Andrea Hayes at the Barbie movie.

I’m Celebrating my Birthday

Today is my birthday! Today is July 26, 2023 and I am 58 years old! I’m obviously not one who hides her age. Some people hate birthdays; others love them. I happen to fall in the latter category. A day of celebration for an individual logging in another 365 days on planet earth. To me, that’s something to hang your hat on.

As they say, it’s better than the alternative. For those that abhor birthdays, somewhat like the dread of a root canal, I suppose that they detest the passage of time, and with that comes the loss of one’s youth, middle age or simply being one digit more in the age category. The first invitation to become a member of AARP or to qualify for Medicare can be devastating for some.

Now I’m not saying that growing older is a carnival and that everything about aging is great. Sometimes I glance in the mirror and can’t believe the new wrinkles I see. I get really close to the magnifying mirror and peer deeply into the line that appears as deep and long as the River Nile. I notice an increase in belly fat, as if my butt moved in front. At 58 I feel joint pain, back pain, unsteadiness at times and a lack of coordination and agility that I had as a youth. Aging is not for sissies that’s for sure

As a person with several potentially devastating chronic diseases, I am elated when I realize that I have lived yet another year with overall, a pretty damned good quality of life. You see, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 15. In my early years of medical training the textbooks stated that around 95% of people with diabetes would have severe visual impairment or blindness. Talk about a living curse. The prognosis for my disorder in the 1980’s was quite unsavory to say the least. When I realized the statistic, it was so unbearable that I didn’t want to know more. If that’s going to happen to my eyes, I thought, then what the hell is going to happen to my kidneys, my feet, my heart, my brain? I really didn’t want to know.

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2012 after an overnight development of numbness in both of my feet. What? Another chronic disease? I had thought all my life that one disease was my “curse” so to speak but I never dreamed that I would have to deal with yet another devastating disease. Wasn’t one affliction enough? By this point, well aware that controlled diabetes would lead to a much better outcome, I did not suffer in fear any more like I had some 30 years ago. But MS? There’s nothing I can do to stop that process. It’s the luck of the draw, caused by a genetic turn of events. There’s no diet, meal plan, exercise routine or supplement that can be utilized for prevention. MS can mainly only be controlled by medications. 

In addition to my chronic diseases, I’ve had two instances when I nearly lost my life. In 2014 I developed sepsis from pneumococcal pneumonia and spent two weeks in the hospital most of the time on a ventilator. Another time, vanity led me to a plastic surgery which ended with collapse of my airway landing me again on a ventilator. Both times I had a 10% survival rate. 

I’m Grateful for Where I am Today

Reaching 58 years of age tends to make you somewhat reflective. Would I want to go back and live another day in my 20s, 30s, 40s? Would I want to go back and relive my days of insecurity, fears, and hard work?  My answer is NO. Each decade of my life brought its own unique set of challenges, triumphs and defeats. There are no words to describe the feeling of self-acceptance, the wisdom, and the strength that comes with yet another year of life experience. I have a peacefulness, a satisfaction, a sense of knowing who I am, and where I’ve been, and am damned proud of it. That, my friend, only comes through LIVING LIFE.

So for those who dread another birthday, who keep their ages locked down as their biggest, darkest secret, who want their ages to remain a mystery to all, I’d like to remind them of the self congratulatory messages that are in order. Living a long life is not for the weak. There are so many opportunities for things to go wrong in life: physical illness, mental illness, accidents, flukes, bad genetics….. And the list goes on. I choose to be grateful for another year on this side of the dirt. I hope you will, as well.