I can't work out why turning forty is becoming a big deal for me. I'm in a really good place with a gorgeous family and the job of my dreams, but I guess things are never that simple...
I've been a hypochondriac since the age of five when I thought I was having a heart attack in the back of my parents' car. They couldn't work out why I was so hysterical, and I couldn't work out why they were laughing when I told them I couldn't feel my heart beating in my chest. From that day on I've been aware of my mortality and throughout my teenagers years developed OCD as a coping mechanism of sorts. I self diagnosed tumours, appendicitis, diabetes and many, many other ailments learnt from TV shows or books. But none of them proved to be true and I can only thank the Lord that Google wasn't around in those days or I don't know what on earth I'd have convinced myself I had.
And recently, aged thirty-nine I had a bit of a panic when a random blood sugar level test came back abnormally high. My life flashed before me again (yes, I am over dramatic when it comes to my health, did I not mention that?) and I spent hours crying over what I had done to my body by comfort eating and binge drinking over the years. And I was faced with my mortality all over again, and then I thought, is this it? Is this what the next forty years holds? One health scare after another as I age? And the fear consumed me for days and yet I couldn't put my finger on why I was finding this more terrifying then anything else.
And then I had a light bulb moment.
I was about to enter the decade my dad was in when he died. He was forty-eight. Eight years older than I am now and in no way ready to take his last breath. And then I think of a dear friend who passed away aged forty-one, leaving behind the most beautiful six-year old daughter.
Shit happens. And the older we get statistically it means that more shit is likely to happen.
And I'm not ready.
When you're younger your life is defined by short periods of time. The run up to Christmas or your birthday. A term at school or two-week holiday. Two years for GCSEs or four years at university. And then the timings get longer. The length of an engagement. A pregnancy.
But what about when all of that is done? When you have all the children you are ever going to have and you no longer study. When suddenly the timings of your life are defined by you, and years can pass in the blink of an eye if you're not careful. Children grow up far too quickly and new wrinkles form before you've grown accustomed to the old ones. Days can be frighteningly similar - we are all creatures of habit - and roll into each other until before you know it another year has gone by.
And I don't want to reach seventy and wonder where all of that time went and what I spent it doing. I want it all to count. To mean something. Because life is too blinking short and if I'm privileged enough to make into the glorious state of being a geriatric then I'd like to know I achieved something in my life on the way there.
So is that the reason forty seems so huge? Because now the onus is on me to push myself and do the achieving? To be the grown up and part of an older generation? And right now, that responsibility feels huge to me. I feel I need to make every day count and to not waste a single second and I am putting so much pressure on myself that I even felt guilty for having a half an hour nap earlier today, which is ridiculous.
There's nothing wrong with napping, or not making every day all singing and dancing like something out of a musical. I need to take a step back and breath life in instead of trying to cram it all down my throat. Every day I feed my children, do their physio and take them to school is an achievement. Every day I write a piece of flash fiction, a short story, or have a breakthrough with a novel plotting issue is an achievement. It doesn't have to always be the big things. It can be the small stuff too. I need to revel in the fact that I had a free half hour to nap and refresh my body and brain. And not feel guilty for eating too much damn cake.
But most of all I need to embrace my upcoming fortieth birthday. I have made a list of forty new things I'd like to do in my fortieth year and they aren't all big, life changing things. They are experiences. Some that involve friends, some family, and some I will do alone.
And I will do them all with a wrinkly smile on my face, because turning forty is a big deal.