Birthday Reflections and Being Happy About Being Alive…

Pa-zow! Yesterday it was birthday. It was a really good birthday, and I celebrated by reading comics and going for a curry with my Blood-Clan (erm, family). They got me an electric razor and my daily-mutilated face thanks them so, so much. I’m now 27 years old and this website advertising an upcoming Nick Cave film tallies that up to 9,862 days on Earth. I’m really happy to be alive on Earth right now. (Though, of course, I’d like to leave Earth eventually, but now I’ll comfortably settle for this planet. There’s still a lot I’d like to see and do here…)

Times past – especially birthdays past – I didn’t want to be alive or, at least, alive as me (James Clayton). I woke up on my birthday to find that, the night before, a pretty significant figure from my childhood had decided that he didn’t want to be alive anymore. I was – and still am – devastated that a great man, the kind of man I’ve always aspired to one day be in so many ways, decided that his life wasn’t worth it. A considerable number of my heroes and inspirations throughout history have made the same decision and some of them didn’t come out of it alive. It’s shocking and sad, and I felt that even more so as I woke feeling certain that, yes, I am 27 years old today and I’m so happy to be here.

As I say, that hasn’t always been the case so to actually consciously realise – I mean, really realise and acknowledge – that I love being alive is quite surprising. Recently, I’ve had a lot of life-affirming moments – some subtle and some explicit – that have really rubbed that realisation in and made me re-appreciate myself, my life, life in general and the wider Universe. Birthdays are milestone occasions that hammer it home hard and that makes sense when you consider that it’s the anniversary celebrating the fact that you’re a living being who was, at a precise point in time, pulled from a womb (or some special magic clay) to join the party. Woohoo! I was born and I’m still here and that’s brilliant! Let’s have music, dancing and curry!

Birthday whoop, 27-years' XP achievement and level-up mini-celebration moment…

A post shared by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

Compare that with me of ages gone and it’s a stark juxtaposition. I remember being utterly miserable. I remember (barely) existing in a world of depression, despair, fear, frustration, hopelessness, self-hatred, anguish, anger and, yeah, all kinds of epic moop. All kinds of overwhelming negativity and self-destructive unpleasantness, where life isn’t enjoyable or even desired at all. Birthdays were especially bad times: sharp reminders that I was born as me when I probably wished I’d never been born. Furthermore, time was passing by and from there you can really go to town on worry that you’re wasting your life and that you’re a waste of life anyway and, aye, you can see the vicious runaway crazy train of thought here that drives you deeper down the dark tunnels…

But here I am, the day after my birthday, laughing and casually poo-pooing that boo-hoo backstory, feeling very sure that I don’t want to join the 27 Club. There is no magic wand/burning bush moment, wonder drug (no drugs at all), superhero mutation shock or anything like that. Mainly, I think it’s just living and maturing that instils gradual change, and life is constant gradual change. Experiences and encounters shape you and I can reel off things I’ve done, things I’ve been through, things I’ve read and watched and people I’ve engaged with that have had small-yet-significant impacts on what I feel is a seismic shift. I’m grateful to all of those people, whether I know them personally or not and whether they know it or not. (If you don’t know it yet, wait for me to finish writing this and I’ll come over there and King Kong-hug you into a coma) The same is true for all the ‘things’ and experiences, even if the ordeals have been hell to go through at the time. Things pass, you learn, you absorb something, you grow and life goes on…

Growing up has been long and hard but I feel like now, at 27, I might actually be there or somewhere thereabouts – at peace with the world and at peace with myself as an adult. That, mi amici, is genuinely astounding. Bringing out that boo-hoo backstory for context, I’ve been in a state of arrested development – physical and mental – because of medical reasons. Plus, it didn’t help that I further stunted my development by clinging to depression and an insidious psychological disorder that’s all about self-harm. Damage is done and things didn’t happen as they should have. I’ve been haphazardly trying to go through my adolescence, as it were, and attempting to work out who I am as an adult human and what this big wide world is about five-to-ten years behind everyone else. It’s all been so slow, so late and I think I’ve missed a lot but I’m not angry or bitter, and that’s a big shift from the old outlook I used to clutch on to. I don’t care that much and can’t be bothered spending a lot of time dwelling in the past (he says writing a blogpost about it), especially if the past is geared around self-pity and personal trauma.

I’m happy. I’m alive. I’m 27 years old. I’m happy to be living as me right now in this world (and in the myriad worlds I’ve got whizzing around in my head). Hot damn, that is an immense change! Optimism, enjoyment, some semblance of self-esteem and awareness of the infinite wonder of the Universe (yes, I’ve been watching Cosmos) are the paradigms through which I perceive imminent reality. I definitely feel that I’ve levelled up and progressed, matured, grown up or whatever term you want to use. I feel a sense of fresh arrival and it’s something of a shocking epiphany. Of course I’m very aware of hubris, here, and I very much know that I’m still nowhere near the person I’d ideally like to be. I’ve got a lot to learn, a lot to do and a lot to improve upon. I’m still a very weak ignorant idiot who has no idea what he’s doing and a number of issues and problems but I’m not upset about that. I’m good, getting better. Life is about always learning and continuing to try and get better and make the world better as best as you can while you’re here. I’m really excited about that and I’m glad that I’m alive and still have the opportunity to do that. If past me had got what he wanted at particular points, chances are that opportunity would have long gone by now.

I’m writing this all out for several reasons: One – it’s helping me gather my thoughts and take stock of where I’m up to, where I’ve come from and what is going on. I think I need to mark what is a significant personal achievement and note down some life-affirming essentials; Two – I love writing, and writing is one of the things that I’ve learned makes me very happy and I can’t stop it; Three – I feel a compulsion to share something and try and challenge some of those darker demons out there that cause so much harm to good people, especially in light of recent bad news. Life really is beautiful, but forces beyond our immediate control can make us feel like it’s the exact opposite. Too many people that I like and have liked have lost sight of that beauty or have suffered so much because of depression and co-morbid illnesses.

I don’t know if my writing is worth anything or helps anyone, but if I can make just one person smile or look at things in a slightly different, warmer light then that’s brilliant. Reflecting on everything at this minor milestone point on what’s going to be a very long journey (I’ve barely even started this adventure and need to accumulate more XP) it strikes me as a good idea to note down some of the things that I’ve learned. What follows is a personal manifesto – a list of those life lessons – in which I’ll attempt to codify some of the principles that I want to remember and live by. It’s mainly for me to keep in touch with as I ramble on through life, but others might find them useful or interesting, so here they are. They may be trite and sound a bit pseudo-spiritual or cheap self-help-bookish. They may be a bit vague and seemingly impractical but I believe there’s some truth in them and they can easily applied elsewhere (or, at least, used as philosophical threads to think on or as the basis for awesome knitted headwear).

I’m no Zen master, supreme flawless expert or absolutely-enlightened guru hero who has it all sussed. I’m just a guy who’s sat down and worked out what works for me and makes life better (or at least feel better). I’ve been thinking a lot lately and finally feel like I’ve got a better understanding of who I really am, what I really feel and what I want life to be about. If I had a time machine I’d grab my younger, sadder self (he definitely wasn’t as aware and could have benefitted from the future insight) and lecture him with these day and night until he got over himself and realised some vital truths. Ah well, he found his way eventually and I guess that’s growing up for you. I’m happy I got through to here and I’m even happier to be here. With all sincerity and a big 27-year-old smile, thank you for reading, please take care of yourselves and here’s to life…

1. Smile and laugh. These are the best and cheapest medicines with no side-effects. Be happy!

2. Don’t get angry. Raging all the time is exhausting, makes you sad and is such a waste of energy. Wrath is ruinous.

3. Don’t be afraid and let fear control you. Forget fear. It’s the mindkiller…

4. Accept – nay, embrace! – change. Life is change so we may as well go with it, grow with it and face its challenges openly…

5. Be open-minded. You can’t move, learn and grow if you’ve put up rigid mental barriers.

6. Be nice to people. Kindness is easy and people are ace.  Just be sociable, friendly, empathetic and compassionate! We’re all just people, y’know?

7. Be nice to yourself. You’re a person too, so respect yourself as a human being and treat yourself with compassion.

8. Consciously enjoy and appreciate the good things. Savour the sweet stuff that makes life extra special and enjoyable.

9. Don’t hate. Why be a hater directing all your energy towards junk you dislike when you can be focusing on the aforementioned good stuff?

10. Don’t be overly judgemental. Entrenching yourself in opinions and dogmatic thinking breeds prejudice, disharmony and division.

11. Communicate. Express yourself and listen carefully, because things work and magic happens when people exchange information, ideas and experiences.

12. Embrace art and culture. Because you can get so much – entertainment, learning, spiritual and emotional sustenance – from art and culture.

13. Celebrate what you love. If it moves you and means a lot to you, enthusiastically express it and show it the love it deserves. (Also goes for people.)

14. Create and make stuff. You can, literally, make yourself happy. Doing things, producing work and playing is fun and fulfills your creative need.

15. Think ‘FUN!’ Because life is fun if you think ‘life is fun!’ and think that you’re going to have fun. Honestly, everything is potentially fun.

16. Get in touch with your feelings. Emotions are precious and are a vital part of being a living human. That’s why the androids want them.

17. Forget shame. Shame, guilt and embarrassment hold us back, and you can’t get on the spaceship with all that baggage. (And they’re unreal illusions anyway.)

18. Don’t dwell on the past. The past has passed and can’t be changed so dwelling on it a lot can’t help anything much. Let’s talk about now and the future…

19. Don’t get strung up in self-pity. Feeling sorry for yourself and whinging and complaining and oh-my-glob-all-the-moping doesn’t fix anything and is a sad state of being that only generates self-loathing, anger, dissatisfaction and all the rest.

20. Be creative and imaginative. Your mind is a marvellous place for dreaming, fantasy and infinite possibility. It’s always available, so enjoy it.

21. Be curious and live to learn. Discover, absorb, grow and expand your mind and consciousness. There Universe is infinite and there’s so much exciting stimulation and knowledge to assimilate!

22. Acknowledge your place in the wider world. Be considerate and be aware that you impact others around you and can have a massive effect on the wider world (and that’s really empowering, from a political perspective. You mean something and can make a difference to the lives of others!)

23. Always have hope. The promise of better and brighter is always there and has to be believed in. Never give up. Never say die!

24. Don’t worry too much. Anxiety will eat you alive and fretting about things overmuch will turn you into a neuroses-riven nervous wreck. It’s not worth it. Relax. Breathe. Meditate for a moment…

25. Come out of everything stronger and wiser. It’s possible, and you can learn from everything and make something positive out of everything.

26. Retain a sense of cosmic perspective. We’re all just tiny dots in an infinite, immense Universe. Think, ‘big picture’. (And that’s a beautiful big picture.)

27. Remember, it’s good – really good! – to be alive. 😀

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1 Comment

  1. Brilliant and honest. Bravo sir.



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