the worst year
I told my good friend Maggie about a month ago that this is the happiest I have ever been. In many ways my current life feels like a real-life highlight reel and for that I am immensely grateful. This is a season of joy for my family, but mostly myself personally. I’m under no illusion to assume that it will always feel like this, or that this is the forever normal. I struggle sometimes with all the happy announcements I share because I know how it can feel to be on the other side, and I never want to appear anything but gratefully surprised. I also am certain I’m not the only person who assumed my life wouldn’t turn out this good.
Recently, I was thinking about how 32 is truly the best year of my life: Seth and I are getting married, our baby is a happy almost one-year-old, and I feel really confident as a mother.
Then, I thought about what the worst year of my life may have been. I settled on 28, which feels both close and ages ago. Sometimes, when I contrast the two, 28 and 32, I’m reminded of that quote from the Matilda movie, “as bad as things were before, that’s how good they became.” I wish it was more profound than that, but it sums it up just right.
I guess I’m writing this for myself, but also to encourage anyone else who is in the midst of their own “28th year.”
Part of what happened is that I built myself up to believe that my 27th year of life would be fantastic. I don’t recommend doing this. I love the number 7, was excited to celebrate my Golden Birthday on the 27th of December, and believed it would be my year. How could it not be? This was going to be it! To me, that meant meeting my soulmate. Instead, 27 found me dating a good, but wrong for me person, then breaking up (but later getting back together, only to do it over again), losing my job, and moving in with my dad. It was humbling and saddening and it made me angry. Somehow, and this is the saddest part to me, all of those things made me feel so ashamed. All around me it seemed that everyone else had their lives together, and I was forced to reconfigure what adulthood looked like for me. I remember vividly thinking that I should be moving in with a spouse, not a parent. It was hard. And I wondered to myself if 28 could be better, but steeled myself for more of the same. And truthfully, it was, but in its own trickier way. At 28, I was less hopeful at the beginning of the year, and there weren’t giant transitions (like a job loss or move) to distract me as much:
Twenty eight was the year of weddings, except mine. I was happy for my friends, but absolutely broken for myself. It is difficult to describe, even now. To sum it up, these weddings (save one) magnified my status, and made me feel even more so like an outsider. They were emotionally taxing for me to attend in a way that I still can’t articulate. To top it off, they were incredibly expensive at a time when my money was already tight. I remember sitting at a bridal shower watching a bride-to-be open up box after box of expensive cookware in just the right color of forest green, thinking to myself—would I ever even own one of those? (The answer is yes, I have a pink one and I love it, silver lining). These weddings were places where my lack of accomplishment of having my own husband felt magnified, and my life a failure in doing the one thing I longed for. Still to this day I rarely, as a bride planning my own wedding, see myself reflected in bridal magazines or wedding advertising, which is probably why I own none and don’t view my wedding as a weird debutant ball like some do. It has made me keenly mindful of how those involved in our big day feel. These can be sharp edged, emotional events for people.
Twenty eight was the year of impossibly tight budgets. In the process of rebuilding my brand, getting my career built up after losing employment, moving back into an apartment, a longer commute to my part-time work all led to a tight budget. While my income would eventually double I wouldn’t see the results of my hard work for months. The stress and frustration over how I’d been treated in my last job stayed with me and cast a shadow over the relationship with new co-workers. I would end up working with some of the finest people, but it would take a long time to rebuild that kind of trust that had been broken. The aforementioned weddings during summer, which is always slow for photography, nearly diminished any extra funds I had. I was doing what I could, but it was hard. Before a sorority sister’s wedding I had spent all my extra money and didn’t have enough for a much needed haircut. Courtney cut my hair for free, and I walked out of her house with a fresh crown braid and tears in the corners of my eyes.
Twenty eight was the year of the challenging co-worker. In one of my jobs I worked with a team of good, wonderful people. At the beginning things were great, but eventually one person began to struggle with their own addiction issues which then affected myself, and let’s be real- everyone else. I went to the person in charge multiple times, asking for help and sharing my concerns. Eventually, when nothing happened I began keeping a log. It was pages long and I’d detail things that were happened that shouldn’t, all while I was trying to keep it together during an immensely hard personal year of my own. Eventually, this person stopped working where I was, but the stress and memories of trying to be professional alongside someone so unpredictable felt oppressive.
Meanwhile, I’d openly share at times glimpses into these hard places and be met with a lot of platitudes: “just manifest what you need,” or “you need to pray God’s will for your life,” I think people have a challenging time with hard emotions, the sadness other people. It’s always easier to be there for the good moments. And yet, the friends who were daily reminders of joy or confidants over glasses of wine remain my dearest today. I don’t fault people for distancing themselves or lashing out at me, because the end of my twenties wasn’t particularly graceful, but I hold on tighter to those who stayed by my side, listened, cried, and laughed with me. And truly, 28 wasn’t all bad:
Somehow, in the thick of it all, I started imagining what I wanted my future to really look like. I felt more bold and authentic in being myself and showing up for issues I cared about. I didn’t have to spend precious free time at social events with people I honestly no longer liked or fit with, I didn’t have to bite my tongue when a racist or ridiculous comment was made, I didn’t have to settle for less. My 28th year had made me scrappy, but in the best of ways. Also in that 28th year? I logged into Match.com (after bemoaning online dating and swearing I wouldn’t find a spouse there) and received a few messages from a man named Seth.
I don’t see 32 as some sort of arrival, or ah-ha moment. I give thanks for all that has been given to me, and I remain humbled by all sorts of obstacles I’ve had to overcome and walk through. I don’t feel badly about sharing the many joyful moments, because I do them for me—to buoy and remind myself. I’m 32, but I’m still that 28 year old woman, and I know she’d be proud and tear-filled happy for me today. So to anyone in their own version of a 28th year, chin up. The best is truly yet to come.