‘To celebrate birthdays is to celebrate life’
Life can feel pretty good if you’re a bit morbid about it
Hello if you’re new here, and hello if you’re not! My name is Tiffany, and I turned 34 two weeks ago. Here’s what I wrote on the day.
My hesitancy to celebrate my birthday throughout my twenties had come from a mix of social anxiety and the memory that it was so soon after my birthday that Richard had died. I also found his birthday, every year, very difficult. I still do.
Before my twenty-ninth birthday, I told my friend Sophie that I wasn’t going to do anything for it and she said, ‘Nooo. You must. To celebrate birthdays is to celebrate life.’
Extract from my book, Totally Fine (and other lies I’ve told myself)
My birthday is always a time of reflection for me. I write to live an examined life, but why am I so interested in ‘life’ in the first place?
When I look at other people’s work, there tends to be a thread that ties it together - a tension that exists within themselves that they’re trying to make sense of, or a problem they’re trying to solve. Often, they’re unaware of it. Speaking for myself, I think I’m trying to work out how to ‘do’ life and how to make the most of my time on this earth. I think I’m trying to balance a need to strive, grow and improve while also being present and focused on what’s in front of me. I think I want to be happy and at peace, but also not terribly bored. I know I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to work this tension out.
To be alive and to live another year is a gift. I was twenty years old and living in a student house when I saw my first dead body. My good friend and housemate’s heart had just stopped in the middle of the night. Every day that we live is so precious and it’s scary to think too hard about that, but it’s also so important to do so. That’s why the final chapter in my book is called ‘Celebrating Life’: it’s something we must do.
My birthday and my writing are intertwined. A birthday is a celebration of the first day of your life and I write about life. My writing also pivots around my traumatic experience of my boyfriend killing himself not long after my twentieth birthday. The final scene in my memoir about the impact his death had on me is set at my 30th birthday; this newsletter started around the time of my 31st.
I can feel quite agitated in the build-up to my birthday. It’s always a bit of a checkpoint, and I always think about what my life was like ‘this time last year’. This time around, I’m delighted with the changes that have happened in the last year. In the past, I’ve been frustrated with where I’m at, but from money to relationship and many things in between, I’m closing many gaps of longing (and stress). Those gaps have been painful for me in the past. I’m grateful that this newsletter has documented so much of that path so I can go back and remind myself of it. It helps me to have gratitude on the hard days because even when all around us is well, we still have bad days and feel all the feelings.
But despite all this gratitude, which is definitely the vibe of today’s birthday newsletter, I’m also very aware that I’m getting older. The change of the number of your age is a reminder that our time is passing. As the number goes up, we’re reminded that we are counting down to our last breath. It’s impossible not to feel feelings about this, and I allow myself to do so. I don’t shame or silence myself. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that if you try and push anything down, its power over you only grows. I find it so powerful to admit my fears and say them out loud. More powerful still to write about them.
The other week, I wrote about the longing of wanting children while not feeling ready for them, and how risky it all feels when you’re dating in your thirties as your body clock ticks away. Since publishing that, I’ve stopped thinking about it. I can move on.
So have I worked out how to ‘do’ life at 34? I believe in living an examined life in whatever way suits you. Whether it’s creativity, talking to someone or journaling, just finding a place to acknowledge and deposit your fears will soothe them. Mix that with a lot of gratitude driven by the morbid thoughts that most of us are too scared to live up to and life can feel pretty good. Bring on the next birthday!
Read what I wrote last year! 33 lessons at 33: Some wisdom that's carrying me through as I age