The value of a gift (aka what I learned turning 30)

Before I get onto what I want to talk about, let me just say that going on my first run after a month off (injuries suck) was pretty messy. I managed 20 minutes with a couple of short pauses though, so all in all it could be worse. Hopefully I can build back up to 30 fairly quickly.

Speaking of 30… here’s what I learned when I recently began my new decade.

Caution: I am going to get a bit soppy.

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I should probably preface this by explaining that I’m one of life’s introverts and I tend to be more of a background player. I’m also quite the nerd. These are things it’s taken me a long time to accept about myself. We live in a world which tends to notice and value the louder and more outgoing types, and when you couple that with a tendency to be just a little bit odd… I’m never going to top any cool people lists, put it that way!

These days I’ve worked out that cool is overrated and the best things about me are precisely the things that used to make me feel like a freak. I hadn’t worked out that a few years ago, however, and it was something I struggled with in my teens and early twenties. I felt very much like I was awkward and an outcast, not helped by a history of being bullied. These are fairly typical feelings for anyone of that age group, I think, but couple it with depression and low self-esteem and it was not a recipe for feeling very secure or valued. I spent a lot of time being very fearful of people and social interaction because I was desperately worried about how I came across and not fitting in. Every interaction I interpreted to mean I’d made myself look stupid, so I shied away. At every turn and challenge I felt like I wasn’t up to the task. It’s probably fair to say that I developed a bit of an avoidant/reclusive streak as a defence mechanism. Now I understand it was illness and demons talking; back then I thought I was a bit of a flop human being.

Fast forward. In my mid-twenties I started a new job, met a bunch of new people, began treatment for my illness (accidentally, but that’s another story I’ll save for when I finally feel ready to blog about that time). The person I was then is a shadow of who I am now. I still tend to self-doubt, I still have wimpy moments where I avoid putting myself out there or I get self-conscious in social situations. All in all though the planets seemed to align in a way that supported me growing and coming to feel better about myself. I do things now – both personally and professionally – I would not have been emotionally equipped for previously. My backbone’s certainly developed. Seems to me that the twenties is a time for a lot of insecurity and self-doubt anyway, but as you get older and move firmly on from teen to full-fledged adult you come to understand yourself better, break away from that desperate desire to fit in and work out that the comfiest and most attractive thing to be is yourself.

You don’t really notice this as it’s happening, but any birthday ending in a 0 tends to bring on some self-reflection. Mine hadn’t brought on much of that, to begin with, it had mostly brought on a supreme hangover. When the clock struck midnight and my birthday officially arrived I was in the middle of a group of friends in the pub, we’d all been on the sauce since early in the evening, and it was all a dizzy blurry whirligig of fun. I was not in my most introspective state of mind. By the time I started opening presents it was stupid AM and I was wasted. The aftermath was not pretty in the morning, but thankfully I sobered up by the time I was due to meet more pals. Thank you, Nurofen.

Once I’d sobered up, happily reminiscing about the night before even as I cursed its consequences, I got to thinking about the people I’d been with and the gifts I’d been given. I have friends who are thoroughly lovely people, simply all round good eggs. If the individuals who choose to be around you are a reflection of you then to be honest I think I’ve pretty much won at life! Some of them have been with me a very long time and seen me through Hell. Others have no idea what I went through because we’d not long met at the time and I wasn’t sharing (mental health disclosure is a minefield, but again that’s another post). So when they managed to help heal me by supporting me, valuing me as I was and generally looking out for and including me… it was completely unknowingly on their parts. They were only going about business as usual.

What brought these thoughts into fairly sharp relief was when, finally sober, I actually managed to process the significance of one of the gifts I’d been given. I’m a very lucky girl who was treated like a princess by everyone for the entire weekend as well as the actual day, but this gift in particular struck me because not only was it very thoughtfully chosen… it was an expensive gift to be getting from anybody other than my parents or my BFF. I was blown away. Now, judging the worth or feeling behind a gift by its price tag is some seriously dumb shit, as is measuring the value the giver places on you by it. We may be living in a material world but I am not a Material Girl. I got equally thoughtful gifts that would have cost far less. Even so, it got me ruminating on the night in general and the way my pals had looked after me and done loads of stuff for me. It made something hit home.

(NB: I promise I haven’t been going round Googling what any of my pressies cost, it’s just stuff that anybody could estimate. If I ever do anything that tacky and ungrateful please slap me. You have my full permission)

What hit home was that people I respect and admire and think the world of actually care enough about me to spoil me rotten and do all manner of lovely thoughtful things for me, not just on my birthday but all the time. They’d done plenty of nice stuff for me before, but somehow the meaning of that had been missed by my oblivious self by in amongst the insecurities. For all my oddities, my nerdiness, my daft moments, my issues, all the things that ever made me question myself, I’m very much valued and loved by a bunch of people. In exactly my natural state.

This is incredibly cheesy to say and I’m sorry for the Stilton here, but that’s the real gift. That’s the bit that’s absolutely priceless.

There you have it, that’s what my twenties taught me (even if I learned it the hard way). I’ve learned that while I may not love everything about myself all of the time, overall I’m still actually good here. I have to be getting something right if friends like that are my reward.

Good, eh? :o)

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