28 for 29, #15: Niec (or Niecy)

Many people believe that when you’re about 28 years old, your Saturn returns, bringing all sorts of changes and chaos. I’ve been using this idea as a conversation starter, asking folks what their lives were like at my age – even if they’re not so far from my age. 

Photo courtesy of Niec McDaniel

Through the series I reconnected with one of my friends from high school, Niec McDaniel – Niecy to me. Together with the rest of our posse in our visual arts magnet program, Niecy and I spent many, many hours developing test strips in the darkroom, passing notes during history of photography lectures, and wandering the halls of the art annex at dear old Suitland

Niecy, I learned this week, went on to earn a Bachelor’s of Science and then a Master’s in Biomedical Engineering. She was on her way to completing a Ph.D. when she experienced a bad car accident, but her resulting spinal injury hasn’t slowed her down much; these days she tutors college students in math and science and also advocates for reproductive justice and healthcare for the uninsured or under-insured. Earlier this year she launched her blog, Easy Peazy, “to find and appreciate the beautiful simplicities we tend to lose sight of amongst the chaos of our day.”  She wrote a sweet post the other day reminiscing about high school if you’re curious what that time in my life looked like (though I remember more absurdity, exhaustion, drama, and “Dawson’s Creek” than she does – fodder for a whole other series, maybe).

I hope you enjoy her interview.

Julia: Where were you when you turned 28?

Niecy: At 28 I was in an emotional and physically vulnerable spot. I had a series of calamities throughout that time that began with a really bad car accident eight days after I got married.

I spent my 28th birthday healing from the last of three surgical procedures, this one having been done to my left knee. I was in physical therapy that should have been called physical torture. Regionally I was in the DC area and my husband and I were staying with my in-laws, because our apartment had flooded. So at 28 I was basically standing in my in-laws’ guest room with a bum leg in a brace, a new husband, and a German Shepherd, with all of our lovely new things waterlogged in storage, telling myself, “It will get better because there is no possible way it could get worse.” In fact, I welcomed 30 at this moment because 28-29 would be over.

J: What are one or two or several things you remember from the year or so surrounding that birthday? 

N: Oddly enough, for a time I put so much emphasis on, I remember very little about that specific day. The focus was shifted off of the actual date because I had to focus on my body and the healing process. I did have a spiritual awaking that occurred and that is what I sum up that time with. I really focused on Eastern medicine and threw myself in the practice/philosophy of Yoga and Reiki, and simple things like sleeping a normal amount of time and eating more healthy for my body.

Now that I think of it, I’d be an incredibly stressed and unhappy person if that time hadn’t led me to the lifestyle I lead now. I was an angry person up until that point – my family, situation, the lack of truly decent people, it all weighed heavily on me. At 28 the proverbial light switch was turned on and there was a huge moment of illumination for which I am incredibly grateful. I was later told by a physician that I’d of probably run myself into an early grave with the amount of chronic stress I was putting my body through.

J: What was happening in the world that year? Do you remember newsworthy events, books you read, movies or shows or art you experienced?

N: I remember a book I read called Native Healer and having a huge “aha” moment. This was the year I took my tired soul back, and let go of a lot of baggage. (I think I may be sounding a bit like a crazy person. I’m an Aquarius, I’m allowed to be a little crazy, right?)

I read a lot of Charles Dickens that year, and have a journal entry that states, “Last night was the worst but at least I’m not an orphaned child in a debtors prison in London during the industrial revolution…”

I do remember two news stories that come to mind, the mammography guidelines being changed to age 50 as opposed to 40; that really made me mad. And I also remember hearing about a potential “AIDs vaccine.” I had an old professor working on this project, actually. While the data didn’t show a lot of promise, it did reiterate the importance of prevention (by ways of safe sex practices) being the main safeguard against HIV.

J: Do you feel close to those memories, or far from them? 

N: In some ways I feel incredibly close to that time in my life because it led to my subsequent spiritual awakening, but at the same time it does feel distant. The physical pain of that point in my life is kind of hazy, I remember it being bad but I think self-preservation kicked in and I realized that I had to keep taking one more step, just a simple one foot in front of the other to make the surroundings change. Along the way I realized there was a lot of beauty in the world, in the simplicity of everyday things I hadn’t seen before. I was now moving slow enough to notice it all. Those little pieces of beauty are the things I remember from that time.

Julia: Does the term “Saturn returns” mean anything to you?

Niecy: Wow, actually, yes. My family had terrified me with the horrible things that would take place due to the return of Saturn. I can remember hearing at 25, “Get married soon, have a baby soon, you know Saturn will return,” and the all too familiar, “No better time than now!” I had feared 28’s approach most of my twenties based totally on the fact that the women in my immediate family instilled this fear of it. It’s kind of ridiculous now when I think about it because it was such an awful time in my life it almost seemed like it was fulfillment of my destiny to have a horrible year(s), because I’d heard it so much.

The actual term “Saturn Returns” evokes a mini panic attack. For me it’s that feeling of re-evaluating your twenties with a fine tooth comb, counting the kids you don’t have, the graduate degrees you still are working on, and the lack of a 401K or decent retirement package. But on the other hand it makes me appreciate being stripped of all that. The return of Saturn made me evaluate my self-worth. Up until that point I used my education as a piece of armor that deflected questions: “Well, I’m okay because I’m working on this project and I’m not idle…” But an accident forced me to sit idle and to think about the emotional areas I had neglected up until that point. It was my second birth, a moment of supreme clarity. I think when you’re made to face a fear you become incredibly strengthened by getting through it. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I was scared, scared as hell, but then it came and went and I realized I was capable of conquering quite literally anything.

J: Do you have any advice for someone going through this (supposedly) astrologically tumultuous time? 

N: Yes. Don’t freak out, this is more of a jumping off point than a cataclysmic battle over the relevance of your early to mid 20s, and it can always be worse! As a person that had an incredibly shitty late 20s experience I promise it can always be so much worse.

Focus on what you want to do after this point and not what has led up to it, don’t pine over past decisions with a fine tooth comb. Be optimistic, 30 looks incredibly positive, many woes of your 20s will fall to the wayside. Stop along the way and take in the beauty. It’s easy to miss. Stop and smell the flowers and smile when you can, hopefully often, tell the people you love that you do, and allow them to tell you the same and really absorb it.

And don’t read Charles Dickens in a moment of depression. It’ll only make you feel more depressed.

Thank you, Niecy! I hope the folks who read this take a look at your blog, send you good vibes for continued healing and strength, and maybe even feel inspired to reach out to one of their old high school classmates. 

Photo courtesy of Niec McDaniel. 

Previous posts in the series: Hannah, #1Kara, #2Saya, #3Cathy (aka Mom), #4Rachel, #5Jen, #6Cathy W., #7Celeste, #8Deanna, #9Kyra, #10Aditi, #11Russ, #12Amy, #13; Ellen, #14.

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