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I didn't want to live to 30, but I'm glad I made it

"Are you worried about turning 30?" a friend asked me.

I mulled the question over in my mind. Unlike many people who say they are feeling apprehensive about leaving their 20s, I definitely was not.

In fact, I was glad to be turning 30. I was proud. I defied my own predictions and conceptions of what my life would be like at this age. And the biggest part of defying what I envisioned for myself at 30 is, frankly, that I am alive.

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How can I explain this to another person, though? It's not as if I can just casually mention to someone that I was suicidal for several years. But I was.

My life path has been a rocky one. It was a path I truly believed would be cut short - by my own doing. I feel ashamed now to admit I spent such a considerable amount of time in my 20s wishing my life would end.

Finding the words to describe what it was like for several years wanting my life to end, wanting to die, is extremely difficult. Pain and heartbreak don't adequately convey the dark and determined path I saw for myself.

Few people who know me have any idea of the inner agony I was in, since I did a fairly good job of keeping up appearances. I somehow managed to stay in university and commit to several social justice causes.

Yet I was on the edge, ready to jump at any moment. I didn't believe I could sustain suffering much longer, let alone years and years until I made it to the age of 30. I didn't understand how people could possibly say "it will get better." I scoffed at such notions.

If things were going to get better, why was I constantly looking for ways in which I could end it all right then and there? I would sit thinking about it in my bedroom in the apartment I shared with two other women. In the doctor's office. My parents' house. My friends' places. And finally even in my shared hospital room in the psychiatric ward, where I was held for 72 hours during the December exam period in 2001.

I felt ending my life was the only way to get peace from the pain that had taken me over. Suffering from a major clinical depression, along with high levels of anxiety, I felt every simple moment was a torturous chore. The worst part of all was just managing to get out of bed every day and eat.

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Days, weeks, months, even years dragged on feeling that I would only ever make small progress that could be undone again at any moment.

When I was in my early 20s, I never thought I would be able to get over the traumatic things I went through for several years in my first romantic relationship. It was emotionally abusive and triggered my struggles with anxiety. I thought I was stuck forever in his grip. I did not think I would ever feel happy, successful or proud. I did not think my friends and family would be greatly affected if I were suddenly gone.

Now I look back and think about how incredibly wrong I was. Back then everything seemed so black and white. I didn't see the nuances, complications and complexities of life. I did not realize what love and happiness could look like. I did not think I could survive depression.

I was wrong. I have now survived two major episodes of depression that spanned several years in my 20s. And I have made it to my "impossible" age - 30.

I'll admit I still struggle with getting out of bed some days. I still sometimes find simple tasks exhausting or insurmountable. But things have become significantly better.

While I didn't experience a sudden moment when my life seemed worth living again, somehow, somewhere, over time, I realized I hadn't been asking myself if life was worth living. I thought about the sadness less. And that pain I can't explain, the pain that left me literally sobbing on the floor some nights, wishing I could disappear - it faded. Slowly that became the past, something I looked back on.

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Turning 30 was something I hadn't considered for years. It seemed unreachable and therefore unimportant. And here I am now. I don't question any longer whether my life is worth living. I know it is.

I feel a lot of sadness remembering the way I suffered and how endless it all seemed then. But I also feel a lot of pride for what I have overcome to get me to this age that I thought was unattainable. I turned 30 last month and I am happy about it.

The most important thing I have learned to prepare for my next 30 years of living is never to give up hope in myself. Never believe that things can't change. I will hold onto that hope I found along the way. I look forward to reflecting in 30 years from now on what I have accomplished and experienced.

So I responded to my friend's question: "No, I'm not bothered at all leaving my 20s behind. I actually feel pretty good about turning 30."

Gemma Richardson lives in London, Ont.

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