Birthdays, social media, and the sweater syndrome

I turned 27 in October. I didn’t handle it well. I don’t usually handle birthdays well. They are for me what the new year is for many – A time to reflect on life. And by

Here's the Mens Wearhouse sweatshirt I wore a bit too long when I turned 26.

Here’s the Mens Wearhouse sweatshirt I wore a bit too long when I turned 26.

that I mean, a time to go on Facebook and lament about all the things I haven’t done yet.

How come when you’re in a slump, everyone else’s life seems so incredible? Suddenly everyone who dreamed of getting married is married and all the people who you thought would have boring lives are publishing books and living in Los Angeles. Social media has really capitalized on my comparing tendencies.  The irrational side of me takes over, telling me that the sliver of life I see on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter is a reflection of someone’s entire life. It feels terrible, but I have trouble looking away.

I don’t know what I thought my life would be like at 27 but it wasn’t this — I get caught up in my own expectations. I thought it would feel different. I thought I’d feel more mature or have more insight on my career or my relationship, or have that tight-knit group of six friends that people base television shows on.

I thought I’d be happier. I thought I’d be less afraid. I thought I’d be more secure. I guess if I was more secure and less afraid, I would be happier.

I’ve processed milestone birthdays in a pretty similar way each time. I find the most comfortable sweater or sweatshirt I can find and then I wear it randomly one day. Then the next day I don’t really want to wear anything but that sweater. And the next day. Then every day. For like a month. To school and work and at home. I hate putting it in the washer because I don’t want to not wear it. I develop a blind spot for how ratty it starts to get. Then one day it just feels ok to take it off, throw it out and get on with my life. Sometimes that day arrives as the result of close friends saying “take that damn thing off.” That’s what friends are for.

I didn’t do that when I turned 27. Maybe I should have. Instead I just cried a lot and thought about who I am and who I’m becoming. My level of twenties angst was at an all time high. It was embarrassing. I kept obsessing over that hopeless question: What kind of person am I? I’m someone who gets overwhelmed by birthdays. I’m afraid to ask for what I need and want from people. I’m even more afraid of being vulnerable and being open with people. But then I look at the up side. I’m pouring more effort into my self-growth than I ever have before. Three years ago I was living with my parents. I was a person too filled with grief to leave my house much or secure a full-time job. Things have changed since then – so that means, I can change. It doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen.

But if I can change, what’s reasonable? I always associated adulthood with having a better grasp on my limitations. What are the qualities about myself I can actually do something about? And what do I have to just accept?

And then once I identify my limitations, then what? We have to accept them, right? That’s what people tell me. It isn’t enough to just recognize them. We have to make peace with them being a part of who we are.

I’m not so great with that.

I really, really wish I was different in some ways. I wish I was more social and extroverted – it seems easier. I wish I was more comfortable asking for what I want or need. I wish I trusted people more. I wish I was a morning person. I wish I was better at managing  my time. I wish I was more “into” wine.

But I’m none of these things (right now). And I may never be some of these things ever. For now, I’ll try to focus on the accepting part instead of becoming frantic over fixing everything at once. That method of coping has worked most of the time. And when it doesn’t (as I suspect will be the case this October), I’ll keep a sweater close by.