How To Survive Your Birthday
I have just successfully completed a birthday. Something not as simple as it sounds, for I am in the age range where most women watch for additional wrinkles in the mirror and try to figure out what to do about them at best. At worst, people easily fall into a low self-esteem gutter of wondering why their lives have not gone as planned.
I explained it to another mental health professional, who happened to be sitting in a nearby office, and who is six years older than me, almost to the day. She had a birthday a few days before mine, and was clearly in the throes of a birthday related depression, telling me how beautiful she used to be, and how good life was when people still paid attention to her.
Now granted, when my husband and I first moved to Southern California I wondered if they institutionalized people over 40, for they were simply not seen on the streets. Of course, I understand better now. First they give them multiple face and body lifts. Then, they move them to collectives in Palm Springs, where they sing off-key in certain piano bars.
Birthday depression is a common problem, and not something people often go to a physician for. It is usually something dealt with in terms of common wisdom, often repeated, rarely effective. It is more a subject of support groups than of research.
I absolutely refused to share in my friend’s birthday depression. “This is the 57th anniversary of my recovery from my addiction. I used to be addicted to amniotic fluid.”
I fully believe that, if you live it right, life on Earth should be perpetually worth celebrating. I am up and around and walking and talking and have a brain that seems to be functional enough to do some other folks some good. So why should it not do me some good, and keep me happy???
Perhaps the quickest antidote for birthday depression, especially in my age group, is the increasing realization of how much mature folks can and do contribute to society. Some people seem to be heartened by how “older” movie stars keep working. Me, I love the idea that William Randolph Hearst started building his castle at the same age I am now.
I am, after all, someone who lives by her wits and creativity and loves her brain, so it makes sense that something like this would resonate with me. Even though I have lived almost entirely by my brain and considered my body its vehicle, all of a sudden I find myself compelled to pay more attention to physical aspects of my being, in order to maximize my own survival and quality of life. This means, in addition to a diet of almost constant intellectual stimulation and a few extra dietary supplements, I am thinking of physical preservation. A little cosmetics (no surgery). A lot of dancing.
Dancing — I remember the studies, reviewed in other studies, about life-changes. About how impossible it is to get women to exercise, especially past a “certain” age. That always struck me as weird. People do not want to do things when they do the most good. There is a reason for this. They are not fun.
Many people suggested, at a certain point in my life, that I ought to join a gym. I dismissed them quietly and politely, telling them there was little time. I believe I had a few instances of buying home exercise machines before letting them sit in disuse. There are less expensive ways to have odd furniture to use as planters or such.
I stopped dancing once before, not terribly long after a dance teacher told my mother of blessed memory that I really did not have the body to be a dancer and ought to be grateful that I was able to secure a regular role in a (New England prep school, mind you) Thanksgiving pageant as a turkey.
Now I am the oldest and largest person in my dancing classes, and surely the one who laughs the most, and probably the worst, but I have absolutely no plans of stopping.
As for my birthday proper, the celebration took place in the evening, in a restaurant that is a dead ringer for a farmhouse in northern France where I spent the Christmas vacation of my first year of medical school flicking chickens. In retrospect, I was a fairly abysmal chicken-flicker, as the older women were far more experienced, but those who love me (my husband, and to my delight and amazement, one cherished friend) know that the minute I enter this restaurant I become, once again, the twenty year old chicken flicker who is hell-bent on saving civilization with medicine. Frankly, I like me that way.
There were smaller portions than I once would have devoured, and a single candle in a piece of cheesecake, which I have always loved. A handshake from a solicitous waiter, which served mainly to remind me that this was a classy restaurant, in a very good and real way.
I have received a few gifts, not anything expensive, but things from people who know me well enough to know my tastes very precisely; the over sized scarf and jewelry from the friend, a little book, a little computer game from a husband. I told my husband that this was better than the birthdays my parents had given me as a child.
I am known and loved by a precious few, but known and loved as an adult who has her own peculiarities, every one of which seems to have been noticed and lovingly nurtured. Life without amniotic fluid is a wonderful thing.
I am convinced that it has not yet reached any kind of plateau. Not even close. If birthday sadness comes from tracking your progress, backtrack. Catch up with the dreams of your childhood, now. Sometimes comparing yourself to others helps; sometimes not. If you are on the edge of not, live the dream now, as best you can. I believe abandoned dreams are far more potent at causing depression than birthdays.
I may not be a very good ballerina, but I am a ballerina.