Emotions & Shame

Beating the Birthday Blues

“Birthdays, schmirthdays,” says this woman with ADHD. “As I grow older, I want to keep on being me, attention deficit and all.”

Birthdays, schmirthdays! They’ve never held much emotion for me, positive or negative (with the single exception of Sweet Sixteen when I could finally drive).

But Sunday will be different. On that day, I will have been been taking up space on this planet for six decades. Notice how carefully I sidestepped the actual number? It brings up a raspy lump in my throat and a shudder in my shoulders, this upcoming milestone.

It is, after all, just another threshold in life. They crop up periodically, reminding me that time ticks by at an alarming pace. But heretofore, those thresholds have been entrees to new, exciting worlds. Oh! I’m 30, now I am a real grownup! Oh! I’m 40, now I’m running my own business! Oh! I’m 50, now my kids are grown and out of the house!

This passage holds less allure. Oh! I’m 60, now I’m headed for old age! What a thrill. Not really. Not so much. Not at all.

My friends, who love me dearly, try to dismiss my concern with breezy platitudes. “Haven’t you heard? 60 is the new 50!” they chirp. I am not amused, nor reassured. A few years younger than me, they aren’t yet staring into the abyss of the next 30 years which will inevitably include decline instead of acceleration. And while I am widely and fondly known as the Empress of Positivity, it’s brick wall truth that I won’t escape alive, regardless of my smiley face stickers.

I know it’s popular to skip over these serious conversations. Talking about the end of life is a downer. It pulls into full view the immutable fact that we are going to die. There, I’ve said it out loud. We are not gods from Mt. Olympus. We are mere mortals and that means an end to these fascinating lives of ours.

For each of us, there will be a teetering moment of raw, blinding insight into the starkness of our futures. It might not be a milestone birthday. It might be a time-stands-still doctor’s appointment with a terrifying diagnosis. It might be the death of a spouse or a best friend. But our preview of the end will snap us all to attention at some point, no matter how hard we look the opposite direction or stick our fingers in our ears singing “la-la-la” like five-year-olds. Ignoring age doesn’t change it.

Last Sunday I participated in the last of four richly rewarding sessions about the end of life. We sat in a sacred circle and discussed the difficult decisions. End of life directives and the ambiguity of a DNR (do not resuscitate). Our own funeral arrangements. Dealing with family members. There is a lot to consider. And I forced myself to look at all of it: the pain, the fear, the sadness, the joy.

Perhaps it is my long-held belief that information gives me power over the unknown, that prods me into such riveting self examination. Perhaps I want to make sense of this shapeless destiny. Planning my next 30 years must include the inevitable conclusion of my life. There is some comfort in having a measure of control about this final journey. When I can embrace the end, I can more fully enjoy the “now.”

I admit that I haven’t yet made clear choices about what I envision as a “good death.” In perfect alignment with my ADHD, I am procrastinating. If I procrastinate long enough, the choices will be out of my hands and that’s not acceptable. So I will sit down with the “Five Wishes” and try to imagine who and what I want near me as I fade.

Honestly, I don’t want to fight getting older. I want to embrace it with gusto. I want to be one of those feisty old broads who wears her floppy hats tilted at an angle and who spends her time digging potatoes and writing pithy editorials. (Hey, maybe I’m already one of those feisty old broads!) I want to be active and funny and energetic and sharp as a tack. I want to keep on being me, I suppose. As long as my good health holds and my ADHD brain keeps whirring, I’ll do just that.

Sunday, both my eighty-six-year-old dad and my two-year-old granddaughter will be here to celebrate my birthday (my mom will join us via Skype for virtual cake and ice cream). And I will treasure every precious moment of it, basking in the warmth of family. Eventually, though, the ice cream will melt. My dad and granddaughter will return to their respective homes. And I will be 60. All year long. Until I’m 61. Then 62 and 70 and 80 and 90. Perhaps even 100.

I’ll look back on this day and marvel at how young I was then and how silly I was to worry about getting older. I might fret that I’m getting closer to the end of my life with every birthday. And my dear friends will tell me, “Haven’t you heard? 100 is the new 80!”

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