This is a TMI post. For the most part, it's about how I failed myself. In some ways, it's about depression, or maybe it's just about growing old and growing up.
I'm staring down the barrel at thirty (my birthday is August 16th *ahem*) with an unusual amount of terror. Really, thirty shouldn't be a big deal. With current medical trends and my lifestyle choices I should live to 90, if not a few decades longer. I don't think it's the birthday that matters, it's what being thirty signifies. Being thirty means I am no longer the youngest person in the room, and that's always been something that defined me.
Ever since I can remember there were three things that made me special: I was smarter than other people, I was skinnier than other people, and I was younger than other people.
Those three things defined me. That's what gave me a sense of self-worth. These were things I was praised for by everyone. Which is - actually - terrible. Parents, teachers, and friends all praised me for things that were out of my control.
I was the smartest kid in my class for years, until I hit college and found I was pretty average. I wasn't the one who cried if she didn't get 100% on a test. I haven't rewritten any theories or changed the world. I have friends who have, but I'm not as smart as they are.
I was skinnier than everyone back when I could afford a juice box and a sandwich a day. Now that I can buy groceries, eat three meals, and have four kids? I'm fat. In fact, I'm so fat and pathetic that I'm going to go grab a piece of cake to eat while I play at my computer and write this post. Because it sounds yummy. And I might go for a run or do yoga later, but I won't promise anything.
I was the youngest, because my parents sent me to school early. I was "gifted" a term that's come to mean "my parents drilled me with flashcards at age two". But, youth was my gimmick. I remember a university professor praising my essay to the class. "The best grade on this essay came from a freshman!" he told a class full of seniors... and me. I'd tested out of all the other liberal arts classes and snuck in to the senior's class on mythology (I loved it!). Looking back I wonder why the professor didn't say anything about my research, the points I made, or the language I used to convey my ideas. I guess that wasn't as important as the fact that I'd just turned 18.
For twenty-odd years being the youngest, smartest, and skinniest was enough to make me a Speshul Snowflake. And at twenty-three, just after the birth of my second child, it sent me spiraling down into hardcore depression. A recent graduate, I no longer had grades to tell me how special and smart I was. After sixteen years of being taught that I was as important as my grades, I was drowning in self-doubt. Graduating nearly killed me, literally.
Part of it was no doubt postpartum depression, but most of my depression came from failing to be the smartest, skinniest, and youngest. What I'd pinned my self-worth on was a recipe for depression.
I can't stop aging. There is no way I can be the youngest forever. I outgrew it a decade ago. I can't be smarter than everyone else. I can be smart, and I think I am a very intelligent person, but by basing my self-worth on someone else's achievements I set myself up for failure. I'm going to gain weight. Weighing 90 pounds at age 30 wouldn't be healthy. Still, there's this image of Twiggy-like person in my mind and I think I should look like that. I found her in my photo album, she's me, age ten.
I'm turning thirty in a few weeks, plagued by random bouts of depression, and my best friend told me to make a list of five things that make me special. Five little things that I like about myself, or that I do well, or that make me ME. I failed. Miserably.
My self-worth has always been based on being more -ER than someone else: younger, smarter, skinnier. It's always been a competition. I created my self-image out of shifting sand, trying to capture something ephemeral.
I am thirty (soon) and I don't know who I am.
I'm not fishing for compliments, but I'd like some advice. How do you define yourself? What makes you special, and how do you figure that out?