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Adrift at 36

Updated: Feb 4, 2023

I don't know exactly when my mental health took a turn, but safe to say, for the majority of the first 30 years of my life I was deeply depressed and completely untreated.

For the last 6-7 years I have been on antidepressants and generally more stable than ever before. I don't know that depression is curable but I have a job, a partner, a home and am free of debt. On the whole, I know I am not only doing better than my 25-year-old self but also many other people. I know I am fortunate.

And that leaves us here, with the relative reasoning in the rearview mirror and the indulgent despair on the horizon. Fair warning.

I know I didn't change overnight, I know people are constantly changing. But on the day of my 36th birthday, I realised the sum of many parts that made up a significant change in my life.

Some of the changes were (albeit devastatingly) cosmetic but nothing that dropping a couple of hundred dollars on skincare wouldn't assuage, for a while anyway. I was never one to bounce out of bed, yet certainly, the morning routine was a little more gruelling this year than it was last year. I bought my first MacBook and was genuinely shocked that I couldn't easily adapt to a different operating system. In what was probably the most confronting moment of aging so far; while standing anxiously in the shop asking to swap it for an HP, I genuinely hoped they wouldn't ask me why.

But these are the changes you expect, probably especially as a woman. A lifetime of social conditioning prepared me to accept that the end of youth is, well, about now. I knew that was coming.

What I didn't see coming was the terrifying loneliness of being an adult.

As a child, there were lots of people to help me. Parents, Aunties, Uncles, Grandparents, teachers, even the odd kind stranger. I was looked after. I realise this is a huge privilege and not everyone's experience. I am grateful that it was mine.

As a teen, some of these relationships frayed but they didn't break. I had trouble making friends but I had some very loving adults around to cheer me on and cheer me up. As low as I ever got, I always felt like someone was behind me, ready to catch me before I hit bottom.

After a wild ride in my early 20s, my parents helped to finesse my attitude, my finances and my goals. Through my 20s I met wonderful people. Peers and partners. I felt invincible so I didn't need anyone to look after me. But I knew they were there.

In my early 30's, bit by bit, I began to realise that my parents didn't have all the answers. I came upon situations that they hadn't experienced and didn't understand. I became fully aware of their imperfect humanity. I finally saw them as just two people who knew as much about living as anyone else. It's not a criticism, it's a fact about all of us.

As my friends age with me, their lives become more complicated. Relationships, children, careers, health, debts the list goes on and on relentlessly. Maybe I was just really selfish in my 20's (I was) but back then it felt like everyone's drama was everyone's drama. There was nothing we didn't talk about. There was always something to celebrate or commiserate. It doesn't feel like that now.

I used to always feel like someone was behind me.

When I woke up at 36, it felt like all the safety nets were gone. Like I had seen behind the magicians trick and all the parents and teachers and bosses and elders who I thought knew more were suddenly exposed. A beautiful illusion turned hideous revelation.

It's been 179 days since my birthday. I haven't figured out how I am going to make this better. Yet.

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