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How it really feels to turn 30 (despite what I may have told you)

A lover’s quarrel, a mushroom trip, and a bucket of G&T; a story from my best worst birthday in Thailand


If you were to ask me in the year leading up to my 30th birthday how I felt about entering this new decade, I would tell you: I can’t wait.

Our thirties are a time of when everything starts to come together. When we're finally taken seriously as fully-fledged adults. A time when we start to find success in our personal lives and careers culminating in our early forties.

“Thirties — bring em on,” I would say.

Yet, as the days until my birthday grew sparse, I felt an anxiety sprouting from my core. It could have been because my boyfriend and I had just moved to the island of Koh Lanta, Thailand for a month, and we were still getting our bearings. Or because my eczema was flaring more than it had in a long time.

I wasn’t sure the cause, but I knew I wanted to have an epic birthday. I could deal with the anxiety later. I’d always imagined having a huge party with friends close by. Since my boyfriend and I knew no one on the island this would be difficult, but I was determined.

With a week until my birthday, I joined a co-working community called koHub hoping to find some candidates there. There were also some regulars at the parties around the island whom we kept seeing. Maybe they could be my friends? I thought. Forever the optimist.

Dec 8 (T-2 days)

With two days until my birthday, I knew a few people, but still nobody close enough that I would expect them to go out of their way to celebrate with me.

I missed home. I wished I could be near my closest friends — the people who’d grown with me over the past 10 years.

Still, I tried to focus on the fact I was on a beautiful island with a man I love as opposed to what I lacked. And I planned a fun but friendless one and a half day celebration as best I could:

Sun, Dec 9 — Mushrooms for the sunset and check out the Sunday deep house party at Pangea depending on how we feel.

Mon, Dec 10 — (Take off work) Wake up, sex, read on the beach, get a couple’s massage, go out to a nice dinner and some drinks.

Sounds pretty perfect, right? It seemed as if nothing could go wrong…

Here I come.

Later that evening, while we were exploring Koh Lanta’s Old Town, Phil and I started chatting with two couples (one from America and the other from America and Finland). They told us that the next morning they were going to rent kayaks and explore the tip of the island near the national park. And coincidentally, that evening after the kayak trip, they were planning on a mushroom trip. And they invited us to join them for both activities.

Suddenly, I was going to have friends on my birthday! And they were interesting and funny. We would have a spontaneous adventure.

I was confident it would be an epic two days just as I’d imagined. How could it possibly not be?


Dec 9

The next day, Phil and I woke up before dawn, met the crew, and we all scootered into the sunrise. The clouds were streaks of pink, and on the way, we saw lush jungle sprinkled with cute restaurants, bungalows, and monkey families. When we arrived at the bay, the wind picked up, so we didn’t get very far on the kayaks, but we made it to a sparkling beach on the national park grounds.

Later that afternoon, we met up with everyone again at one of the many bars selling mushroom shakes and downed them. They kicked in faster than expected, but we managed to find a nice spot on the beach to sit in our dream state. The sunset was spectacular.

Sunset in Koh Lanta; Phil and I in the middle.

The only problem: I wasn’t enjoying myself. I felt that anxiety kick up again in full power. And my butt was wet from sitting on the sand so close to the water. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

Side note: this is why I’m a proponent of psychedelics. Because they’re not always good. That may not sound like a good reason to like something, but hear me out. Mushrooms amplify the state you are already in, the state deep inside of you that you may not want to see, but that you should see either way.

You can’t hide from yourself. And in that way, it can be theraputic (or just really fun).

Fortunately for me, the dose wasn’t that strong and within 2–3 hours, I was mostly back to normal. The others went home, and Phil and I went to another beach to see a fire show and have a few drinks.

But the bar started to die around 11 pm and we were both exhausted from our long day, so we decided to just go home and ring in my birthday there.

I tried to make peace with the knowledge that this would be how I turned 30: in bed at home with the person I love doing what I do every day.

But I also couldn’t help but think to my birthday last year, when I was in Goa, India, where I’d met a bunch of random people who did shots with me as the clock struck 12. Afterward, we partied at an outdoor techno party till the wee hours of the morning. I mean that — that was incredible.

My Post-29th birthday FB post

Still, this would be good too, I told myself. A different kind of good. And at least I wouldn’t be hung over the next day! Even though somewhere inside I was thinking “Boring birthday for a boring old person!” I was going to look at the bright side.

Phil sang me the birthday song in German at midnight, which I counted down to myself. And that was it. No gift or anything — I guess he’d give it to me the next day…

Dec 10

In the morning, I woke up to find out Phil had gotten me an e-book. He was being sweet, making coffee and breakfast and doing the dishes, but I still felt he could have made more of an effort on the gift. He’d downloaded an ebook for me a week prior as well, so it didn’t feel any different than that; it didn’t feel special. He hadn’t even made me a card. I felt annoyed but was trying my best to be grateful.

“Thank you,” I said and kissed him on the mouth. I didn’t want to expect anything from him. I’d planned not to. I’d made my birthday amazing last year without depending on a boyfriend. Why couldn’t I do it again?

For breakfast, he googled a place with Mexican food and a pool overlooking the ocean.

So we went there; except, it didn’t have a pool. And the Mexican food was very overpriced; I didn’t want to eat there.

And then the anger started to creep up, and I couldn’t think straight.

I asked if he’d walk down the beach with me, and I started to cry. I told him I wished he’d made more of an effort on the gift. And how I’d been anxious the previous day when we did shrooms. He said he was sorry and told me how much he loved me and wanted me to have a good day.

I didn’t want to be like this. I knew he really wanted to make me happy, and I wasn’t letting him. I felt like a shitty person.

I’d been trying so hard to be mature. To be a good girlfriend. To try to see things from other people’s perspective, and appreciate what I have. Be grateful. Be grateful. Be grateful.

But that day, I couldn’t. Not even a bit.

I eventually dried my eyes, and we went to go eat at one of our staples: Aleena’s Minimart. I treated myself to an egg and avocado sandwich with caramelized onion tomato and then we went to the beach and relaxed.

Later in the afternoon, we went for that massage. It was nice at first, but towards the end of the hour, I couldn’t help but feel angry at Phil again for his gift.

When I got home I wrote this in my journal unedited:

“I’m angry. hate everyone. everyones the worst. i hate my friends. a part of me hates phil right now. i hate my parents. im angry.

why couldn’t phil have spent more than 5 minute planning something for my birthday. why do i have to care so much in the first place. why do i have to put so much pressure on myself to be perfect. i hate myself right now that’s who i hate the most.

i don’t want to feel this way anymore i want to feel happy because it’s my 30th and the more i feel angry there i feel angry, its a vicious circle with end. and on top of all that it seems like its going to rain. and that annoys me. everything annoys me. everything.”

All I wanted was to get out of this rut. I hadn’t felt this awful in a very long time. Sensing I was still sad, Phil suggested we go do something. Anything.

“Ping pong at Fusion Bar?”


“Drink at Galaxy?”

I was tired of trying to be happy.

I was tired of trying to be happy. And I knew if I still wasn’t happy after trying yet again, I would feel even worse. I was ashamed of my sadness.

And then he suggested we go for a walk in the rain, which had started to pick up. I thought this sounded alright. It wasn’t something you were supposed to enjoy. The water and the movement would distract me from my poisonous thoughts.

On the walk, I started to feel a little better again. I smiled here and there. We laughed.

When we returned to the apartment, I found a Euro-Asian fusion tapas place called the Red Snapper to have dinner. So we hopped on our scooter and braved the rain, which was heavier now, to get there. I was finally starting to feel I was doing something special when my tagliatelle with smoked red-pepper sauce arrived. It was delicious.

Halfway through eating, Phil apologized about the gift again. I wanted so badly to move past it. I said it was okay, but I was still a bit peeved.

It was 9 pm. He could have fixed it by then. Made up for this lack of thoughtfulness.

“You could have gotten me a card, you could have gotten me flip flops, a cake — any little thing. There’s still time, you could still do those things,” I said.

He kept saying how he’s told me he’s “not good with gifts” and he’ll “do better next time.” How me telling him what to get him felt “forced.”

I agreed, I didn’t want to force him to get me anything specific. That would not feel good. But him just sitting there moping didn’t feel good either. I eventually blew up:

“Your excuses do nothing for me — I’ve made it very clear what I wanted and you’re just sitting there feeling bad for yourself. I don’t want to hear it anymore.” And it felt good to say it like that, in that way.

And then something clicked. He turned towards the waiter and asked: “Do you have a pen and paper?” The waiter, who happened to be a ladyboy, granted him his wish and Phil sat there, writing.

“He’s doing something. Something.” I thought. He was finally getting it. I wanted something special and he was doing something special — writing me a love letter.

When he finished his letter, we headed to Irie Bar nearby which has a weekly reggae party with a band alternating with a DJ.

He bought me a bucket of gin and tonic, and I read the letter with him beside me to the beautiful voice of the singer and smooth brass of the saxophone. I couldn’t help but start to feel good.

And then the party picked up. Our German next-door-neighbor was randomly there, and even some people from the coworking space showed up after I’d texted the Whatsapp group chat to come by.

We danced our asses off, smoked some joints, and shot the shit with semi-friends and randoms. I couldn’t believe I was actually having a great time with only 2 hours left of my birthday.

Irie bar, Koh Lanta - Dec 10, 2018

On the way home at around 3 am, Phil and I stopped by the beach and had some more (romantic) fun.

One of the worst birthdays had officially become one of the best. I came out of the rut. I made it through.

But stop right there. That’s not what this story is about. You might think the lesson is this:

You have to be patient. Just hang in there; things will get better.

Although that is what happened, that was not the takeaway. Because I could have easily remained distraught the whole evening.

Instead, I learned practicing awareness and gratitude doesn’t lead to infinite mental stability. And that despite all my effort, optimism, and recent fortune in life, I can’t always will myself into feeling how I want to feel (in this case: happy on my 30th birthday).

I learned that even though I want to appreciate Phil and never take him for granted, I will occasionally hate him. And I may not know why.

I’m learning to accept, to stop pushing so hard for anything specific, and to not let disappointment cripple me. Because now and in the future, my mood and my actions won’t just affect me but the other important people in my life (that I can only hope will be there).

In reality, I’m scared shitless about being 30.

And I learned that despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise, I’m scared shitless about being 30. Maybe, in part, because my boyfriend is 24, and I don’t want the age difference to appear so stark. And certainly, in part, because I loved my 20s — I don’t want to let them go because it feels like the end of something really special. The end of giving no fucks. The end of shirking responsibility and living just for me and no one else. The end of the beginning.

Moreover, the conciliatory success I’m supposed to reach in my thirties won’t just happen. I won’t just wake up one day having a happy family in some warm weather climate having cashed out on the equity from the startup we just sold. Getting that life will take hard work on many levels.

However, I won’t forget the most important thing I learned in my 20s either: to do my best to make myself happy in the present.

I don’t need to be some zen wonder-mom or put so much pressure on myself to achieve any ego- or society-driven ideal. For whom?

I won’t just abandon my loved ones or dreams because of stress, but if high levels of anxiety persist, it means I need to make a change (the body can tell us a lot about what’s best for us). Maybe a small change. Maybe a big one.

If instead of having a family, I move to India and become a monk at 35, then maybe that is the path for me, and everyone, including my ego, is just going to have to deal with it.

And okay okay, in the end — it is all going to be okay. But in this decade, I’ll remember okay doesn’t always mean GREAT. There’s more to life than being happy all the time.

And despite my age, there’s a place for me in this world regardless of whether I’m a girlfriend, a mother, or a monk.

Cough. Possible birthday ideas for next year.

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Sarah Stroh

Sarah Stroh

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