First and foremost, when I was twenty, I was just barely coping with massive, suffocating, undiagnosed bipolar II depression, which was accompanied by paralyzing social anxiety and a general anxiety level so savage that it was akin to being eaten alive. In college, people thought I was quiet and responsible. That was the outward manifestation of my constant, grueling effort to keep things together. Fortunately, when I was twenty-two I finally reached the point where I couldn't cope any longer. It may sound strange to anyone who hasn't had to live with extreme levels of depression and anxiety, but undergoing a total breakdown was the best thing that ever happened to me. It meant I got diagnosed and I got treatment. I came to understand that my years of unhappiness and anxiety stemmed not from a deeply flawed personality, but from a natural, biological brain chemistry imbalance. The medication took some years to work out, but it has absolutely changed my life for the better and I am so grateful that I am no longer at the mercy of my brain chemistry. With that and extremely effective therapy, I am capable of a baseline level of happiness that I had no idea even existed prior to treatment. I consider myself so lucky to have been diagnosed and to have found successful treatment at what is really a very young age. Even though I have occasional mood symptoms (usually caused by some change in my migraine medication) and chronic daily headaches, that's nothing compared to the daily emotional agony that was my life at twenty!
And because I am no longer bound by the heavy chains of my anxiety, I have accomplished things that at twenty would have been unthinkable. I am a small business owner, for example. My business may be composed of a camera, my computer, and a file cabinet, and while it may not generate any revenue at all some months, it's official. I have a business license, a resale license, I pay taxes, I have a business bank account, a business credit card, and I have a business plan. My business? Selling my art! I would never have imagined when I was twenty, even though I was studying art at the time, that I might someday be selling it! I was so shy and insecure that I couldn't stand to have all but a very few select people even see my work. I was trapped in a constant battle between my need to create and my need to conceal what I created. And while I was compelled to write just as I was compelled to create, I couldn't really fathom doing something so public as getting published. I couldn't think of anything more humiliating that having my name connected to a piece of writing. Adopting a nom de plume seemed to be the only solution and my preferred one was "Souris," the French word for mouse. I would be so surprised, at the age of twenty, to hear that by the age of thirty I had submitted a manuscript to a publisher under my own name! I would have been surprised, too, to hear that it was a children's book, since serious "literary" fiction was more my thing. But I have followed life where it has taken me and since I find myself currently unable to think clearly enough to do the sort of fiction writing I'd done in the past, a children's book it is, and with another one hopefully soon to follow. My twenty-year-old self could have never conceived such a reality!
I think, too, that at thirty I look every bit as good as I did at twenty, if not better. Sure, my hair has turned from black to gray, but that was expected, and I look good with gray hair. The best thing is that now that I'm not so anxious, I carry myself with confidence and pride. I can take pleasure in how I look and I enjoy, at last, being looked at. I always had a sense of style, but was trapped between my innate desire to dress well and my overwhelming wish to be invisible. Now I go out and enjoy knocking them dead! (Well, not so much anymore. One of things I miss being able to do the most is to wear awesome clothes. I just don't have energy to dress up, much less go anywhere.) It should be noted that I'm also no longer painfully thin. For years and years I struggled to gain or even maintain weight with little success. Sometimes I was able to put on enough flesh to be called "slender," but most of the time I was just plain skinny. I look so much better now that I've been able to keep some pounds on. Between a healthy weight and an even healthier dose of confidence, I'd say that thirty is looking much hotter than twenty and having a lot more fun with it, too!
My sister took this portrait of me for my 29th birthday.
And while it would be nice to have a place of my own, I've accepted that at this time, it just isn't possible. I focus instead on being grateful for the support I have. My parents are financially able to take care of me. They were able to afford the multiple therapy sessions per week not covered by my insurance back when I was first getting my mental health sorted out. All that intensive dialectical behavior therapy made a huge difference in my ability to cope with my depression and anxiety and the skills I learned then have made it possible for me to see the positives now, even though I've lost my ability to be independent. They've also been able to pay for my health insurance and for all my medication, without which life would be impossible. I have been so incredibly lucky to have their financial support! But their emotional support has been just as rich. My parents (and my sister, too) love me and accept me for exactly who I am, are medically literate and so have a good understanding my health problems, respect me and deal with me as an adult, like me as a person, and yet have also figured out how to provide care when I need it. We get along so well, perfectly and compassionately understand each other's weaknesses, value each other's strengths, and enjoy one another's company. It's no punishment at all to be living with my parents.
Also, I have the dog I need. I will have many other wonderful dogs in my lifetime, but I've been so fortunate to have Abbey right now. She's mellow enough that she doesn't chafe at the slow pace of my life, has a jubilant playful streak, loves to be petted and has wonderfully soft fur, yodels when she's happy, is always ready to interact with her expressive face and responsive tail, likes nothing better than to cuddle with me if I need to be in bed during the day, loves me with an incredible intensity, and has taught me so much about the simplicity of joy. Without her, I would not be nearly so able to find contentment in my daily life.
Abbey and I are all smiles after a trip to the lake last summer.
In a funny way, I'm glad that I had never made firm plans about where I'd be at any particular age. I had no specific goals for thirty. My intention had been to follow my passions and to see where they took me, and while there have been many unforeseen obstacles, I have followed my passions, and now I have an expanding business of selling my photography, I'm working on children's books, and I have a million other creative projects in mind that I believe will eventually see the light--all with my name on them. How cool is that? It's way more than I had dreamed would be possible back when I was twenty!
So while I may not be able to get out much and I can only do little bits of work at a time and sometimes there will be days or weeks when my mind hardly seems to work at all and of course there's the whole problem of pain and of there being no particular hope of the migraines abating and no further treatment options, I'm so happy to be here. Thirty looks better, feels better, and has so much more potential than twenty could have ever imagined.