I just recently had a birthday, and I am now officially 39 years old. I received many warm birthday greetings and messages on my Facebook page, but one in particular stood out to me:
“39 is the new 29!”
I appreciate the sentiment, and I get what they mean by it. For most people, they remember their younger years as a time of greater energy and vitality (and typically a smaller waist).
In this respect, I’m not like most people. You couldn’t pay me to be 29 again. No way.
I’ve been enjoying old episodes of The Golden Girls on Hulu, so please indulge me as I channel my inner Sophia:
Picture it: Columbus, Ohio, 2007.
A 29-year old Jennifer thinks she has things pretty well figured out, but she has no idea how her choices are going to send her life careening out of control over the next two years. From the outside, she presents a picture of hard work and determination. Working as a teaching assistant in a classroom for kids with multiple disabilities, working a second job to pay the bills because being an assistant pays poverty wages. Starts working at Trader Joe’s that spring and goes back to school to get an Intervention Specialist license. Starts doing student teaching assignments. She’s on her way (she thinks).
But 29-year old Jennifer is a mess on the inside. She eats emotionally and compulsively every day, when she’s not attempting some strict dieting regimen that inevitably ends in a binge after a few weeks, or days, or even hours. Eating fast food in the car between jobs, sucking down frappuccinos and mochas and sugary lattes, sitting down on the couch almost every night with an ice cream container and a spoon after dinner (and maybe some peanut m&ms and salty chips as an appetizer before dinner). She always carries some form of chocolate in her purse for “emergencies.”
29-year old Jennifer drinks too much. Way too much. Usually at home alone. She’s “earned this” after a hard day at school, or work, or teaching, or whatever. Stumbling around her house fuzzy-headed and numb until she eventually passes out is her “reward.” She wishes she could feel like this all the time. Booze and food are her only real coping tools, and she cannot imagine getting through life without them.
29-year old Jennifer doesn’t exercise, except walking the dog a few times a day. When she does exercise, she sees it as her punishment for being “too fat.” She does zero strength training; it’s all steady-state cardio because that’s what she thinks is necessary to “get thin.”
29-year old Jennifer’s body feels decades older than its calendar age. Every morning when she gets out of bed, her first steps are excruciatingly painful due to plantar fascitis. She hobbles around like an old woman until she “gets her feet under her.” Most days she experiences some form of ache, pain, or discomfort somewhere in her body. She takes several prescription medications, including proton-pump inhibitors for severe acid reflux, in addition to popping OTC pain relievers like tic-tacs.
29-year old Jennifer keeps falling in and out of toxic relationships. Obese and lonely, she thinks she needs to “take what she can get,” even if she refuses to admit that out loud. She’s not a victim, even though she might like to see it that way sometimes. These men are clear in their behavior (and even words) about who and what they are, and she keeps going back again and again, doing the same thing and expecting different results. It’s the price she’s willing to pay to not be alone, and the result is gangrene of the soul.
29-year old Jennifer is still holding it together to the outside world, and most everyone around her doesn’t yet know just how messed up her life really is. But by the time 29-year old Jennifer becomes 31-year old Jennifer, the facade has come crashing down, her life is in pieces, and she has to rebuild from (almost) nothing. She is lucky to be alive. Most importantly, if she’s going to stay alive, she has to find a way of life that actually works, because the old one most certainly did not.
Fast forward 10 years.
Too much has happened to even begin to describe here, and there were several aspects of my life that had to change before I was capable of turning my attention to diet and exercise. It’s like triage: I had to focus on what was going to kill me first. I was a very sick person, and getting well was a long (and still ongoing) process. It was not until the past two to three years of this ten-year period that I was finally ready to tackle this issue that had plagued me for so long. With that being said, here is a brief snapshot of how life at 39 compares to 29…
Picture it: Columbus, Ohio, 2017:
39-year old Jennifer has not had a drink in over seven years. That was the first thing that had to happen if she had any hope of changing anything else.
39-year old Jennifer doesn’t eat compulsively anymore. She strength trains with Matt Wenning twice a week, tracks her food every day, nourishes her body with a (mostly) healthy diet, and for the first time in her adult life, is not medically obese. 39-year old Jennifer is off reflux medications and rarely takes OTC pain relievers. Those daily aches and pains that used to torment her have dissipated.
39-year old Jennifer does not live a double life or keep secrets from her loved ones. She worked hard to learn new coping skills, takes appropriate action to take care of her mental health, has a strong support system, and tries to help others when she can who are going through similar hardships.
39-year old Jennifer knows it is better to be alone that to be in a bad relationship. And she knows that it was only because she did all this other work, that she finally met a wonderful man and is getting to experience a relationship based on mutual respect, admiration, and caring– not desperation.
39-year old Jennifer is light years away from perfect, and is no longer interested in trying to be (most of the time… some old habits die hard). She has some very bad days, just like anybody. But her worst day at 39 does not even begin to compare with her worst day at 29, when her inability to cope with life without some substance or destructive behavior was eating her alive.
There aren’t words to adequately express the gratitude I have for my life today. If you had asked me at 29 what my life would be like 10 years in the future, I would have sold myself way short. My vision of my own possibility was too limited.
If this is 39, I’ll take it!
If my description of life at 29 sounds at all familiar, please know that there is hope for you. Your journey to wellness will most likely be measured in years rather than weeks or months, (we don’t get sick overnight, and we don’t heal overnight) but wellness is possible! Call me at 614-517-2520, or email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can talk about what first steps you can take to get started!