Today I’m 29, which I feel pretty ????? about, as I feel about a lot of things right now (namely trying to be normal about everything even though most of the country outside of where I am seems to be in a pretty bleak state). Some people do not want to celebrate their birthdays or even acknowledge them. That isn’t me. I love planning out my birthday and then celebrating it the way I want with the people I love. On Tuesday I was talking to my friend Katie, a fellow Birthday Celebrator, my friend from college who used to live in New York and now wisely lives in Atlanta. Every year on my birthday we would go to the Upper East Side and get frozen hot chocolates and then Katie would make the ultimate sacrifice of someone who lives in Hamilton Heights—taking the train for an hour to Brooklyn to come to my birthday party. “It’s wild to me that no one else plans a full luxe birthday day like we do for our birthdays,” she said after I explained my birthday plans for this year (like some nouveau-riche 90s fantasy, I’m driving to a Korean spa in New Jersey and eating a steak at Peter Luger, both things I couldn’t do last year and can do with some degree of safety in 2021). “Why don’t people treat themselves better?”
This week I took more consecutive days off of work than I have for all of 2021 (...3. Three days) and relaxed and tried not to do anything I hadn’t already planned to do. It was honestly great—I got drinks with a few people I’d been meaning to hang out with but hadn’t for the past 18 months due to waves hands, went to the new ice cream place that just opened in Prospect Heights (which is interesting because I’m pretty sure these are its owners??), hung out with my cat, took several long walks, ate my favorite sandwich, read a book, reorganized my closet and dresser, and finally reflected on the past year or two.
Like the majority of people, I’m not even close to processing what has happened on a macro level since March 2020. But when I think about what my personal life is like now, it’s entirely different than it looked a year and a half ago. In case it wasn’t obvious when you were reading this newsletter then, I was, uh, very depressed. In retrospect, it was a bad time to be looking for a job in journalism, and nevertheless, I had decided to throw myself headfirst into the fruitless pursuit of finding gainful employment on the career version of a sinking luxury cruise liner. The rest just kind of reads like a laundry list of unfortunate things that could happen to a person at one time: I had a not-insignificant amount of credit card debt, I was living in an apartment I hated that was constantly falling apart (and I didn’t even realize it was about to be the place where I’d have to spend 99% of my time for a while), I was being sued in a defamation lawsuit (already an intensely emotionally fraught, isolating and stressful experience, but made infinitely worse when you cannot afford a lawyer), I had to cut off a close friendship, I was still very much hung up on a particularly toxic old relationship. Things were bad! They did not seem like they would get better any time soon. I felt very stuck, frozen in the amber of helplessness.
Then the pandemic happened. Instead of just buckling under the weight of what felt like an insurmountable number of related things to overcome (which I really, really wanted to do) I went into fight or flight mode. I decided that the way things were going for me was untenable and I had to change them instead of waiting for another terrible thing to just, like, entropically happen. I felt very out of control of my own life and I knew I had to claw back some of that control to feel better. Without giving myself too much time to panic I set about trying to make some changes as quickly as I could in the moment. I talked to a bunch of people who had jobs outside of journalism and started planning a tactical exit from the only industry I’d ever worked in. I got a job and never properly acknowledged that transition, which was not easy to do, especially starting a new job remotely. Then a few months later, I paid off a bunch of debt. I saved a little bit of money, I moved, I found really great pro-bono lawyers (the case was eventually dropped). Little by little I etched out more changes. I found a good therapist. I began working out again in ways that felt good and not punishing.
For a long time indecision made choices for me. I felt very helpless. If I didn’t decide what to do, the choice would eventually be made for me, and I accepted that this was better than the uncertainty of actively having to make a decision that might not work out. Last year it became clear that that wasn’t a sustainable way for me to live my life, so I did something about it. Some of my friends have left or are leaving New York, which always felt inevitable but was definitely accelerated by the past year. A lot of people have reprioritized what’s important to them, or are just trying to actively take charge of change in their own lives.
Not all of the changes I’ve made have worked—at the end of our lease this year, we moved out of the apartment we moved into last year at what we thought was the height of the pandemic—and I’ve started feeling the weight of burnout, more or less pausing all of my freelance work this year in a concerted effort to intentionally do less. But I’m so grateful to 2020 me for making those changes at all. I’m so much happier now than I was.
Thanks for reading this gratuitous birthday brain dump! Now I’m going back to not writing xx