In a few short weeks I will walk into my thirties. It’s not a time I am dreading or am freaking out about, but it’s still had the ability to make me stop, reflect, and look back at my twenties: possibly the greatest decade for self-growth that will ever exist.
I entered age twenty in a glorious wave of excitement, exhilaration and exhaustion.
I’d stepped off a delayed midnight flight from Malia the morning before, having spent my last hours in the party resort watching the sun come up with my holiday romance. A guy who’d insisted I wear his hoodie as we sat on a sun lounger, his arms wrapped around me as we watched the last of the stars slip into the Cretian sun rise. We discussed everything from A-level results and university to family set-ups and ex-boyfriends and girlfriends as the dawn mosquitos tried their hardest to break our fast-sobering-up solitude.
I’d been through a horrible break-up the year before and had spent the past 12-months darting about making reckless decision after reckless decision, hoping that I could make anyone and everyone love me. I felt desperate and low and my self-esteem lingered somewhere around rock-bottom. But meeting him gave me hope. It gave me a much-needed reminder that I wasn’t a monster, that there was happiness and decent romantic experiences waiting for me, that the future could and would be as glorious as I made it.
After stepping onto the Gatwick tarmac and cat-napping for a few hours, I got to work hand-stitching a dozen Hogwarts capes with the cheapest fabric the local textiles shop had to offer ready for my incredibly extra birthday night out.
I had sheets of scratchy satin in sunny yellow, emerald green, bright blue and deep burgundy, ready to have each school house colour covered.
I took hourly breaks to jump on Facebook Messenger and discuss the realities of being home with my holiday crush, or to play Bejewelled Blitz or to eat Sainsbury’s Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup. I let the adrenaline of birthday thrill and romantic possibilities fuel me through the sleep deprivation.
And then as the clock chimed to confirm that I had in fact exited my teenage years and entered a new decade, I celebrated by crying happy tears in my local nightclub whilst dressed as a muggle Luna Lovegood who swigged apple VKs from both hands, had smeared eye liner down her face and dropped low to T-Pain.
I felt a release, a fresh wave of thirst to find happiness and inner contentment, and a reassurance deep in the pit of my stomach that things would work out. I felt beyond ready for this new chapter of my life.
I look back at that girl now – a girl who feels so close, so similar to me, so the same, and yet to hugely different, and I wonder how ten whole years have slipped past while it felt like I only blinked a couple of times.
I have found my feet and my independence. I have a level of financial security and a level of security within myself – I am no longer so easily knocked off my feet, I am sturdier in my sense of self-worth, in my ability to trust myself and to know myself, and yet in my more vulnerable moments I am still her, I am still able to feel all the traits of my younger self. I am still lost, confused, eager to please and full of doubt for all my decisions.
I will enter my thirties having gained many things I did not have at twenty: a child, a long-term boyfriend, a career, a degree, a love of olives, a confidence that is completely natural rather than born from vodka or wine, and an appreciation for my body exactly as is, and yet I feel as though I have lost a few things too.
I am not as spontaneous or impulsive as the Hannah of 2009. I am a different type of friend – perhaps I am kinder and less selfish now, but I am harder to reach, to get a reply from, to make plans with. I was more fun then, more carefree, more up for a good time. But perhaps I am not alone in that change, perhaps that is just a symptom of getting older, of having a family and of settling down.
I wouldn’t want to re-live my twenties, to go back in time. Because whilst they were crammed with the most exhilarating of highs, they were harder and more excruciatingly lonely then I am able to articulate. I look back and I remember the moments of absolute joy – the unplanned nights out, the 6am bedtimes, the random Friday night drives with a car full of girls to Hobbycraft and McDonalds, the hangovers spent playing Mario Party and eating nachos, the weeks lost to building sofa dens and texting boys, and I forget about all the minutes, hours, days, weeks and months that threatened to consume me whole.
My brain tries to trick me, to make me remember the excellent memories rather than the intense difficult emotions that were weaved around them. But that doesn’t mean that they weren’t there or that they didn’t exist.
Because whilst on paper the memories look wonderful, there was so much loneliness, sadness and overwhelming doubt in myself that came close to crushing all the good times.
I think it’s important in order to move forward that we do not spend too much brain space delving into our most painful past head spaces. It is part of survival that we focus on our past triumphs and joys, rather than we weighted down by difficult memories, to re-live our worst times over and over.
And so whilst I feel sad at waving goodbye to a decade that has been more fun and seen more adventure than anything I will likely know again, I also feel content at now being the proud owner of all the knowledge I gained in those ten years: both about myself and about how the world works.
I am OK about embarking on a different kind of ride. A ride that I hope will be slightly gentler, but a ride that will be generated less by the way other people see me, and more about the way I see myself. A ride in which I am the driver, I am in control and I am not scared.
Thirty, I am ready for you.