Reflections on turning 26

Birthday dog

You are now entering year twenty-seven. Please check all expectations, agendas and five year plans at the gate.
I don’t mind aging. I choose to believe there are many more great things ahead of me than behind, because duh. Being a kid sucks. Being a teenager sucks. I spent nearly two decades wishing I was someone else, somewhere else, and I would trade the lack of responsibility, and the capacity for 100 revolutions on a playground roundabout without vomming, for independence and a pub quiz any day. There’s no appreciating all the perks of childhood and adolescence until they’re over, which is basically the same as saying there are none.
And though I’ve got wise to enjoying my transient privileges before they’re gone – like the ability to go braless, or to see away a bottle of Cab Sav and still get up before noon the next day – your twenties come with their own whole heap of shit. I think we grow up slower than we used to and these historically more adult years have become just a [marginally] less messy extension of our teens. I’m not comfortable in myself. I’m not thinking about where I want to be for the rest of my life. I’m not settling. And I don’t mean the way you do with someone, somewhere. I mean the way water settles, or earth after a landslide.
I do know that I never envisioned this for my mid-twenties. Monday is my twenty-sixth birthday, and the prospect of clocking up another year has me reminiscing about where I thought I’d be by now. Here’s a brief run-down:
Age 11 – Myself, Orlando Bloom, and a squillion babies
Age 13 – Anywhere but Norwich
Age 15 – Winning triple gold at the Oscars for writing, producing and directing the biggest critical and commercial hit of the century
Age 20 – Married, maybe thinking about a family
Age 23 – Writing the sequel to my runaway success of a debut
But here’s the unfortunate truth: the most accurate I’ve ever been about what life would look like going into my twenty-seventh year was at my very lowest point, when I was eighteen, hopeless, and nearly bedridden with depression.
‘Unfortunate’ may seem like a mild description. I’ll confess, it wasn’t my first reaction – picture Edvard Munch’s The Scream – but I chose the word carefully. Firstly, because I was the most accurate, but nowhere near on the money. The real twenty-six-year-old me has ambition, curiosity, faith in the love of my friends and family, and a rich, imaginative internal life that compels me to write. Even if I’m living back at home; even if I don’t have a job, and suffer heart palpitations just trying to imagine one I could handle; and even if I spend a day here and there staring at the wall and wondering where my mind has flown to, these things are everything. They’re the difference.
And secondly; because what eighteen-year-old me imagined for herself doesn’t mean jack shit. What I’ve learned from the nauseating pace of my ups and downs is that life turns on a dime, and that’s what’s wonderful about it. Most of the best things that have ever happened to me came out of nowhere, and most of the worst too. I can try and steer, but there’s no accounting for getting blown about a bit.
So, it’s unfortunate, but only because I’m sorry eighteen-year-old Hannah ever felt that way. I wish I could have told her how much would have changed between then and now. Having grown and learned more about myself, I know that the real me is an optimist – as contradictory as that may sound given the description of this blog. Of course I think about the future, but these days it’s out of focus; just shapes with fuzzy edges and moving timelines and big holes for all the surprises. All I can do is work hard to point myself in the right direction, hope for good things, and be ready and waiting in case Orlando Bloom drops by.

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