The Birthday I’ve Been Dreading:: Honest Thoughts on Turning 40

Today is my 40th birthday. To be honest, I’ve been dreading this day for months, to the point where it’s caused actual anxiety and low-key depression. What’s weird is I am decidedly not a birthday person- I have no interest in big parties and the attention that comes simply for making another trip around the sun. In fact, a few years ago I removed my birthday from my Facebook profile. The lack of all-day notifications from acquaintances who really have no idea when my birthday is gives me an I’m beating the system inner peace every October 13. But this year is different. Turning 40 is a big deal, right? And I am conflicted, torn between wanting the acknowledgement that I made it to this milestone birthday and wanting to just get it over with. 

Why the internal angst about this birthday? 

Dying Dreams

Youth is associated with endless possibilities and flexibility. I no longer feel like the possibilities in my life are endless, and in this current stage of life and motherhood, flexibility is rarely an option. Instead, many of my days feel like drudgery, an endless loop of feeding people, watching the clock so as not to be late for school pickup, monitoring screen time, and wondering if this is, in fact, the best it’s going to be right now.

The idea that I can achieve my wildest dreams {and even have permission to dream them at all} feels more like a wistful fantasy than an actual possibility. After all, the majority of my energy goes to raising little ones to have the capacity to dream their own wildest dreams. There doesn’t seem like enough room for all of our dreams anymore.

Lingering Regrets

In the two decades I’ve been an adult, I’ve changed significantly- in my politics, my spirituality, and in basic ways I relate to people. And I have regrets about the person I used to be, and the person I was {and still am in some ways} as I figured out that transition. 

I regret my ignorance and laziness. I mean, why wasn’t I aware of the systemic injustices perpetrated against people of color in this country and why wasn’t I wearing a daily sunscreen?

I regret my cautiousness, and my fear. Why didn’t I take that trip, apply for that job, or pursue that friendship?

Why did I let that other friendship fade, and yet another one burn into ashes?

Why didn’t I communicate more clearly about my wants and needs, or speak up when I saw others being hurt?

A Changing Body

My body is changing, and I’m trying to be gentle with her, even though she hurts when I wake up in the morning and doesn’t fit into my clothes the same way anymore. 

My hair is longer than it’s ever been, and wild, wiry greys are proudly plotting their takeover of my head. Most days I’m content with letting them be, both as an act of resistance against traditional beauty standards and just plain old apathy. But other days I think maybe I’d feel better about myself with shiny hair with golden highlights. This goes with almost everything to do with my body; I sometimes feel comfortable in my own skin, and then sometimes…I don’t. 

My stomach is softer, the result of three pregnancies obvious. Now that I’m 40, I really should eat less bread and cheese. But god I still love bread and cheese.

I don’t want another baby, but just knowing that now, if I did want one, it likely wouldn’t be easy or could be impossible…that’s disconcerting.

But, I do wear sunscreen every day and use a night serum now, so there’s that.

Clinging to the Upside

I will say, the cliche is true. At 40, I really do care so much less what people think of me than I did a decade ago. I know not everyone likes me, and that’s ok. And I don’t have to like everyone either. 

I also don’t have to censor myself for other people. Yes, of course there are consequences for making my opinion public, but I don’t have to let a reaction ruin my day. I’ve learned that most of the time the way people react to a perspective different than their own says so much more about them than it does about me.

I can be quiet and not consider it a character flaw. 

I can take a bath every night, read an obscene amount of books, and spend money on experiences that fill my soul, and no one’s judgment on any of these makes me doubt that I know best how to care for myself

I no longer want or need a perfect body- just a body that can coach my daughter’s softball team, carry my sleeping son from the couch to his bed, and rock and sing to my other sweet boy. I’ll take the bread and cheese over a flat stomach, please. 

There’s a lot of pressure to feel a certain way about a milestone birthday, but I’m declaring ambivalence as a valid emotion. I see so many women doing big things in their 40s, and so many others just being faithful to the every day, monotonous work of raising good humans. I want to do both, and I’m committed to using this coming decade to figuring out how. Happy Birthday to me. 

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2 Responses to The Birthday I’ve Been Dreading:: Honest Thoughts on Turning 40

  1. Avatar
    Gene Robinson October 13, 2019 at 10:31 am #

    I hear you!! 40 was a hard birthday. All of a sudden I began to feel older!! I think I even stuttered when I said forty. I didn’t have some of the feelings you do, but every person handles it!!! I was having fun with my teen angers. If you think 40 is a different feeling, just wait til you turn 60 and 90 is a shock!

  2. Avatar
    Jennifer October 13, 2019 at 1:05 pm #

    Thanks for posting this Elizabeth, I really related and it helped me.

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