Today is my 30th birthday and while you are reading this I am exploring New York for the first time. I’ll be visiting the Garment District this morning - what else would I be doing?! For many turning 30 is a big deal. It is for me but not because one decade has finished. It is big for me because it is a milestone that provided motivation to tackle a big personal challenge.
I was a shy child. As I went through school my shyness increased mainly because of experiences that I was burnt by, whether in class or socially. People’s thoughts and comments played on my mind and I worried every time I had to go to a gathering or was called on in class. This carried on at university in seminars and today, at work meetings. My sixth form tutor summed it up perfectly in the opening line of her supporting statement for my university application: “Claire is a very quiet girl…” She went onto say good things about my abilities and interests but this has always stuck with me.
So what? None of this is too big a deal right? In general, right. But for me, it is. I never understood why that comment haunted me. Let’s go to Christmas 2011. Adam had gone north to his family, a lot of my friends had also travelled to theirs. I had a few days to myself after I had seen my family and I was so looking forward to it! I had it all planned out. I would sew, tidy up the flat, see my friends who were still in the area, peruse the sales. None of this happened. Instead I spent the days unable to leave the flat, not knowing when I would burst into tears and how long it would last for. Adam and Emily, my best friend, were fantastic. In the end it got so bad my mum, who was also very supportive, took me to the doctors. “You’re almost depressed” was the verdict and I left the room with the names of a book and some websites to help me. I knew this was coming and that it was ok. I have seen what depression has done to people, especially some of those close to me, and I decided there and then to work my way out of it. Thankfully I didn’t need medication but I did need to take a long, good look at my thoughts and my activities.
I realised that I had been pushing myself to try and fit in with what I thought I should be, not who I was. I was trying to be louder, outgoing, very talkative. This made me anxious and unhappy. I could tell when I was feeling this way as my bad habits (biting my nails, chewing my lip) increased. Essentially I was lying to myself about who I am. The resources the doctor gave me helped but I needed a thought partner. Someone who didn’t know me, my background, family or friends. I looked at several options and bit the bullet by paying for a coach. It was eye wateringly expensive but it is the best money I have ever spent! I used to scoff at this kind of personal development, and I’m sure many still do, but I had to try something. The sessions really made me think and it was painful at times. The process I started there continues, but I don’t see my coach anymore although I know I can if I ever need to.
I had no idea what my core values were. This might not sound surprising but it was a revelation to me. I found my values and quickly realised that my behaviour and activities didn’t match them. I discovered what and who sapped my energy as well as those that gave it. In short, I realised that I was a quiet person. I enjoy time on my own, and savour it when I get it. Many of the activities I enjoy are solitary ones - reading, sewing, anything creative. At the same time, I love seeing my friends and meeting new people. I have found ways to turn my solitary activities into sociable activities. I joined a book club, I attend classes and I started blogging. I have pulled away from energy saps and situations that make me feel bad about myself. I give myself the time and space I need, without feeling guilty. Unless I have something important to say, I won’t try to be heard by people who are unlikely to listen. I try not to worry about what people are thinking about me and focus instead on activities and relationships where I feel I can be myself.
And the turning 30 part? I made a promise to myself that 2013 would be the best year yet. I knew I would have to make it that way. It may not be the best in terms of events but it has been for my peace of mind. I know myself better than I did before, I am much more comfortable with who I am and how I live my life. I have worked harder than ever this year and it feels great. The comment from my sixth form tutor no longer haunts me. There is more to do but for now, this is enough.