I am going to be fifty years old soon. In less than three months, to be exact. I am equally indifferent, flabbergasted, and excited by this chronological reality. The part of me that completely freaked out when I turned 30 (and 31, 32, 33, 34, and 35), is now silent and accepting. She looks up from her daily routine and to-do’s, casually acknowledges the passage of time, and simply shrugs and moves on. She knows that time and age are social constructs as much as they are rivers flowing freely and unstoppable until they reach their inevitable end.
The part of me that hasn’t aged mentally past 25, on the other hand, is in utter disbelief. Her mind is officially blown. “How the hell has this happened?”, she asks incredulously. My mother had ten kids and more than one grandchild by the time she was fifty. How can I be turning fifty?! Fifty still seems so old and far off to my ever-youthful, somewhat naïve, eternally optimistic, and hopeful 25-year-old self. “You may be turning fifty”, she says with a sparkle in her eye, a fire in her soul, and with all the defiance and untested confidence of a 25-year-old, “but I’m not and never will.”
Then there is the me that is in the here and now. My true and present self. And friends, I am excited. Excitement is sort of new to me — not entirely foreign. Just something I haven’t felt in a very, very long time. It seems odd, almost contradictory, and even selfish to feel excited and happy and hopeful at such a strange and fraught time in our collective (U.S.) history. While we just had an election where we managed to stave off what felt like an inevitable totalitarian turn from our imperfect democracy, the threat of authoritarian, oligarchical rule still exists. Our planet is dying; hundreds of species become extinct every day, and humanity’s very existence is hanging in the tenuous balance while billionaires (and corporations) continue to poison our planet, kill us, and work on escape plans only they will be able to afford. An airborne virus continues to rage unchecked and exacerbated by the lack of a public health initiative that could help stop it. LGBTQ people — especially trans people are being publicly attacked and vilified in ways we haven’t seen since the 1980’s, as the same people who threaten our planet and democracy attempt to legislate trans people out of existence and gay people back into the closet. Black lives are continually threatened and proven they don’t matter as white Christian nationalism is on the rise, “CRT” is both misrepresented and outlawed in places it doesn’t event exist, and books are banned that dare to shed light on the true, racist history (and present) of this country. I struggle more now to pay my monthly bills because everything is so expensive, in part due to global inflation, and yet according to the Economic Policy Institute, corporate profit margins attribute to more than half of the price increases. People continue to feel lonely, disconnected, divided, hate-filled and scared.
And then there was the Dobbs decision. The fall of Roe. I haven’t written or shared a thing since even before Roe fell. I have been reeling since the leak of the Dobbs decision happened in early May. Although I knew the day was coming when Roe would fall, seeing it in such stark and cruel detail was crushing. It was like losing a sick loved-one. I knew her death was inevitable, but when it actually happened, I felt unmoored, crushed, angry, depressed, frightened, and changed.
Looking back, I have been drifting, reeling, and careening for most of my life; I just wasn’t always aware that I was. I’ve spent the last eight years trying to find the courage, direction, and strength to pull myself out of the incredibly strong currents of habit, apathy, fear, stagnation, indifference, guilt, helplessness, and perceived failure. Just shy of three months prior to my fiftieth year on this planet, my feet are on solid ground, my legs are less wobbly, and I am walking with purpose forward, even if my path is unknown.
I am leaving behind who I was; who I have been; who I haven’t been, and who I’ve tried to be, mostly for others. I have forgiven myself for not becoming who I wished and thought I would and should have become “by now” and am learning to be me.
For the first time.
Statistics show that women often don’t apply for jobs they feel they are not 100% qualified for, and I have been living my whole life that way. I have been waiting for this magical feeling of “readiness”; some unquantifiable level of knowledge; some definitive external source of acceptance and recognition to grant me permission to become who I really am and want to be. If I just said the right thing at the right time to the right person, then that person would see me for who I am; take my hand and show me how to become it. Give me some sort of blueprint on how to move forward.
I have spent so much of my life to this point feeling utterly inadequate; invisible; crazy; stupid; not enough. These seeds of insecurity were planted and nurtured by my parents (who felt the same way themselves), and when I became an independent adult, I nurtured these insecurities and inadequacies myself out of habit and literally not knowing anything else. These inadequacies were also nurtured by toxic aspects of my nation’s culture that looked me in the eye and said, “There is nothing wrong here… it’s just you.”
I have done a tremendous amount of work on myself (and I will point out, I have had the enormous advantages of healthcare, money, privilege, and time to do so). I have somewhat awkwardly made some of my journey public by attempting to write about it and sharing it with you all, but most of it has been done minute by minute, day by day, and year by year, until I have finally arrived at this magical place of self-acceptance. It has been far from easy, and it definitely doesn’t mean that I am filled with confidence and love for myself every minute of every day. But the self-hatred, deprecation, fear, and self-loathing are now easier to stop and are outweighed by my courage to move forward. I wish I had known that simple mathematical formula earlier — I don’t need to have all the confidence, all of the answers, all of the strength all of the time; I just need to have enough to be able to outweigh my fears and keep moving forward.
This is why I am heading into (what I hope will be) the second half of my life with excitement. I can finally stop trying and thinking and wishing and hoping and start doing.