifying. I’ll keep you updated on that one.