Thoughts On Age & Mental Health

This picture was taken on my birthday exactly one year ago today. This moment was captured by my partner in his scenic hometown, Hastings, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. Last year, to mark the occasion, I wrote the poem Approaching Thirty (which you can check out in the poetry section). This year, I would like to pen my thoughts on age in a little more detail and share them with you.

In the dictionary “age” is defined as follows: The length of time that somebody or something has existed usually expressed in years.

To me, this is all that our age should signify. So why do we attach so much more to it? It has always seemed absurd to me that a number should dictate how we act, what we like, wear or do. Yet, to the casual observer, in most cases, it would appear that it does. I say fuck that! Life is not a race; take it at your own pace. You don’t get bonus points for reaching the finish line first. Who says you must have achieved A, B and C by the time you reach X, Y or Z? It’s like we are constantly making these lists in our heads of where we need to be at every given age. Then, we inevitably feel like shitty little failures when we don’t measure up to the requirements on said lists. Because let’s face it, we are a generation of procrastinators, endlessly scrolling through news feeds on the latest trending app. But maybe, that’s okay.

Wouldn’t it be nice to remove all the pressure? To just say “screw it, you know what? I like me today.” Wouldn’t that feel so damn good? So, why not do it? Say, TODAY I AM ENOUGH. Not tomorrow, not next week, next month or next year, but right now. Right now, I am enough. Doesn’t that feel so much better? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have goals or strive to better ourselves. I’m not saying that at all, just that maybe, it’s time to slow down and cut ourselves some freakin' slack. Wherever it is you want to be, if you want it bad enough, you’ll get there. Just take your time and don’t forget to enjoy the view along the way.

Since turning thirty, conversations among family, friends and peers have changed drastically. It’s no longer all about boy troubles or the last night’s drunken antics. Now it’s more like “I’m just not where I thought I'd be in my career at this point in my life” or “Our wedding album just arrived today” or “We are having another baby.” Then it hits you like a smelly wet fish. Fuck! I’m a grown up. Should I be worrying about/doing these things too? Age is a lot like love, it hits you slowly and then all at once, you never feel quite ready for it. One day it just happens and there’s no going back. It is pretty easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer weight of expectation. But fear not my friends. I am here to share a little piece of wisdom I acquired while hitting the big three-o. Fuck expectations, fuck the rule book and just do you.

Yup it really is that simple. When I hit thirty I didn’t freak out the way a lot of people seem to. To be honest it seemed to be a bigger deal to everybody else than it was to me. I didn’t feel scared or old. I felt liberated. Looking back on my life, I realised that I spent a large portion of my teens and twenties doing things that other people thought I should be doing, or I thought I should be doing. Then, I had one of those epiphany moments. I finally realised how ridiculous that was. I thought long and hard about when I was at my most happy. I concluded, that I was happiest when I was my most authentic self. This, was undoubtedly, when I was a kid. Not just because I had fewer responsibilities, I mean, come on, school was worse than any 9 to 5 I ever had. I was happy, because, in my down time, I did what I wanted. When I wanted. For the pure joy of it. Peer pressure didn’t really exist to same extent it does when you hit your teens. You will gladly tell that snot nosed little shit that your Jurassic Park figure does not suck and that it's in fact way cooler than his douchebag remote control BMW.

I think one of the reasons kids are happier is because they like what they like and they ain’t quiet about it. They allow themselves to squeal with excitement. They don’t look over their shoulders worrying about what other people think. I love this about kids. That's why I am a proud Fanboy. I’m extremely vocal about all of the nerdy things I love, from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, to YA fiction, to all things comic book and superheroes. I will gladly debate with you in public, why Buffy would kick Batman’s ass in a fight, why The Fault In Our Stars is awesome and makes me ugly cry every single time, or why Wonder Woman should be president of the JLA. I happily let my fangirl flags fly with zero fucks given. Who cares if some people think you or the things you love are lame. Odds are you’d probably find their interests lame too. By being your most authentic self, you will gravitate like minded people towards you and weed out the haters.

At work I’ve recently found that I enjoy talking to people who are much younger than me or much older than me. Quite often people group together by age. This is a real shame. I feel like I can learn more from the people who came before and after me. They have had a totally different experience of life than I have. I’m not saying that people my age haven’t also had a totally unique experience of life. But we’ve lived through the same historical events and cultural trends. I work with a woman in her 80's with remarkable stories and more pep and humour than any young person. She is my adopted welsh Nana and I adore her. She is also a huge flirt. I also work with a 16 year guy who has flown a plane and is probably more mature than I am. These inspiring people just prove that age is nothing more than a number.

A couple of months ago my partner and I were talking about things we used to love to do as a kid. I told him that I really missed getting up early on Sunday mornings, wrapping myself in a duvet with an over-sized bowl of cereal and watching cartoons. Then it dawned on me. I can still do that. Like, there was literally nothing stopping me. After this realisation, I immediately ordered the 90’s X-Men cartoon series. Now, every Sunday I put on my Marvel PJ’s and curl up on the couch excitedly revelling in every animated second. That theme tune is just as awesome as I remembered. You can’t help but jive like a dork and hum along. The point is, that becoming an adult doesn't mean leaving all childlike things behind. You can be an adult and do all that grown up shit that we have to do, without letting it drain every ounce of fun from your body. I learned that from my Momma.

I wasn’t always as confident and comfortable in my own skin as I am nowadays. I spent most of my teens and twenties just figuring shit out. And that wasn’t always easy; life gets messy sometimes. So we may as well learn to play in the dirt. I struggled with many things, as most of us do, from my sexuality, to things that had happened to me in my past, to what the hell it was I wanted to be and where I wanted to be it. We all have our baggage, yet most of the time we pretend we don’t. We learn at a young age to cover that shit up because no one wants to see it. Wrong. If someone truly loves you, they want to see and admire every part of you, cracks and all. I hid my cracks pretty well for many years. Sure, there was the occasional episode or alcohol fuelled revelation. But for the most part, to everyone but a select few, I kept them hidden. The trouble with suppression is that it's a temporary fix. You can only bottle everything up for so long until you overload and shatter.

In my late twenties, I had a full blown mental breakdown. Holding all of that pain and anger inside of me for so long poisoned every part of me. I reached a point where I had totally lost sight of who I was. It gradually built throughout my twenties, surfacing on occasion in little spurts of rage. Then one night, the flood gates opened entirely and all that crap I’d been carrying around for so long finally came gushing out. It was fucking painful, probably the hardest thing I have ever been through, but it was necessary. I realised that I needed help and that if I didn’t get it, soon, there wasn’t going to be a me left to help. So, finally I came clean to my family and they found me a therapist.

I don’t know why it was so hard for me to admit that I needed help. I felt like I’d be a burden. I didn’t want people thinking there was something wrong with me or that I was broken. I’ve always been pretty self-aware and a bit of a know-it-all. I thought I could handle it all on my own. These are easy traps to fall into. Of course it’s easier to avoid your problems than to face them. But until you confront them, you’re stuck in limbo. There is still such a stigma around the topic of mental health. We edit our virtual lives on various forms of social media, painting a picture of perfection. But perfection is a lie. We all have crap. Everyone has moments in their lives where they are pushed to their absolute limit. It is important that we learn to recognise and acknowledge these limits, so that we are capable of asking for help when we need it.

The first thing I learned in therapy was that there is nothing wrong with asking for help. It is a sign of strength, not weakness. It is the first step to any recovery process and It shows that you are together enough to understand that you are not well. It shows that you want to get better. Once you’ve found the courage to face that first step you’re halfway there. You’ve already won half the battle. That’s not to say what’s to come will be easy. You’ve accepted it, now you have to be strong and fight. You have to face those demons, look them straight in the eyes and say YOU ARE NOT GOING TO WIN. Therapy is hard, and it should be. If it’s easy then you aren’t doing it right. You have to go through the hard stuff if you want to get to the other side. Whatever you absolutely do not want to talk about, that’s probably exactly where you should start. It's uncomfortable, it's gut-wrenching and it's painful. But it is worth it. Therapy was a paradox for me; it was both the hardest and the best experience of my life. I hated going but man did I feel better afterwards. After my final session my therapist told me to go and enjoy the rest of my life. And that is what I have been doing ever since. I left all the pain in that room. It's still in there to this day. The thing about pain is: if you can learn to control your pain, rather than letting it control you, well then…pain is power. Then you are free. We can’t learn to put ourselves back together until we are broken. How can we be strong if we are never hurt? When life challenges you, embrace the pain, get through it and become the fierce bad-ass you were destined to be. Those of us who suffer or seek therapy are not broken. We are not damaged. We are fucking powerful, so bitches best beware.

It took me twenty-seven years of my life to confront my past and ask for help. It just took that first step and everything in my life has changed for the better because of it. I am sitting now at thirty-one years of age typing this, and I can honestly say that thirty has been the best year of my entire life. So, I cannot wait to see what else my thirties have in store. If you would have told me before I started my therapy, that today, I would be living in New Zealand, with the man of my dreams, in a stunning home, with a job that inspires me, pursuing a career in writing, typing this to you from my own website. I probably would have told you to stop talking horseshit. But, here I am. To wrap things up, my advice to you is simple… just do you, ask for help when you need it and learn to be okay with who you are today instead of constantly trying to be more. More will come, for now, just enjoy, well…now.