It’s my 31st birthday tomorrow (Saturday). I’ve started the celebrations early by bringing donuts and timbits to work, so that everyone knows it’s my bday and gives me hugs and attention. (The only child that I am was raised a princess, and will always remain a princess!)
While I’ve always enjoyed being the center of attention, the past few birthdays have been very bittersweet, starting with my 25th birthday. Every birthday felt like a day of reckoning, where I realized just how far I was from achieving my dreams. With every additional year of reckoning, I felt increasingly stuck by how unsatisfactory my life had become. Sure – I had moments of happiness, but the weeks leading up to each birthday were filled with shame and regrets, as I accumulated years without any significant life events to validate that I was living life to the fullest.
The year I turned 28, I handled my frenzied shame by partying with friends. I was in the midst of a then-undiagnosed depressive episode. I’d blown out my knee one month earlier, and had spent the preceding weeks in pain, crutches and a cane, with intensive physio. I felt like a fat, unattractive cripple. My birthday that year fell on a workday – I was working late at the office, and didn’t do anything other than take a 5 minute call from my mother. She wanted to make plans to celebrate that weekend, but I chose instead to have a celebration with my friends, and skipped seeing my parents entirely that week. I promised we’d have a nice day together the following weekend (approximately 10 days later). I felt a pang of guilt when she apologized for not making the trek from the suburbs to my place downtown, because her health issues made that too difficult for her, but I successfully ignored my conscience, choosing convenience and friends over my family. She died in her sleep the night before our delayed family celebration together. I found out later that one of the last things she ever did was go shopping for my birthday present with my father.
Needless to say, the guilt from my choices that year has followed me every birthday since. There is no way I’d rather spend my birthday today than with her. Coupled with accumulated feeling of life stagnation each year, the birthdays since my mother’s death have been uncomfortable events, although I’ve managed to squeeze in some good moments with friends and family.
This year feels different. Building on my recent realization that despite my aloneness, I am not isolated, I do not feel shame and regret leading up to this birthday. I feel hope and gratitude. I also feel pride that I have weathered the difficult past 5 years, and acceptance that although things are good now, the Universe is guaranteed to throw a few more rough(er) patches my way. Depression sucks, guys, it really sucks joy out of life: I look back at the past 5 years as a wasteland of misery. But it also makes me count my blessings, for now that I am not in the throes of a depressive episode, I can appreciate just how wonderful and full my life truly is. My lack of significant life events seems irrelevant now: I survived depression – that is my significant event. I’m still here, and I am happy.
Happy birthday to me. And happy un-birthdays to all y’all. God bless.