A Millennial Milestone

November, 2022. 

The unthinkable happened. 

I turned 40.

After counting down from months, to weeks, to days, it finally arrived. I’m not really sure what dramatic and irreparable change I expected to occur on the morning in question; perhaps a sudden, drastic aging, akin to Tim Allen in The Santa Clause?! The truth was far less slapstick, because I largely looked and felt exactly the same as I had done the previous days, weeks and months. (Apologies to anyone coming into this expecting a heart-warming Christmas tale involving personal growth, slapstick comedy and Santacide!)

gif from The Santa Clause where Santa falls off a roof

It’s just the whole mental stigma of it, you know.

40…

F-o-r-t-y…

Four zero

The age that society has deemed to be the midpoint in one’s life. Honestly, I really thought I’d have figured things out by now. But time is sneaky like that. The first 20 years of your life go by so slowly that it feels like you’ve got forever to get all the jigsaw pieces in place. Then suddenly, at some point in your early 20s, the fast forward button gets hit and next thing you know you’re filling out an online form and having to scroll down two or three times to find your year of birth! 

A gif of a man ageing before your eyes - as Gareth thinks he is doing as he turns 40

Ageing Out of Independence?

Forty was the first milestone birthday I remember one of my parents reaching. A then 10-year-old me designed a handmade card for my mum; depicting her as a silver-haired dear, shuffling across a zebra crossing, walking stick in hand, as the crossing guard held up a lollypop stick with a big, fat “40” painted on it. And now it’s my turn. Rather than hobbling along with a walking stick however, I’m rolling my way across the road in a wheelchair. God help 10 or even 40-year-old me try to draw that, I couldn’t even master hands!

Limited artistic ability aside, the disability aspect in all of this cannot be ignored. I’ve spoken at length in previous entries about how I fought for independence after my injury. How my injury level puts me right on the border of dependence/independence. And how various wearings and tearings have heightened my long-term injury fears going forward. So when you couple almost two decades of spinal injury with the unavoidable truth that even the most able of bodies will start to deteriorate with age, and I can’t help but feel that doomsday clock ticking ever louder… 

Pondering turning 40 - Gareth in a heap under his wheelchair playing wheelchair rugby
“Here lies Gareth, he died as he lived, in a bewildered heap!”

With constantly evolving technology and disability aids, I don’t think I’ll reach the point where I’m wholly reliant on others. My worry is that, like so many of us, I am reliant on my arms for every single thing. I need both of them to be in full working order, or at least my own quad equivalent of it, for me to even be able to get out of bed on a morning (see my previous entry). 

Onwards from 40…

I may have hit 40, but I certainly don’t feel “middle aged”, whatever that’s supposed to entail. I still have the same drive and desire for adventure as I did two decades ago. However, I am becoming increasingly aware that all it would take is some minor deterioration in either arm for the domino effect to start, and that does scare me as I get older.

Of course, there’s nothing written in stone saying this is imminently, or even ever, going to happen to me. I have a fairly healthy, balanced diet. I play sport regularly and try to get some form of exercise in at least 5 times a week. And I’ve managed to maintain myself at a liftable weight; all of which work in my favour here. It’s almost entirely conjecture on my part based around a number. There’s also nothing saying you have to have every aspect of your life in order at this, or any point, in your timeline. There’s nothing inherently wrong with floating through the years on a cloud of, what feels like, confused yet carefree abandonment. Hell, you could even look at this as being positively appealing!

Gareth is wearing a black cap backwards while out at a meal with friends
Nothing suggests an impending midlife crisis quite like a backwards hat!

I may not be exactly where I envisioned myself at 40; a couple of elements in particular are conspicuously absent, but I certainly don’t view the life I’ve carved out in a negative light. I have a house, a car, two jobs and a social life that includes at least one yearly adventure abroad, so I’m by no means completely adrift without an anchor. And in a world where an increasing percentage of the population struggle to have any of these things, I am extremely grateful for all that I do have. I just still don’t really feel like I know what I’m doing. But maybe that’s how we all feel. Maybe, behind the public facade, everyone is as secretly bewildered as I am (don’t correct me if I’m wrong here, I need this!).

Keep On Rollin’

Anyway, these have been my general, untethered thoughts as a quadriplegic wheelchair user turning 40. I hope this hasn’t come across as overly self-pitying or self-indulgent on my part, I had absolutely nothing mapped out when I started writing. It’s really been more a therapeutic stream of consciousness than anything; so thanks for listening!

In the meantime, I’ll continue meandering down whatever hazy trail I’m on, crossing bridges as they come. Maybe this is the decade where all the pieces fall into place and the picture becomes clear. I doubt it but stranger things have happened! Until then, I’ll take solace in the words of the great philosopher Baz Luhrmann:

“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.
The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22
What they wanted to do with their lives.
Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”

Thanks Baz. As someone who had their injury at 22 and firmly buys into the notion that you can remain feeling the age at which you were injured, this fits uncannily well. I could really have done with a couple of lines about growing your hair and beard out so as not to look like a white nationalist though. Had to work that one out for myself! 

Two pictures of Gareth: in the first he has very short hair and no beard; in the second, aged 40, he has longer hair and a beard
Growing out the hair and beard was an improvement!

Gareth