Content warning: contains mentions of suicidal ideations.
Growing up, I never imagined being 30. As an often listless queer creative with depression and anxiety disorders, it was difficult to envision life beyond the scope of being a 20-something. The teen smoking alley mantra of ‘live fast, die young’ was far more manageable than the logistical nightmare of navigating a long and healthy life - particularly given the often tragic depictions of mature queerness on-screen in the early 00s.
In fact, when I first heard of the ‘27 club’ - a list of popular musicians, artists, or actors who died at the age of 27 - I thought perhaps I’d finally found a club that might accept me. Sure, a little eye-roll in hindsight, but as a 16-year-old with suicidal ideations and no clear blueprint for adulthood, it was a concept I could actually wrap my head around.
I’m now on the cusp of 30. And while I've married someone I absolutely adore, sobered up, and am fortunate enough to be in weekly therapy sessions, this particular milestone still feels shadowed by an unsettling - and if I let it be, exciting - sense of unknown. Having veered away from what some might consider the 'usual' markers of adulthood (home ownership, steady employment, having children), I’m just… not entirely sure what the next 10 years look like?
I do know what I hope for, though. I hope to wake up as a 30-year-old and transform Sailor Moon style into someone who doesn’t seek or depend on the validation of others. I hope to care more but mind less. I hope to grow back a full head of hair (though my doctor says there is ‘absolutely no precedent for this’). I hope to more easily enjoy processes over outcomes; to better understand what it is that fulfils me and spend more time doing it. I hope to start recovering from the disease of jealousy and have my chest naturally swell with pride for the successes of others. I hope to continue laughing at really stupid things on the internet. I hope to still believe with every bone in my body that the year 2000 was one (1) decade ago, not two.
I wouldn’t agree to relive my teens or early 20s for any (literally ANY) sum of money. These years were characterised by difficult lessons in unrequited love and rejection and self-hatred and hurt and the kind of bursting joy that fizzles out; the kind that can’t really be captured and held onto, but trying to anyhow, over and over again. They were years of reckless trial and error; of working out all the places that I didn’t fit and why; of realising that sometimes good people do bad things for sad reasons they won’t properly understand until therapy a decade from now. And that sometimes this person is you.
However, one of the unexpected delights of my late 20s (aside from becoming a person who actively uses the word ‘delight’), has been slowly learning how to hold and value myself in a way that’s gentler and less dependent on fitting in. I’m absolutely not there yet, but I feel the beginnings of self-love tickling at my guts for the first time in my life. And this weird little sensation - a feather against a foot’s hardened heel - is slowly externalising itself. It’s manifesting in the way I dress, colourfully and with a childlike dress-up box abandon. It’s spilling over into the way I treat other people, with the assumption that they, like me, are navigating the long and complex aftermath of childhood. It seeps into the creative work I want to make, too; work that nourishes, connects, surprises and moves, work that isn’t too preoccupied with being validated by powerful people.
I’m absolutely not there yet, but I feel the beginnings of self-love tickling at my guts for the first time in my life.
If anything, I want the scary and exciting unknown of my 30s to be composed of doing whatever makes my tail wag. For the first time since before I started primary school, I want to act more often from a place of love than fear. I want to pursue life with the same gusto I once pursued self-destruction, but in a way that doesn't take itself too seriously, in a way that makes room for boundaries and messing up and saying 'no' to things that don't feel right. All while holding onto the hope that in doing things my own little way, even when the uncertainty of it all feels a tad overwhelming, I’ll be giving my younger self the blueprint for adulthood they never had.
I never imagined I’d make it this far. Everything from here is icing on the cake.
Samuel Leighton-Dore is a visual artist and writer living on the Gold Coast. He's currently developing an animated series. You can follow him on Instagram here.