For my thirtieth birthday, I got unemployment, several metric fuck tons of snow, and chilblains.
I am most upset about the chilblains, which I have never had before but now, since ageing into this new decade, have apparently become susceptible to. For the uninitiated, chilblains are what happens when you muck around in the icy white stuff for too long, the feeling goes out of your toes for several hours and then promptly returns, with profound aches and itchiness that will linger for a week or so. While being an affliction that affects any old body with no sense of real self-preservation, chilblains sounds like something that happens to old people only. I’m still in shock.
I’ve tried, not extensively but certainly enough, to buy into the ‘big three oh’ mood. There’s something I like about the mix of anxiety and elation that surrounds this particular birthday, something unstoppably human about our response to this stage of ageing. However, given the irreverence with which I have approached other birthday milestones (I hit the town on my own for my eighteenth, with no memory as to why or how that happened), it comes as no surprise that turning thirty has left me ambivalent, at worst, and introspective, at best.
My parents both talk about how, really, it’s your twenty-ninth year that will show you flames. Somewhere in that year, Saturn will return to the same position in the sky it held when you were born and as a person, you will officially and astrologically go through the most. Maybe it’s because the later years of my twenties lived up to their name of just one struggle after the other and several life-ruining decisions, and I spent so much of the last few years cleaning up that catastrophic mess, but Saturn’s new cycle is kicking off with not much real rev at all. In fact, I secretly feel like I’m fulfilling some kind of adjacent trope where, after you have toiled and trauma’d, you don’t automatically go into flourish mode. You actually end up hovering somewhere between the two, wondering what the fuck you are doing with your life, a school of thought that ventures dangerously close to an existential crisis — and I would never want to have one of those because then it’s part of your story and there’s no going back.
Which is really the only thing worth noting for this new phase of my life. If everything is just like a story (more and more, I’m starting to look at the world that way), then the most I’ve got to offer on this momentous occasion of my thirtieth birthday is character development. When it comes to my story, the plot is a bit vague and with no real direction, the narrative structure is wonky, but the character development is quite solid, thank you, so somehow the story keeps moving forward. At the risk of becoming a living, breathing cliché, the amount of growth that has been undertaken by yours truly over the last three years sometimes leaves me feeling just the tiniest bit proud of myself, and more relieved than I can say to be waving goodbye to my twenties with all their inherent chaos, and entering into a period that, at least for me, feels somewhat calmer and stiller than the tumult of being twenty-anything. I’m deeply appreciative of this sense of myself, stronger than it has really ever been, that seems to have crystalised and become real; it’s birthed a confidence that I cannot escape, no matter how much my life doesn’t quite live up to certain norms.
The Danya who had a lot of unreasonable expectations of her adult self when she was sixteen would be horrified to see where I have ended up. But I think it’s less because I am a crushing societal disappointment, and more because sixteen-year-old me was a messy bitch with unnecessary judgements and bad sleeping habits (in her defence, I still have bad sleeping habits). Which is comforting.
One of the things I often think about when I consider my childish and teenage life plans for myself was that they usually ended at thirty and didn’t consider another single second of my life. The unexpected fallout of this is that I have no idea what happens next. Throughout my twenties, much as they proved to be an entirely different experience than the one I anticipated, I at least had the benefit of the thought and consideration I put into my life prior to that — I had a guide, even though I wasn’t following it. Five minutes into thirty and I’ve realised that I really haven’t thought about it that much. There’s no real plan for what I want to do, what I want to become, how I’m going to use and enjoy the upcoming years. I’m kind of… ambling, and not in a purposeful way, through it all.
Unfamiliar would be a kind description of how I feel about this development. Some days, it feels downright alien and it takes all my self-control not to flee the adventure I’m on and return to the safety and security of the life I built for myself in my roaring twenties. Even though I often don’t stick to the plan, I’ve never not had one. It feels a bit like walking around with your eyes shut, and while my initial reaction will always be “holy shit, I’m going to fucking fall and break something”, I think I’ve shifted and changed enough as a person that I want to see what happens regardless. Somewhere between all the vein-popping terror, there are flashes of excitement and the same breathlessness every traveller must get when they set off into the great unknown.
There is a very profound feeling of YOLO hanging over my head, a sense that if you’re planning on the fly, you’re not really planning at all. You’re just flying.