This is a photo taken of me on July 19, 2019, at the precise moment I turned 40. I look relatively okay with it all, don’t I? I look relatively well-adjusted. I think it’s reasonable to assume you could look at that photo and say, “This is a woman who is ready to dive headfirst into her forties with a confidence which comes from knowing her best years are ahead of her.” (If you actually make analytical comments like that when looking at photos of other people, please stop. It’s creepy.)
Photos are sometimes horrible liars.
The truth is, 40 hit me hard. Now, a week out, I’m beginning to come to terms with it. I’m certainly not to the point of embracing it yet, but I have at least acknowledged within myself that there is nothing I can really do about it. And you may be saying to yourself, “It’s taken her a week to realize and acknowledge that there is nothing she can do about it?” (Again: creepy.) I mean, of course I knew that. But I was also still living in a bit of denial and with a whole lot of resistance.
I don’t know why, exactly. I’m not one who usually gets caught up in the numbers and such. When I turned 35 I was convinced it was the last age at which I would actually have to be concerned with the number. (Because I was finally qualified to be elected President, of course.) I remember thinking then that from then on out I just got to live life. (With a brief, minor milestone due to occur in two years, in anticipation of To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday movie references…) Sure, I wouldn’t get to enjoy some of the fun celebrations that came with those milestone birthdays, but there was also a genuine satisfaction in knowing that the rest of my life–the majority of my life–was going to be an uninterrupted block of time during which I could accomplish…everything.
I’m not sure what changed in the course of the last five years.
As I approached 40, I was full of dread. Actual, legitimate, irrational dread. I began to feel as if my best years were behind me–and I hadn’t even been elected President yet. (I’d had 5 years! How much more time would I waste?!) To tell you the truth, I began to spiral out of control somewhat.
Now, don’t get me wrong. My downward spiral was probably nothing nearly as dramatic as what you’re picturing. (Seriously, stop psychoanalyzing me, you creep!) I didn’t buy a convertible or run off to Europe to eat my way through my depression. I simply bought a new laptop and ran off to the midwestern United States to eat my way through my little birthday funk.
See? Totally different.
Truthfully, the biggest outward evidence of my funk was the fact that I have very nearly disappeared from social media. I mean, I’ve still been marketing my books. My career as an author depends in part, I figure, on my ability to market my books even when I’m a gloomy Gus. But I haven’t been able to bring myself to do much more than that. Readers have tagged me in their wonderful reviews and posts about my books, and as much as I treasure that, I haven’t been able to muster up the energy to reply. Friends have made comments that instantly made me think of inside jokes, but I’ve just silently smiled and made mental notes to reach out to them soon. So many people sent me birthday wishes, and it took all I had in me to piece together one general post of appreciation–despite the fact that I did, in fact, feel so appreciative.
The thing is, I don’t want to fake it. I refuse to fake it. If you read my books or follow me online, you may have a certain impression of my personality in your head. (I find this decidedly less creepy than the aforementioned analyzation.) I love romance. I love comedy. I have a pop culture reference for every situation. I’m generally happy, abundantly blessed, and I need social interaction. That’s my writing style and that’s my social media persona, but that’s also, more than anything, just me. What you see is what you get. Like it or not.
Here lately, for the first time, my social media persona and I have not been the same person. But like I said, I won’t fake it. So I sort of disappeared.
And yeah…I did run away from home for a little while. It was a trip that included multiple book events, fantastic visits with friends, meetings and brainstorming sessions with my amazing publishing team, treasured experiences and conversations with my sister and parents, the opportunity to meet with new author pals, one-on-one time with Galapagos tortoises, and an in-depth conversation with George Clooney’s mom. (I’m not even kidding. I’ll be sharing all about that trip very soon via my newsletter, so click HERE and make sure you’re subscribed! And if you’re not interested in the stories…DESPITE THE FACT THAT GEORGE CLOONEY’S MOM LITERALLY SANG “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” TO ME…at least subscribe for the giveaway I’ll be having, only for newsletter subscribers.)
The purpose of the trip was completely legitimate, and wasn’t actually all about hiding my feelings under the mountain of cheddar cheese that tops a Cincinnati-style coney. But the timing of the trip did reek, at least somewhat, of mid-life crisis. As I told my husband, I couldn’t imagine staying home and turning 40 in a way that would make the birthday just seem like every other day, or even every other birthday. In my heart of hearts, there was something powerful about the idea of doing something remarkable–not really to celebrate the birthday, but to remind myself that life itself is still, in spite of 40, quite remarkable.
Again, I’ll tell you all about that trip in my newsletter. It really was fantastic. But did it get me out of my funk? Yeah…I don’t know. Mostly, I think. At the very least it allowed me to refresh and recharge. But believe it or not, the most funk-shattering thing has been being back home. Not because anything has changed, but because I’m beginning to realize nothing has changed. That’s not the depressing realization I thought it would be. And that realization hasn’t been impactful to me just because it’s made me realize 40 is just a number. No…I knew that already.
It’s been impactful because God is moving in big and powerful ways in my life, and He’s making it abundantly clear each and every day that He’s still got a lot of work for me to do. There are people to reach–people to love–and there are stories to tell. There are barriers to break through, goals to accomplish, and dreaming yet to do. And when I’m sitting here in a funk, refusing to acknowledge all of that because it’s easier to throw a pity party, I’m just wasting time. Time that I now view as more valuable than ever before, because…40. I know that I’m going to blink again and my kids will be adults. One day I’m going to turn around and suddenly know that I have less time ahead of me than I do behind me. And I can’t allow myself to reach that point with regret.
So it may take be a little while to get caught up on social media–if I ever do. And I may not feel like it for a while…just in general. But there’s an excitement that comes from knowing I’m ready to get moving, whether I feel like it or not. There’s no other choice, really.
There’s just too much to do.