It was my birthday last week. I celebrated my 33rd birthday, a birthday which I anticipated with a lot of trepidation. I know aging is something I should embrace gracefully, but I don’t. Part of it is fear, and part of it is identity. I started school early, graduated from college at 19, and, even though I took several years off before law school, was still on the younger end of my law school class age demographic. At some level, until my late 20s, I was almost always the youngest, and it became part of my identity.
All of that has changed, obviously.
Leaving aside the identity issues, let’s talk about fear. One of the hardest things for me in the past about birthdays was that they were often a reminder of how my health, perplexing and not very good, had usually gotten worse in the past year, which is kind of sucktastic generally, but especially unexpected when you are in your 20s. I think many others who react to gluten or other foods and/or who have chronic and/or autoimmune health issues may relate. From age 27 to 30, I steadily got worse, but very incrementally, so milestones like birthdays were what would really drive it home. Joint pain that had started around age 7 (which doctors stopped calling growing pains by the time I turned 20) was getting worse. I would inexplicably get horrible ankle and knee pains, yet have no recollection of actually injuring myself. Splints and sneakers would help a bit, but not much. My carpal tunnel got much worse, far faster than using a blackberry could explain it. I had sinus infection after sinus infection. And that’s before I even start thinking about how my digestion was (not) working.
The hardest birthdays for me were 29 and 30, though by 30 I was just happy that the epic sinus infection that had started around my 29th birthday was finally gone, after a year of antibiotics, endless doctors’ appointments and steroids. However, I was still wheezy, had put on 30 pounds in that year (on top of being 30+ pounds above any sort of normal weight range for my height), and just generally felt worse than the year before, and the year before that. You get the idea.
31 arrived so fast after 30 that I barely had time to have identity angst over it. Losing over 45 pounds and a long elimination diet was putting me back on a road of feeling better, though now, another 2 years later, I am realizing just how far I had to go. Interestingly, I just went back and looked to see if I had written anything on this blog around my birthday that year and found this post, where I had a picture of this collage:
I had completely forgotten about this collage. In fact, this was completely one of those this-is-why-I-blog moments – it allows me to easily find stuff like that in the past. I only wish I had done something similar around my 32nd birthday, though that birthday was a bit of a fiasco, which was redeemed by celebrating it for the subsequent month. I bought some new clothes, since I had lost another 15 pounds that year, and generally had a nice birthday, three weeks after the fact.
And, it is kind of neat to look back at what images and words attracted me. The “Toss Your Type” quote is particularly interesting to me – several times in my life, doctors, after listening to my list of “I work 10-12 hours a day, gets lots of sleep, yet I am always achy and tired and my stomach hurts” would tell me things along the lines of “you’re the smart type who doesn’t exercise enough” or “of course your stomach hurts, you are stressed out because you are in law school” or “lawyers always have these energy issues and they don’t like to exercise.” I think the worse one of all of them was the “you are just one of those smart, but low-energy types.” It was frustrating – I truly did not feel like I had enough energy to exercise.
When I cut out “Toss your Type” to put on the collage, it was because I was sick of all my clothes. As it turns out, though, other things have changed. I used to be far from naturally inclined to move, much less exercise. Over the last three years, this had gotten better, as I wrote about in this piece on self-care and movement. That said, I always considered birthdays to be a day where exercise was not mandatory, and this year I decided to change that. Instead of sleeping in (I took the day off) I got up and went to 7am yoga (when I got home from yoga I did get back into bed after showering and having a Red White and Blue Smoothie). Then my husband and I went for a very long walk around the city (he also took the day off), had lunch out, enjoyed walking around in beautiful weather. Then, I went home, changed, and went to Zumba, which has become one of my favorite things this year. Post-Zumba (which was a wee bit intense), my husband picked me up and we walked another 2+ miles to go to dinner and back.
So on my 33rd birthday, I went to a 7am yoga class, walked a total of over 6 miles and did an intense Zumba class. That is more activity then I could or wanted to do in a week 3 years ago, and was a nice way to celebrate a new year. I am still the type to prefer a good book over exercise, but I do get a lot of satisfaction out of knowing I have the energy to move more and that continues to give me the incentive to keep moving, as does the fact that I have found a combination of exercise (lots of yoga, long walks, Zumba and the elliptical) which is fun and works for me.
General Disclosures & Disclaimers