I had a BIG birthday this week. It was lovely – spoilt by my gorgeous family and friends, a beautiful dinner, calls and messages and special deliveries from friends in far flung places. BIG birthdays are weird. There seems to be an expectation that we have BIG feelings about them. Some people have BIG negative feelings about them. Some people freak out. Some go through a crisis and suddenly feel as though they are facing their mortality. I haven’t felt any of those things, but people have been asking. And I’ve been at a bit of a loss as to how to respond.
I don’t feel bad about getting older. I like that the cliché about women giving fewer fucks about others’ opinions as they age has been true for me. I like that I’ve become more confident, and with that developed the ability to recognise a bout of imposter syndrome and swiftly dismiss it, knowing I’ve absolutely earned the seat at whichever table I am sitting. I like that I easily stare down and call out misogyny and have become better at identifying the misogynists who cloak their misogyny in faux allyship. I like that I have a group of strong, sassy, spectacular women around me and that we build each other up and celebrate each others’ triumphs. I like the respect my work receives, and I especially like that I now walk away from situations where that respect isn’t afforded.
The only one BIG feeling I have had is that ageing is such a privilege. I’ve felt that keenly this week as I’ve celebrated this BIG birthday. I’ve thought of friends who didn’t get to celebrate this BIG birthday for all sorts of devastating reasons, and of friends who have had some pretty serious medical emergencies of late. I flashed back to my darling sister being so, so unwell last year, noting that when it’s time for her next BIG birthday there will be fireworks to celebrate that she is with us. And I’ve thought about how if I’d been diagnosed with diabetes a few decades earlier, I may not be celebrating this week.
Diabetes has been a constant and unwelcome companion for over half my life now. I do have BIG feelings about that, none of them good. It entered my life and reshaped it in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, and even though my work – work that I love – is impossibly intertwined with my diabetes, I feel cheated that so much of my brainpower, my energy, my finances and mostly, my time has been sucked away by diabetes. I’ve never bought into the toxic positivity of diabetes superherodom, and flat out refuse to credit diabetes for the discipline and resilience I’ve been forced to adopt just to manage living. I get credit for that.
And I’ve thought this: Ageing is a privilege, but ageing with diabetes feels like a miracle, and believing that brings into sharp focus my diabetes brothers and sisters who might not get to celebrate BIG birthdays due to completely missed diagnoses, inadequate healthcare, or lack of access to drugs and technology. Over the last few years, we’ve heard more from our vast community about those experience and we need to hear more, and do more to help. And so, if I can be opportunistic on the occasion of my BIG birthday, an appeal to anyone reading. If you can, please make a donation to either Life for a Child or Insulin for Life; two charities doing so much to increase the chances of more BIG birthdays for people with diabetes in under-resourced countries. That seems like the best celebration possible.