Honoring my intuition & reflecting on the significance of turning 40 years old.
I began the day with my usual Morning Pages practice. Actually, first I got a squeeze from my main squeeze before he headed to work; a Russell hug was the best way to start my birthday (insert collective “awwwww”). Then I grabbed a cup of coffee and wrote my three pages, reflecting on crossing the threshold into a new decade, a decade that for many years I didn’t believe I’d live to see.
I have a distinct memory from 14 years old, sitting on my daybed, trying to articulate to my mom how I felt. I didn’t have a word for depression then, but I did know, “I think I’m supposed to feel this way forever.”
What followed were some tumultuous and very dark years, suicidal thoughts, a bipolar diagnosis, and struggles to understand why I had this disease and how to manage it. Reaching 40 years old was unimaginable. At the time, I wasn’t sure I cared. But for some reason, 40 was the number that has stuck with me.
Last Tuesday I turned 40. I remembered the day, some 26 years ago, when I said aloud, “I think I’m supposed to feel this way forever.” And I realized that that moment began my journey with sensing my inner truth, knowing it without yet fully understanding it.
A birthday, anniversary, significant dates — they are opportunities for us to pause and reflect. And I’d been asking myself, what have I learned in my 40 years?
In the midst of mental chaos, busyness, growing up, adulting, burnout, cancer, bipolar… in times of wellness and illness (often overlapping), there is an inner knowing waiting to guide me.
Call it intuition, inner truth, God, Allah, Yahweh, Fred, she, he, knowledge, a creative force… I’m not even sure what name I care to give it right now; I just know it when I feel it.
I sat at my desk and began an endless list of moments when my inner truth nudged me or warned me. This was followed by a recognition that beautiful things happened when I noticed then honored my gut. Often misunderstood by others, and sometimes even I was like, for real? Ok. We’ll go with it.
So I knew Tuesday deserved to be guided by this intuition.
Sometimes this means sitting quietly and listening. Other times it’s just going with what pops in my head.
So, I had a dance party in the kitchen while my oatmeal cooked. (Oatmeal because I am getting older after all, and my creative force has a responsible side).
Tears surfaced as I felt the sun warm my face while sitting on my couch, in my living room, in my house, on my first birthday since I was a kid, where I didn’t feel depressed. I wiped the tears and welcomed the unfamiliar feeling of eagerness for this day.
I played Wordle and listened to a podcast. I had second coffee and a birthday baked good to fuel my hike.
Off to Provin trails, the ice beneath the snow made it more of a meander, nature helping me slow down. I felt a pull into this spot in the woods before heading back to the car.
This tree held my attention, and I wondered if its bend was an adaptation to reach the light. (Someone smarter than me about trees feel free to correct me in the comments. Either way, I carried that thought with me — we do what we must to reach the light).
I turned on some music back home and made up a yoga flow.
I enjoyed a long lunch at San Chez with mom. I can’t say for sure my intuition told me to have dessert, but I also didn’t hear it say no.
I walked over to the GRAM. Admission is free on Tuesdays, btw. I’d been wanting to go, meaning to go, but always managing to let busyness get in the way.
Having agreed that morning to say yes to my inner truth, I allowed time to wander through the photography exhibit.
My heart swelled when I saw Marcus Garvey park. And, thumbing through the photographer’s book, this photo of 116th and Frederick Douglass Blvd taken just steps from my last apartment in NYC. Wistfulness swept over me.
Then I stood in front of Our Community Timeline, prompting visitors to add events that shaped our lives.
I read others and then noted a few pivotal events that came to mind personally and communally. My diagnosis with bipolar II in the early aughts. Honoring my intuition and deciding to stay in New York when all logic pointed to leaving. The Women’s March. Falling in love and leaving New York. Last year, moving back to Grand Rapids to be close to family while we navigated my diagnosis with breast cancer.
Just a few events that represented and shaped my values. The rest is up to me as I continue to trust and honor that my inner truth represents my values and shapes how I move through this world.
I wandered over to Brick & Porter and got some of these thoughts out of my head and onto paper.
Back home, I laid on the couch and caught up on birthday messages, did a little baking, then Russ and I headed to dinner at City Built Brewing because Taco Tuesday.
As I step into my 40s, I’m showing 14 year old me that it is ok we “live with this forever.” Proving to twenty-something Angie that you will learn to navigate (maybe even thrive in) life with bipolar. And realizing that thirty-something Angie might have been on to something when she felt that her 40s would be some of her best years yet.
It’s not easy to listen to and honor the creative force in me. It’s especially challenging when in the throws of hypomanic highs or debilitating lows of depression. But I’ve done well. I made it to 40, and I grow in my understanding and ability to honor my inner truth every day.
To you who journey with me through this life — past, present, and future… thank you. I’m glad we’re here.
Important addendum: I balance my approach to most things with levity and reverence, including my journey with mental illness. I continue to honor my inner truth that I must share my story and offer resources, so you know you’re not alone.
Most people in the grip of depression at its ghastliest are, for whatever reason, in a state of unrealistic hopelessness, torn by exaggerated ills and fatal threats that bear no resemblance to actuality. It may require on the part of friends, lovers, family, admirers, an almost religious devotion to persuade the sufferers of life’s worth, which is so often in conflict with a sense of their own worthlessness, but such devotion has prevented countless suicides.
― William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness
I’ve lost people I love to suicide. I don’t know why I’m here, and others aren’t. But I believe that it’s my responsibility to share my thoughts while I’m here. So please… sympathize, empathize, know that you don’t have to feel that kind of inner torment to show someone they matter. As a matter of fact, maybe we apply that to all beings, not just those in the grip of depression or considering suicide.
If there is even the teeniest tiniest piece of you that thinks about reaching out, do it. It won’t be easy and it might not make any sense to you right now, but trust me, I made it to 40, and I believe you matter.