I Survived My Fortieth Birthday

And it changed my world

Photo by April Pethybridge on Unsplash

Since my “sour sixteenth” I’ve dreaded my birthday. It was inevitable. The number would change whether I wanted it to or not. Most of the time I would not celebrate it or if I did it would be with a very small circle of family and/or friends.

Last year Covid shut everything down. As for me, I had been mentally and physically shut down for quite some time. Though in 2019, I had traveled to both Europe and New York City, only one of those trips had turned out well. Paris and London were places I visited while traveling solo. The NYC trip was the beginning of the end of a long-term friendship.

By October of 2019, a decades-long off-and-on romantic relationship ended quite dramatically and acrimoniously.

I was at a job I needed but didn’t want and wasn’t wanted at. It was a toxic situation where I would get stressed, get sick from the stress, stay home sick, become unreliable, which made me stressed, get sick from the stress…water, rinse, repeat.

In September of 2020 I had surgery which was desperately needed and, though much of the physical pain dissipated pretty quickly, it had mental repercussions that I did not anticipate.

The holidays didn’t exist for me last year. Though I am basically within walking distance of my immediate family members, I was also an essential worker and never fully quarantined. I was a danger to everyone around me. By the time February came around, I was distraught. I couldn’t see me anymore. When I looked in the mirror I was a ghost of what I was.

In March, when the city was starting to open again, I visited a bookstore. Bookstores are my regular hangouts and I was eager to get back to doing something routine because nothing else has been normal. The bookstore didn’t look as it had. Bookshelves were fully stocked but the layout of the store was different to accommodate the necessities of social distancing. It was also deserted save for the occasional employee who would ask if I needed help and would do so with a world-weary forced smile on their face. There I found a Moleskine journal that was 50% off, which I imagine is because the cover is completely hideous. On a whim, I bought it, even though I had not kept a journal consistently in years. I wrote, not every day but every day I needed it, which was quite often.

On April 1st, my lucky day, the only day where I feel the joke is not on me, I joined a gym and began working out gradually but consistently. I had been in shape in my twenties but because of several injuries, lack of exercise, various medications, I was now overweight. I didn’t start working out at the gym with the goal of losing weight. I just needed the mental break. I figured any physical benefits would just be icing on the cake. The gym and writing saved me.

Things started to change. I would go out in sometimes unpleasant and uncomfortable weather just to write. When I wasn’t writing, working out, or working, I was meditating.

However, my birthday was still tapping on my shoulder and I could feel the pressure I was putting on myself for not being where I wanted in my life before a milestone birthday.

I could feel it breathing down my neck:

Knock, knock

Who’s there?

Your fortieth birthday.

Your fortieth birthday, who?

You’re fucking forty. Let me in.

No. I’m not ready! Go away!

*aside* Okay, let’s get the battering ram.

I had special plans for my birthday; I went to visit some friends I hadn’t seen since Covid began. But as the old saying goes, “life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” The summer was full of warm sunny days preceding and after my birthday but during it, was cold and rained the entire weekend.

Was this an omen? Well as The Beatles once sang:

I’ve got to admit it’s getting better (Better)

A little better all the time (It can’t get no worse)

By August I had a nice new job, a nice new boyfriend, and what I had actually wished for myself on my birthday.

Hope.

It was also my birthday gift to me.

I’ve kept it with me most days, like a talisman to ward off negativity, self-doubt, and the occasional vampire.

After a few setbacks, (another breakup, the return of my chronic back injury, and the occasional vampire) I still have that hope wrapped around my head.

A good friend once told me, “Pain is okay. Pain is the universe telling you, “‘you’re still alive damn it!’”

So I’ll carry on with my hope in my pocket, my sarcasm near my mouth, and my pain in my back.

I’m forty and I’m still alive damn it.

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Amy Von Blickhahn

Amy Von Blickhahn

Writer of memoir essays, pop culture and all the trivia you never knew you wanted.