My birthday is a weird day. That’s truly the only way to describe it. I wish I were being melodramatic, but I’m not. My birthday has a lot of stuff attached to it. Some of the stuff is good and some of the stuff is a downright tragedy. My birthday reminds me of when you clean out the cushions on your couch. It’s this weird amalgamation of things that gross you out (“ewww! Hair and a moldy french fry!”) and things that make you ecstatic (“sweet! I found a twenty!”). It’s all of that.
I’ll start with something good. I was born. I’m a pretty cool person. I try to make the world a better place. If nothing else, I try to impact the people in my life in a positive way. I’ll give you another good thing that’s connected to my birthday. Four years ago, I moved to Los Angeles. I arrived in this amazing city and started a new chapter in my life, on my birthday.
But there are some bad things attached to my birthday. One of them almost swallowed me whole. My mother died on my 23rd birthday. She was only 49 years old. It was expected but unexpected. I could see that it was coming but was simultaneously blind to the collision course her health was on. After a lifetime battle with morbid obesity and weight-induced diabetes, she slipped out of this world at on my birthday and forever added a mourning requirement to what should have been a celebration day.
After my mother died, I was lost for many years. One of the ways I coped with her loss, and feeling lost in general, was with food. I had been overweight since puberty. After my mother died, I let that situation spiral out of control. I was overweight, but not just overweight like I am now. I was overweight to the point that my body could no longer function. I weighed over 400 lbs. Right around the time I was turning 30, whether I would make it to 40 was in question. As I turned 30, my doctor was beginning to make some pretty alarming statements about the state of my organs and what blood tests were revealing. One day, my doctor said to me, “if you don’t do something about your weight, I’m afraid you won’t live to see your 40th birthday. Your body cannot continue to function in your current situation.”
Through a series of unfortunate events that eventually ended up being amazing, God led me to a job in Denver with an employer that covered weight loss surgery. It took a full year for me to meet all the requirements, but the summer after I turned 33, I had gastric bypass. One year later, I had lost 150 lbs. It wasn’t easy and anyone that says that weight loss surgery is the “easy way out” doesn’t truly understand what a person who has that surgery endures. Within a few months of having surgery and losing weight, my blood pressure returned to normal. I went from taking 138 units of insulin for weight-induced diabetes to being considered “diet controlled”. It stopped hurting to simply walk. I could breathe. Two years after surgery, I ran for the first time in my adult life. On a treadmill and because I could, I ran and ran and ran.
It’s no small miracle that I made it to my 40th birthday and I know that. Looking back to where I was when I entered my 30s, it’s an act of God that I am here. I was all set to follow my mother down the same path to an early grave. I am not exactly where I expected to be when I turned 40, though. I never imagined that I would be single and I wouldn’t have children at this age. That being said, my life is 100% different that it was a decade ago, and for that I am thankful.
One final weird thing about my birthday. This year, I am entering the age decade that my mother did not make it out of. And that feels like it means something. I’ve read many articles by daughters of mothers that died young. Most of them recount feeling like approaching the age at which their mother died feels like it means something about their own mortality. How can I make it passed a point that she did not? It adds a tiny amount of trepidation to my feelings.
I do believe that each day is what we make of it, though. Days, dates, ages, milestones…all of those things can have a variety of emotions attached, but it’s ultimately up to us to determine what what those things mean. Today, as I turn 40, they mean I am grateful to be alive, I am excited to see what the future holds, and I am hopeful that my 40s will be so amazing that my awesome 30s will be left in the dust.