In a few hours from now, I will be seeing the end of a three parts tumultuous and two parts rewarding decade. Yes, I’m turning 30 in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic – and I’ve never been less prepared for the change. I’ve always been someone who finds some way to celebrate their birthday in spite of the blues, but this time, I’m thinking of canceling not just the cake, but the very event itself. Blame it on the growing normalization of cancel culture.
While I’ve been dreading this birthday over the past one year, COVID-19 has only made the impending transition jump from 29 to 30 more frightening. The fear in my mind exists for a myriad of reasons, reasons that go beyond the typical ‘oh I’m officially old in the eyes of society’ school of thought.
Of course, the fear of aging is very real for me, more so because I’m a childless Indian woman who’s supposedly tainted by a divorce, but this isn’t only a youth-related issue. Of course, growing old is daunting in itself thanks to social standards that correlate youth with relevance and for femalekind, with beauty as well. Still, I’d rather have one thing to fixate on than ten, because just like lasagna, my apprehension comes in multiple layers. Allow me to try and explain. There are so many rules and isms about turning 3-0 like ‘30, flirty, and thriving’, and given that some of them are personally aspirational, I don’t know which ones to reject and which ones to embrace.
Here’s my biggest issue at the moment: our sense of normalcy has been snatched away due to the pandemic. People like me, who have mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, or even “normal” people who are stressed out in general, have unlearned healthy coping mechanisms. Worse, we have fallen back into/taken up unhealthy habits to cope with the new normal. For example, many people are abusing alcohol these days. In my case, my sleep schedule has become a thing of the past.
We’re supposed to progress over time, but I’m regressing instead. Forget about adulting, I’m struggling to hold back my inner teen from taking over. So much for 30 being an age by which I’m supposed to have achieved the milestones of marriage and kids, followed by homeownership and inner peace for life. Among a gamut of other things, of course, because 30 is apparently old enough to get one’s life together.
I know all of this is part of an obsolete social construct but has knowledge ever stopped feelings before? Plus, the ‘tomorrow never comes’ school of thought that I have always believed in now has a very real threat attached to it. Not only can anyone get infected and you know, die, but also nature has ruthlessly taken away livelihoods and career growth without any warning. The global economy, while never great in my time, is now a raging dumpster fire. My life plans have been ruined on such a grand scale that I might never dare to dream again. Again, I know I’m not alone in my suffering, and that millions have it worse, but that doesn’t make it any less horrible.
It feels like the apocalypse has come upon us, and unlike the movies, we’re living life while more or less pretending everything is normal. This is not the role I signed up for when I used to wish for the end of days in pre-pandemic life. Cinema always showed people wildly running around in survival mode, with little to no regard for civility. What are we doing instead? Working from home sans a life outside the four walls of our homes.
Of course, I’m grateful for having an income and a roof to live under, even if the latter belongs to my parents and not me. But hey, just because I’m privileged enough to do work I enjoy from the comfort of my home does not mean it is easy. Work-life balance and productivity are harder now than ever — despite the fact that I’ve been working from home since 2017. And yes, my income has taken a major hit as well.
Oddly enough, my woes are tinged with a sense of relief. Because we are in a pandemic, I know its more than okay to not be okay right now. Still, my rational side never fails to get judgmental and loves to send me on guilt trips. Intrusive thoughts like ‘you are using the pandemic as an excuse to act out’ and ‘work harder, everyone else is’ plague me.
I’m a woman of contradictions and COVID-19 has made me even more…contradictory. While I feel reckless, I also feel shame. At times I am ambitious, at times I am in the throes of nihilism. But the worst part is that I do not have an answer to the question: what will the next year bring for me? In the past five years, I’ve been through a bad relationship, a messy divorce, crippling depression, and ended up as an accidental entrepreneur with a hint of impostor syndrome. I dipped my toe in the dating pool last year, but nothing has panned out so far owing to trust issues and now, little time or energy for anyone else, Instead of coming together, life seems to be falling apart.
As the b-day looms closer, I unravel a little more. Essentially because I have no answer to the question: what next? Further studies, traveling, even going to a local mall, all seem unlikely, and this omnipresent uncertainty makes everything so terrifying. Will the world still be standing next year? Nobody knows.
I’m unsorted, unsettled, unsatisfied — three things I never thought I’d be by this age. Heck, I never thought I’d be a publicly known spoonie! Yes, life sure has not gone according to my plans. But there’s no denying that I’m at my personal best because I’m wildly, unapologetically authentic. I’ve grown beyond my wildest dreams despite all the trauma I’ve been through. Most importantly, I’ve accepted that I’m not perfect and will always be a work in progress.
Still, I’m not ready to turn 30.