Today is my 32nd birthday. What a strange, controversial age. People have a lot of opinions about what someone in her 30s is or isn’t, what she is allowed to have and what she can never have. Depending on who you ask, 30-somethings are ancient or young. It’s no big deal, or the biggest deal of all the deals ever. They also say your 30s are when you move past the mistakes of your 20s and begin to feel confident in who you are. I don’t know who this amorphous “they” are, but that one has been an accurate description of my 30s experience so far. Good and grounded. Upward and onward.
In keeping with this introspective era I find myself in, I decided to write one of those “x amount of things I’d tell my younger self” pieces but with my own spin. Instead of 32 things I’d say, I decided to picture myself in a conference room with myself at all previous ages I’ve been so far. Thirty-one Annas.
This is a room full of anxious people. Anna 19 is eating a whole bag of Milano cookies out of her purse. Anna 4 is hiding behind the coffee station and scratching her arms through the socks safety-pinned over her hands all the way to her sleeves. Anna 14 can’t believe what Anna 13, who can’t stop giggling, is wearing. Anna 28 is breathing into a paper bag. Nervously shuffling my papers, I take deep breaths because I’ve never been any good at public speaking. And here we go.
Hello, everyone. Let’s get started. Here are some things I want you to know.
I know you all love food, so I’ll start there. There will be more and more foods you’ll discover you can’t eat across your lifetime for medical reasons, and it will make you feel discouraged. Then you’ll randomly try grilling cheese (aka halloumi), and your sadness will all fade away.
Growing up means you can eat foods you only had on special occasions whenever you want. Grapefruit, artichokes, cinnamon butter anytime! It’s like Christmas, whenever you want! You’re going to love it!
Believe me or not, you will actually come to think of fruit as a good dessert. You think that’s ridiculous now, but just you wait. You’ll still eat ice cream, but not everyday. Strawberries or apples will be just as nice sometimes.
You will weigh many different weights in your lifetime, and you’ll spend years worrying about the too much or the not enough of every part of your body. But your body is the machine that lets you pet cats, stomp on crunchy leaves, walk with a friend, and bury your face in your husband’s shoulder. Be kind to your machine.
I’m about to tell you something that will shock you. Nothing bad happens when you stop tweezing your eyebrows altogether. Seriously! Society doesn’t shun you. Children don’t throw rocks. Save yourself decades of worry and skip to the part when you don’t care anymore.
You’re going to use excuses like it’s cost effective and fun, but cutting your own hair can get out of hand quickly. Suddenly cutting all your hair off does not automatically make you Audrey Hepburn from Roman Holiday. Anna 27 is trying to give herself another pixie cut in the back of the room as I speak right now. Back away from those scissors! You’re rarely deciding to cut your hair when you are in a patient, relaxed state of mind, but when you’re coming from an emotionally charged place.
When it comes to clothes, wear whatever you want to wear. Clothes, accessories, and makeup are much simpler than you think they are. I know your options are limited before college, but as soon as you’re able, explore! If you’re interested in trying something, try it. Buy that choker necklace you’ve wanted since the 90s. There’s no such thing as too old. Somebody you don’t know makes those rules up, and that somebody is assuredly not fun to hang out with. Life is too short not to wear leggings with cats on them at least once.
It might feel like it’ll never happen, but you are going to surround yourself with real people. I know you give names and personalities to every inanimate object around you, but you will slowly put that aside as you interact with people who love you. You won’t need those five stuffed monkeys with you at all times anymore.
Now is a good time to tell you about “Two Truths & A Lie.” Write this one down. “Two Truths & A Lie” is a terrible ice breaker game you will unfortunately be forced to play a half dozen times, which is a half dozen times more than is fun. This game will never not be the worst. Come up with some quick and snappy answers ahead of time to save yourself a half dozen moments of anxiety.
Some friendships will end, but your world will go on. You’ll feel sad and often blame yourself, but in time, you’ll process these experiences and learn all kinds of things about yourself and how to build healthier, stronger relationships in the future.
On the other side of the coin, some friendships that you think are gone will find new life and new growth. Not all of them, but that’s not what matters. You’ll reconnect over more than just the past; they’ll lift you up in the here and now.
Speaking of friendship, people have to earn friendship and intimacy. They don’t have a right to your personal space, personal history, and emotional resources. Hold them to expectations of reciprocity and mutual respect. This boundary is crucial to your safety. Emotional, physical, and otherwise. Anna 18, you waited your whole life to meet people and make friends, but you need to learn to be careful. That whole “people show you who they are, so believe them” thing is true. Don’t make up excuses for others. If someone lets you down over and over again, accept what they’re showing you.
“No” and “I can’t” are words you can use to take care of yourself and be honest with others. Keep them in your back pocket. If someone chooses to interpret these as “I don’t care,” that’s their choice and responsibility, not yours. This kind of person is often one of the people who only value you as a “human doing” (to borrow a term from my therapist) and focus on what they can get from you. You’re not a human doing, you’re a human being. The people who matter will love you for who you are and nothing more.
I know it’s a lot to take in, but you will have a support system to help you process things to come. You’re going to get better. Just remember that it’s easier to take small steps than jump the entire way at once. Show yourself kindness while you’re working towards something. Therapy is like putting your own oxygen mask on before you try to help others put theirs on. Taking care of yourself has to be the first priority, because it doesn’t do anyone (much less you) any favors when you don’t.
This one is a shout-out to Anna 14. I see you! You’re spending a lot of time practicing fancy signatures that spell out “Mrs. Legolas Greenleaf,” and I need you to know that this love will never be. Also, who you actually marry is way, way better. I realize that you can’t imagine that being possible. Trust me. Read on.
After some of the worst things ever to happen to you happen, you’ll meet the best one. Some of you know him already, but for those of you who haven’t, get excited. This will be especially hard for Anna 21 to hope for, because every time someone comes near her, she bursts out crying. Girlfriend, it’s going to be okay, I promise! He will love you through all of your ups and downs. You will do stupid things from time to time like slam doors and shout, “Grow up!” in his face. Yeah, you’ll do that once. You’ll feel pretty dumb immediately. The point is that while it will never entirely make sense to you as to why he’s still here, he is. He’s the best thing in your life. He cooks, too.
It’s not your job to fix, give closure to, or otherwise make an abusive person feel better about what they’ve done. It is your right to choose to not talk to or be around that person. You don’t have to give anyone reasons, and your reasons don’t need to make sense to anyone but you. People who tell you otherwise do not have your best interests at heart. It doesn’t matter if these people are your friends, your religious leadership, or your family. They are wrong.
In terms of family, you will draw your own boundaries with your parents. It’s hard to believe right now, I know, but you will. You will make your own rules and take control of your life. It will be one of the best choices you’ll ever make.
Another choice I recommend (and arguably one of my key points today) is to skip watching Back To The Future and Ghostbusters. Everyone will tell you for years that they’re amazing and that you missed out as a child, but then you’ll actually watch them. Break free of my timeline, rip a hole in the continuum, and save yourself by not watching these highly overrated movies. Keep those hours of your life for something else.
I’ve said a lot, but I saved the most important thing for last. There will be moments in your life that feel desperate and hopeless. But that’s all they are – moments. You will always pass through them and see the other side again.
Thank you all for coming. Annas 1-29, please take a complimentary birthday cupcake on your way out. Anna 30 and Anna 31, please take a complimentary dry and flavorless gluten free oat brick cookie.