Here’s to My Last Year as a Twenty-something

I know some people hate their birthday. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think it has to do with societal pressure to celebrate in a meaningful, and often very public way. Because of this there seems to sometimes be an inevitable let down, at least for the people who become consumed by the pressure that society puts on them to have a big celebration for their birthday.

I've felt this pressure many times. I'm sure everyone has in some way, whether it's a friend telling you to have a big party and invite lots of people or just a milestone year like 21 or 30, begging to be etched in the lore of your social circle. Oh, and I'm sure the way Facebook celebrates birthdays doesn't help — soliciting everyone and their grandma to celebrate your "special day."

I don't want to get too cynical, or even analytical about it, but I often wonder if this pressure comes, at least partially, from the large, themed birthday parties that many people have during childhood. If you grow up having Disney-themed birthdays with dozens of kids all watching you blow out candles and tear through a table full of big gifts, then there will probably be pressure to duplicate those celebrations in various forms throughout your life.

This of course is just my opinion; I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from throwing their kids a Disney-themed birthday party. And the truth is I have never been one to hate my birthday (even though it's often 100 degrees outside). But as I've grown older my birthdays have become less climactic, which has suited me just fine, particularly since I became sick. When your body literally can't celebrate, all the societal norms and pressure to have a fun birthday go out the window. When your body won't allow you to go out drinking until four in the morning, or in my case, even out to dinner, birthdays become much, much smaller celebrations.

On my first birthday after becoming bedridden, for instance, I couldn't even sit up in bed. I couldn't speak or eat solid food, so my lovely mother and sister ordered my favorite take-out, added broth, puréed it, and gave it to me while I drank it through a straw. Honestly though, puréed gnocchi is pretty tasty. It was a small victory in a year of defeat.

That first birthday stuck in bed was a tough one — my toughest so far, mostly because I felt so miserable. But it was around that time that my health started to improve and it may have started, at least in my imagination, with wishing upon a star.

Every year around my birthday there is a meteor shower called the Perseids. A couple weeks before my birthday, I bought my mom a telescope for her birthday. I hadn't seen the sky in more than six months at that point so I decided to try out the telescope.

With all the house lights turned off I peered through the telescope with one eye, the other closed. I could feel the telescope's internal light as well as the illumination from the moon and stars burning my eye, creating lots of cognitive trouble. Little did I know that after looking through the telescope, the eye I had exposed to the moonlight would get swollen and feel like somebody gave me a black eye for a solid week afterward.

But I didn't care, I wanted to see the sky, I wanted to see a shooting star. And I did. I saw one. Can you guess what I wished for? (I can't tell you otherwise it won't come true, right? But if you think about the one thing that I want the most, I bet you'll guess it).

Then last year, while my wish hadn't completely come true, I made progress. I was able to sit-up in bed and whisper a bit, but I was still very sensitive to light (not nearly as much as the year before, however). I was determined to once again look at the stars, albeit without the telescope. So I stayed awake until midnight with the thick blankets I used to shield sunlight during the day peeled back to reveal the vast starry night. After about an hour of looking at the sky and not seeing a single shooting star I finally saw one. And it was a big one. It went streaming across the sky and felt so close I could almost grab it. In some ways it felt like looking at an organism moving under a microscope; I felt like a visitor peeking into an unfamiliar world full of wonder and awe.

I made a wish, and then, like a spooky omen, a bat flew into my room. That obviously wasn't my wish, but it was definitely a memorable experience.

Have you ever been trapped in a room with a bat? Not a baseball bat, an actual flying bat with wings, you know like Batman, but much uglier and probably with rabies and other transmittable diseases. It was absolutely terrifying. And if being trapped in a room with a frantic flying mammal wasn't bad enough, I lacked the physical ability to do what pretty much any person would do in such a situation: Run.

I was bedridden and still couldn't speak so yelling for help wasn't an option either, and to be honest I was confused and probably in shock; I wasn't initially sure what was flying around my room. I soon figured that not many things fly at night so it was probably a bat. Then it screeched at me and dove at my head and, well, then I definitely knew it was a bat.

Thankfully my wonderful caregiver, Chelsea, came into the room shortly after that and swatted the bat outside before it bit me, gave me rabies, and I turned into some rabid creature from The Walking Dead.

Luckily the bat wasn't a bad omen (knock on wood). And now another year has passed bringing me even closer to having my wish granted — the same wish I have asked for under a shooting star on my last two birthdays.

I don't know if I believe in birthday wishes being granted, but I do believe in wishing. There's no harm in wishing for good things to come. I have wished for my health to improve for such a long time, even before I became bedridden (as I'm sure all people with MECFS have). So I don't know if my health improving has anything to do with my birthday wishes, but there's no denying that I can speak short, quiet sentences; I can eat pretty much all food except caramel and salt water taffy (good thing I hate sugar), and I can even get out of bed. These are improvements I am grateful for; they are reasons to keep wishing for even better days to come.

While I still feel the pressure to do something memorable on August 12th, I have a feeling the thing I will remember most about my 29th birthday will not be anything I plan. The most lasting memories are unexpected, after all.

I don't know if a bat will fly into my room again (I sure hope not), or if I will be able to keep my wishing-upon-a-star streak alive for another year (maybe this time from the deck since I can go outside), or if someone will come soothe my loneliness and be my little spoon for the weekend (seriously, if you want to come snuggle with me just let me know), but whatever happens I'm looking forward to it and another year of life. So here's to my last year as a twenty-something!

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33 thoughts on “Here’s to My Last Year as a Twenty-something

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  1. Happy Birthday, Jamison! My wish for you is that you get outside on your deck and it is not too hot and the moon is not too bright and there are no clouds you get to see many shooting stars. I would also love to send a spooner (or is it spoonie?) to you for the weekend to keep you warm and comfy. I enjoy reading your blogs. They give me hope and they crack me up. Birthday wishes and a few light kisses! xx. – nikki on the island

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  2. Happy birthday for August 12th. Hope you have a good day. Birthdays are hard because I’m always hoping that the next year my health will be drastically improved. My birthdays tend to be small mainly cake and a film at home with my family.

    I’m trying to appreciate the small things in life and maybe as we have to live life at a slower pace we do notice more things. Such as the beauty of the sunset and the shower of falling stars glittering in the dark sky.

    Bats aren’t so bad really and fruit bats are quite cute. They are also really clever creatures and sleep a lot and are nocturnal which I relate too. Though I appreciate a bat flying in your room would not be a pleasant experience. I wish you health and happiness in the next year ahead. And look forward to reading more of your blog posts as you are a brilliant writer.

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  3. My granddaughter turns eleven on the twelfth. I’ll be thinking of you and hope with your health improving, you’ll have a great birthday!🎂🎉🎁🎈🌟💐

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  4. Happy birthday and may your health continue to improve. Mine is in 2 more days and have no plans at all to celebrate. It’s sort of redundant after 60 I think..also I am pretty darned sure I am allowed to officially subtract years now. Just think, 30 more years and YOU TOO may start subtracting! huzzah!

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  5. Whatever your birthday wish might be, I hope that it comes true.

    I only had two birthday parties growing up that I remember … and it was cake and ice cream with a couple of classmates. Nothing fancy. I think that’s why I never much cared about them as an adult (although I threw one of my own when I turned 35 … which made the third and last birthday party of my life).

    Gentle hugs to you.

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  6. Wow, “Glorious 12th of August” 😊 You were born on the start of Grouse shooting season in UK. How lucky are you?! More importantly to me, you share a birthday with my beloved dad, a miracle man who survived 20 years of cancer after being given 6 months. “There’s hope for us all – what do they know?!” he said; I’d cried aged 38 when told as a diabetic MEep that I had 5-10 years to live. This is my 1st year without him. I’m trying to stay positive, as he taught me when facing tough times. I’m in the middle of a kidney infection, had a stomach bug & pharyngitis before that … so many weeks sick again, so frustrating. But I’m still ok, still smiling. Now 46 & not intending on going anywhere unless it’s a holiday. I managed my first ever concert, Coldplay in Wales in July, albeit in a wheelchair, and hope I’ll make the week in Majorca next month. Thanks Pops for giving me hope & being my inspiration 😇

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  7. Your post about the bat jogged my addled memory. 35 years ago I spent 2 years in Ecuador with World Radio Missionary Fellowship. Most of the time I was in a little dwelling in the small village of Papallacta, over 9000 ft. in the Andes. It was an amazing adventure. I had a small white pig I tongue-in-cheek named Gringo, much to the delight of the villagers and since the woman who lived in the house before me (the only one in the village with a wood floor, not dirt) had been a nurse, everyone assumed I was too, which clearly I wasn’t. Once they found out I had a stash of Disney themed Band-Aids I brought from the states I think every kid (and some of the adults as well) made their way to my door with some new ‘boo-boo’. Anyway, back to the bat. One night I was sleeping and heard something moving about in the room. Yep, a BAT!!! Terror ensued and me battling with the heinous little creature with a broom, but he slipped back through a gap in the ceiling back into the attic. The next day some kindly men from the village found a small enclave of them in the attic, shooed them out and plugged up the holes. But, I will say,,,,,,it was WEEKS before I slept with the light off and didn’t have a blanket over my head all night.

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    1. Oh wow. That sounds both fun and terrifying. How long were you in Ecuador? Have you been keeping up with Ecuadorian politics? They recently elected the first disabled president. He seems like a good guy. Pretty cool.

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    2. It was both fun and terrifying and there were SO many incredible days in the 2 years I spent there. I do follow the politics of Ecuador and it’s amazing how the last President and this one no doubt have brought the tiny country into the 20’s century. Back then, I spent a month in a jungle base called Limon Cocha and helped with the medical clinic there, swam in a lake with Piranha (which I didn’t know they were in there until after the fact), drove 2 hours into the capital of Quito twice a month on a one lane road hugging the side of the Andes in my used, donated Irish Army Jeep that was the white knuckle express and had 1000 ft. drop offs. I lived a life I didn’t even think I was capable of. I kept a journal and I think what continues to astonish me is how active and relatively ‘healthy’ I was back then, notwithstanding getting Shigella, Giardia and altitude sickness while I was there and coming home with a host of intestinal parasites. I was in my late 20’s. It’s such a double edged sword as you know so well. Remembering the ‘good times’ and the ‘good days’ that came BEFORE ME/CFS is nice but sometimes it just makes me sad and mad to think that, barring a miracle, there are no more adventures in my future. Still, reading your blog postings I remind myself time and again that as bad as things are, they really are worse for you. At least I was 47 before I was stricken. I wish you a truly Happy Birthday but even birthdays come with their own set of sadness to be sure.

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  8. I can’t believe your eye swelled up from looking at the night sky – that is ridiculous and awful in equal measure. This bloody illness robs us of some of our best years, although I guess that depends on when you think your best years are. My 80 year old aunt is still going strong and having a whale of a time!
    I found progress with ME/CFS is best measured in years which gives birthdays extra significance. Hopefully this birthday will be better than the last and the next one better still.

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    1. Yeah pretty crazy. I think the swelling was from the pressure the telescope put on my eye but the cognitive stuff was from the moonlight. I actually went outside last night and the almost full moon was too bright to look directly at but not nearly as bad as two years ago.

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  9. Cheers to a new year with endless possibilities! I’ll be ringing mine in on the 8th, when I say ringing what I actually mean is hanging out in my room, likely thanking people for Facebook wishes, but hey ringing is ringing.😁 Hoping you’re having a best as can be day on the 11th and a shooting star lights up your night sky, sans bat!🎈🎂🦁 💫

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  10. Happy almost-your-birthday! My birthday is August 11th, though I was supposed to be born on the 11th. True to form, I’m always a bit early. Well, it WAS a heat wave–so that made me more impatient, I suppose.

    Birthdays are weird things for me. When I was little, I loved them, and my parents always celebrated with a small theme party (that was my Mama’s idea). Every year, either I got hurt or someone I knew got hurt–like broken bones hurt–so I started being superstitious about birthdays and laid low. From my teens, basically until I was 24, it was usually just me and Mama. I’d cook, and she’d buy a cake. Usually, a variation of some floral extravaganza in various pastel shades (back when I loved pastel colors, apparently). Chocolate cake & whipped cream icing. Every year. Oh, and ice cream. And salad of some sort. Maybe pizza. Back when I thought pizza was the best ever. I think I mostly ate salad. 🙂

    Since my Mama died, I get super melancholy about my birthday–mostly because it reminds me of her. And people are sometimes assholes on my birthday. I usually end up upset at someone instead of just being grateful to be alive and thankful for all the people who thought of me. I usually take off and go somewhere…though the last time I did that, my favorite spot in the world was dried up due to drought and on fire due to wildfires. Last year, I was packing to leave home and it was basically the worst week ever. I’m grateful this year for quiet and plan to deactivate FB for the day and hibernate and make cupcakes and potato enchiladas. I was going to go somewhere or go to a movie by myself, but timing is not the best. So, it’ll likely be me and some cats. Can’t complain.

    Thanks for the perspective. I did not know about the meteor shower. I’ll have to send some wishes your way, birthday twin.

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      1. Yes. I am such a Leo it’s rather ridiculous. I’ve never actually met anyone born so close to my birthday. I will definitely have to check those out. I used to lay in the grass at my old house late at night and watch the sky. When I lived in my last apartment, my favorite thing was to go to the room and just wait for the sunrise with my camera. I’m shocked I didn’t know about them.

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