Mental Health

What a Long, Strange Trip it’s Been

In just two short weeks, I’ll turn fifty. FIFTY. For fuck’s sake. How did that happen? One minute I’m a weird little kid without a clue, and the next minute I’m… a weird middle-aged woman without a clue. 

Turning fifty feels so monumental that I’ve put pressure on myself to come up with something profound to say about it. I suppose a list of life lessons would be apt. Or maybe a retrospective that sums up the totality of half a century with some pithy one-liners wrapped in a witty little bow. Neither of those things appeal to me right now, though.

The older I get, the less inclined I am to make my hard-won wisdom digestible. It occurred to me a couple weeks ago that I’ve reached a point in my life where the things I need to convey don’t fit into nice, pat answers or (heaven forbid) tweets. I’m also waiting longer to respond to things because in the past I’ve been too eager to share my thoughts with people who have been all too happy to ignore them, or worse, misinterpret what I have to say. Pearls before swine, and all that.

My life has not been an easy one. No one’s has, of course, but I’ve had a unique set of obstacles I’ve had to overcome in order to be here with you right now: mental health challenges; an unstable childhood; being raised in a cult; religious trauma in both childhood and adulthood; physical abuse; addiction; poverty (including homelessness); self-destructive tendencies; and anxiety. For all intents and purposes, I really ought to just be happy to have survived to fifty.

But I’ve done way more than survive, haven’t I?

As I approach the half-century mark, I can honestly say that I’m thriving. Finally. For the first time ever. Much credit is due to my family, friends, therapist, and the various little communities to which I belong. They’ve provided support and encouragement these past few years.

But also? I’ve done it. I’ve done what was necessary to get myself physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally healthy.  There were no shortcuts. It’s been hard, but I’m really goddamn proud of myself, and I want to share that with you.

Maybe my success doesn’t look like an Oscar or an Emmy I can sit on the shelf. Maybe I don’t have a huge publishing contract, or a fancy diploma on the wall. Maybe I’m what I appear to be – a slightly pudgy, middle-aged, middle-class white woman who needs naps and likes quiet. But what I do have is priceless:

I have peace. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Which doesn’t mean I don’t have to work at staying healthy. I still have to do the therapy, meditate, exercise, eat right, take my meds, and watch for triggers. But that’s ok, because now I have an opportunity to live my life the way I want to – with courage, clarity and creative power; and without being controlled by my own trauma and others’ opinions.

Every so often I get to feeling down because I’ve worked so hard during my 30s and 40s to make my mark in the world – to contribute something of substance – and there’s just not much to show for it from an external perspective. I have nothing I can point to and say, “This is the work of my life!”

But I now see that if I died tomorrow, I would have done something amazing. Maybe you can’t see it. (I can’t always see it, myself.)  But I’ve healed in the places I never thought would (or could) heal; I’ve also raised two beautiful, brilliant children (with my loving partner) that I can believe in; I have a modest but comfortable home; and most importantly, I have learned how to love myself in a way that keeps me open to loving other people. 

So, as I prepare to turn fifty, I’m not so concerned about aging or success (as it’s been defined by other people). I’m living fully into each moment, doing work that turns me on and makes me feel excited about each new day. I’m strengthening bonds between friends and family, dissolving tired boundaries that never served me well, getting comfortable with simply being in the here and now. This is the work of my life, and I am successful. 

So let’s fuckin’ celebrate, alright?