Please Don’t Wish me a Happy Birthday

It’s early July, yet again, and my bestie texts, “It’s almost your birthday! What do you want to do this year?”

I swallow my heart.

She offers a low-key night out. I say, “Meh. We’ll see.” There’s a patio restaurant I’ve been wanting to try, but I’ll probably wait until the birthday blues wear off.

The idea of planning a celebration, something even as simple as a dinner reservation, for myself is daunting. The idea of someone else planning a party on my behalf is even more daunting. If an ambitious friend/family member makes it happen, everyone stares and asks, “are you having fun? Do you like your gifts?” Then they sing and it feels like antifreeze is boiling in the back of my throat. All I want to do is cry.

Don’t get me wrong, I love celebrating birthdays: making people feel seen, finding a unique gift, eating cake. I just don’t like mine.

Birthdays are a time for family gatherings, for the sake of togetherness, real or not, with people who aren’t always right for us. We’ve gotta trudge through the trenches with a big smile and pretend we feel special and loved.

On my fifth birthday, Mom dressed me in my best Mickey Mouse dress and even though I walked on eggshells to not set her off, she screamed every time I tucked my fluffed blond hair behind my ears. The Golden Child must look and be perfect at all times, especially when she’s the center of attention. Deep-seated conflicts were painted pink in the backyard and Barbie sat at the head of the table between my feuding Aunts. Dad was drinking and crying out for reassurance at the computer desk again.

A guest I got/get bad vibes from (I felt energy deeply even at age 5) came storming in for a hug. When I refused, she lifted me up by the left arm, dislocating my shoulder. Happy Birthday to me! If this doesn’t symbolize the forced togetherness I’m talking about, I don’t know what does.

Every birthday after that has been quite similar. This year, though, I’m laying low with my husband and dogs on a hiking trail.

Birthdays, like New Year’s Eve, is a time for reflection. And each year my family probes me on every aspect of my existence: what are you doing with your life? When are you having Kids? Do you think College was a waste of money now? Why do you live your life the way you do?

Every year I’m reminded that I’m not where I want to be—yet. I shouldn’t have taken a break from grad school. Should I really have kids? I should “fake it till I make it.” I should know how to cope by now. I should. . .

Unsolicited advice, even from a good place, reminds that I’m not enough and that I’m taking too long. Imposter Syndrome sets in, and tells me I don’t deserve what I have and shouldn’t move forward. Feeling like a failure triggers my anxiety and trauma, and so I retreat to the shadows in my mind—which takes days or weeks or months to crawl out of if I’m not careful.

I know this mindset is unhealthy, but the “I should” social construct always has its way with me. This year I deleted my social media as a birthday present to myself. I’m also chanting: I don’t need to slay all the dragons all the time. It has helped.

My birthday has me feeling guilty for not feeling celebratory. The people who love me want to see me happy and smiley, but around this time, it’s not what I can give them. As a chronic people-pleaser, knowing I’m disappointing people makes me uncomfortable. Do I look like I’m having enough fun? Did I open the gifts with enough enthusiasm? Are my guests entertained? In reality, I doubt my loved ones are judging me in this capacity.

For many years, I thought I was the only one crying on my birthday, but I know there are many of us out there. So, this year let’s promise each other we’ll think of our day as a day to celebrate the life we have exactly where and how we are, without comparing ourselves to others. Let’s promise to respect ourselves enough to set boundaries and do the things we really want to do, for ourselves. Let’s promise to treat ourselves with the same compassion we give our friends on their birthdays.

This year my birthday will be different. I’m on this new journey, taking on new perspectives and reminding myself to think positively. This year I’m going to uphold those promises to myself.

Do you have the birthday blues? What does it stem from? How do you grapple with the anxiety it brings?

11 thoughts on “Please Don’t Wish me a Happy Birthday

  1. I don’t get birthday blues exactly but I do get very reflective and tend to want to withdraw and ponder my goals and where I’m at. I have actually been away by myself quite a bit on my birthdays and I find that they are the best ones. I feel like I’ve honoured myself properly when I have that time alone to think. Weird maybe – I like it like that.

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  2. Birthdays in my family growing up were not big affairs. Maybe we’d go out for dinner – and the birthday celebrant would get to choose the venue. My mother would bake a cake – maybe. As an adult I never thought a birthday was anything more than a new day. It wasn’t until I turned 60 that I became reflective. Even so, I think about things I’ve done and the fun I’ve had – no regrets!

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  3. Oh girl! I felt every word of this… it’s like you’re supposed to be happy but you aren’t and that makes you feel guilty! I get awkward and I don’t know how to react… let people around you know how you feel! Hope everything gets better for you!

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  4. I was blessed, and in a way a little different from most. Spirit told me that I would die at 60 if a certain condition was met. I’ve been shown death so that part didn’t bother me, in fact it is because of realising what ‘is’ actually ‘down here’ is a blessing beyond words…I don’t want to go yet as there is much magic to see and do.
    So I just had my 61st birthday the other day and still kicking, and thankfully the ‘condition’ is very much alive and kicking too 😀
    As for the birthday, and any other thing in our lives…it is just our focus on our fear that keeps us in its grip. And that has purpose so when you do finally understand it and let it go…you will be blessed with more magic and love than you will know what to do with.
    Just to give you an idea…and this can be applied to anything in our lives. Just imagine you are starving, lost in the wilderness somewhere for a long, long time. You have been living on practically fresh air and hope. Suddenly you are found and someone hands you an apple. It isn’t just an apple anymore, it isn’t something you can take or leave, it isn’t something that is irrelevant anymore. You have just been handed life, a banquette.
    Our focus and attitude are built from our fears and while ever we are behind our emotional wall that is built from them, we will keep starving. We will block that beautiful food that is love. And yes sometimes we will fall in love or connect with many someone’s in our friends and family…but we will always be on-guard, at ready to shut the little light that comes through the cracks in our walls. That lovely ‘other’ will be the best thing in the world…until they ‘touch’ that fear.
    And the day you finally dig down deep and see what in fact truly built that fear, will be the day you are handed that apple. And because you have starved yourself for so many years it will be a banquette of love like nothing else in this world. You will be given the keys to your heart and a freedom like nothing I could put words to dear lady.
    You must see and understand one side of our emotions so that you will appreciate so much more the other side of them. And they all lead to that love we have starved ourselves of. Each day you are getting closer to that orchard as each one of your emotions is asking you to see a little deeper by those very people that drive you up the wall…your wall. They don’t realise it but they are giving you something with much love, as you are giving them. Those interactions are the gateway to that orchard. Painful, yes. But with more love than you can ever imagine.
    Regardless young lady, Happy Birthday, whatever day it is. I too will prod your heart and it is given with a great love, my present to you to help you set your heart free ❤️ 🙏🏽 🦋

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  5. I never had proper birthday parties or gifts as a child. When I was 25 I held my first birthday party with a cake! That was wonderful.
    Now I celebrate ME on my birthday. I do what I like to do. Sometimes there is a party but most years we go hiking or to the sea side.
    I try to follow my heart on my birthday.

    Liked by 1 person

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