This time of year is always a transitional period for me. I get a bit melancholy in the fall, despite my love of the season. Part of it is seeing all the changes taking place in nature: summer has come to an end, and the changing trees remind me that winter is quickly approaching. My birthday also falls at this time of year, and every year I sit back and take an assessment of where my life is headed. At the age of twenty-eight, I went through a terrible depression on my birthday. I felt as if my life was mostly done, that I had wasted so much time and now my youth was over. Sure, I had enjoyed myself (perhaps too much, at times), but I had accomplished nothing of value. My teaching career was possibly the worst decision I had made in my life. I was living like a gypsy, I had no plans for the future, and wasn't happy in my current situation. And now, on top of all this...I was sooo old.
I wish I could go back in time and approach the self-pitying, clueless girl that I was back then. I'd give her a good slap in the face and tell her just how screwed up her perspective was. I was young, healthy, and capable. I had good friends and a good family, and although I hadn't yet found my path, it was waiting to be found. If anything, I should have relished the fact that there was so much to look forward to. Instead, I chose to wallow in my misery, lamenting everything I didn't have, rather than appreciating what I did.
Age is a funny thing. I have gotten to the point in my life where I've lost track of what people are supposed to look and act like at particular ages. I have a nineteen-year-old patient who is so mature, so confident and self-aware, that I would swear she has to be in her thirties-at the very least. I have friends in their fifties who put me to shame with their vitality and spunk. Over the summer, I met two 72-year-old women who were good friends. One of these ladies was the epitome of the sweet, little old grandmother type. The other one may have been Cher; I'm still not sure. I couldn't understand how two women of the same age could look and act so differently. When I started talking to them, I realized that Grandma was very focused on her own view of herself as old. She constantly spoke of her aches, poor hearing, and lack of mobility. Cher, on the other hand, kept referring to herself as "seventy years young." She stayed active, had a busy social life, and worked at maintaining a youthful appearance. These two women may have been the same age chronologically, but mentally and physically? Night and day.
Most people that meet me have no sense of my age. If they talk to me on the phone first, they assume I am very young; I have the voice of a child, almost. I have been told time and again that I have a youthful demeanor. I really think that this is because I have the passion and enthusiasm that youth brings. I'm not particularly young-looking, but I think that my state of contentment shines through. When I was 28, people always seemed to assume that I was in my thirties. Now, in my late thirties, most guess that I am in my twenties. I haven't had work done, or found some miracle cream; it's simply that your attitude can affect how you age.
So the next time you start to obsess over your age, stop for a moment to reassess the situation. Are you happy with where you are? If so, you should see the past year as an achievement, and treat your birthday as a recognition of that achievement. Are you unhappy in your current situation? Then use this day as a starting point for change. Sit down and write a list of all the things in your life that need improvement, and the steps you need to take to make these improvements. Life is far too short to wallow in misery and discontent. If you think young, you will be young, regardless of how many years you have been here!