Aging has been a profoundly liberating experience

CW: suicide

I am 34. I turn 35 next month.

When I was young, I never thought about getting older. I didn’t really think I would live past 25 for some reason. When I turned 25, I felt so old. But I was so, so young.

When people in their twenties complain to me about turning 30, I always tell them that the 30s are the best. The 20s are so hard. I look back to some of my social media posts on those ‘memories’ things that everyone hates and asked myself how I could possibly be like that? So angry and consumed and immature. So many people I admire left me behind because I was so horrible. Granted I was dealing with schizophrenia (still am), but I feel like I could have acted right, at least. I am saddened that I lost the people that I did.

I may very well have been the same person now, if it weren’t for the people I met who taught me how important growth was. I was incredibly lucky to have a mentor for a few years before he retired, who taught me so much about myself and the world around me. In my 20s, I learned so much from the people around me. I learned so much from myself. I applied what I learned in my early 30s, and at 34 I feel comfortable in my own skin. It is, a profoundly liberating experience.

I am not talking about success, or the American idea of it anyway. The inspirational quotes and the make 6 figures by the time you’re 40 and the buy a house and have beautiful kids idea. I live in a studio apartment and I have no money in the bank. All the people who I started my career with are managers and supervisors and I’m not. They make more than me and they have power over me; some of them who I taught. I’ve come to terms that I will be a step or many steps behind people because of my disability. I do not say this to deter people with disabilities or to say that you can’t reach great heights; I know you can. I just know that I can’t. My brain is built different than these other people, it tells me constantly that I’m shit and if you hear it enough, I promise you that you’ll start to believe it. I’ve spent many years advocating for schizophrenia and for my right to be like other people. And I can do a lot of great things. But there are some things I cannot do and that is okay. For me.

Am I successful? Maybe. I make enough money to live by the beach and feed myself. I have a good, steady job and a nice car. I work hard and do not play harder. My playing is laying in bed and watching anime and I wouldn’t have it another way. Have I done well for myself, considering my stepfather beat my mother in front of my eyes and I was raped in high school and I see and hear things that are not there and I’m convinced everyone is trying to kill me? I think so. I feel very privileged and very lucky to be here, at 34 years old. Everything has tried to murder me and I’m still here. I would say that is pretty successful.

But that’s not even what I’m talking about when I say profoundly liberating experience. We have all shared quotes of old women saying that they got old and they suddenly just didn’t care. They stopped giving a fuck. And you know, I’m talking about being old but 34 is not old in the grand scheme of things, but when your life is hard, 34 years is a long, long fucking time. I say hard but everyone’s life is hard; I mean, hard to the point you truly would like nothing else than to die. Hard enough that you see no point in being on earth anymore.

I don’t have those thoughts anymore. I mean, I do, of course, I have schizophrenia. I have suicidal ideations – it is part of my chemical makeup – but I don’t really want to leave. Some days I still hate myself, but they are not every day, and the days I don’t, I am not afraid to be myself. I am not afraid to be unlikable and I’m not really thinking about what other people think of me. I am just being me and I have a small circle of friends who accept me for me and that is profoundly liberating. Being okay with yourself. And if we can listen to other women like…Carrie Fisher for example, you only get more and more okay with being yourself as you get older. And that is a profoundly liberating experience.

And if I was in my twenties and I was reading this I would ask how? How do you do it? Because I would definitely want this feeling earlier in life; it would allow me to grow earlier and grow more. The caveat to this realization is, I honestly don’t know. I don’t know how. Reach out to people, maybe, and be willing to learn new things. Don’t get stuck in your ways. Learn to accept yourself and be unapologetically you.

I do want to say that I am NOT talking about social media here. Social media is a dark place that is not actually anything like real life. Don’t get into this idea that you can say whatever you want and not care about how it makes people feel because that shit is not acceptable. Even in real life, “keeping it real” is bullshit. Don’t lose your kindness. Be kind to people and don’t say things you know will hurt them because you’re “keeping it real”. That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s not okay to be an asshole because “that’s how I am, deal with it”. That is a profoundly immature and cruel way to live your life. I just mean, be okay with the person you are internally. And if you are not okay with it, learn how to change in the direction you want to be. Go to therapy, connect with people you aspire to be like.

And I hate to be this cliché, but if you are suicidal or you are profoundly unhappy and you are reading this, it does get better, I promise you it does. And it is worth it to stick around and feel liberated. To feel okay.

I feel okay. With myself. And that is a profoundly liberating experience in the world we live in.

Allie Burke is a bestselling author and mental health advocate. She is the CEO and Co-Founder of the Stigma Fighters 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Her work has been featured in VICE and Women’s Health, and she manages her own column in Psychology Today. 
She lives in Long Beach.