As occasions go, I find myself pondering whether there is a ‘special’ time any less exceptional than a birthday in a person’s life. On the verge of turning twenty-six, I find myself once again questioning all that has – and mostly, hasn’t – become of my life. Oh the birthday blues. Not that I have any right to feel this heavy burden of age in my fucking twenties or anything, but there’s nothing quite like the selfish act of wanting things to all of the sudden become artificially ‘special’ around you for a single day (which will come every single year until the day you fucking drop dead) to make you re-evaluate where you stand in life. Do you like your life as it is? Do you have an idea where it’s going and do you like that? Can you truly count on the people you chose to surround yourself with? Do you have major plans for the next 12 months until your incredibly unexceptional ‘special day’ rolls around again? Have you made the last 12 any better than the ones that came before it? Is your special day going to be special enough? And, most importantly, have you managed to set yourself up for that fine line between excitement and expectation, and anxiety and possible disappointment? Because let me tell you girl/boyfriend, if you haven’t, then you ain’t ready for that good ol’ birthday celebration.
Look, I never loved my birthday. It’s totally a taboo thing to admit because I’ve always felt this weird pressure to love the attention when all I feel is nervous at the thought of it rolling around each year. Self-assessments and general anxieties about worthiness of being alive aside, birthday celebrations make me more stressed than I usually care to admit. At the risk of coming across as a total bummer, the main reason I still bother celebrating it, as a general concept, is because I’ve tried the low-key non-celebration thing and the birthday blues were quadrupled at every inquiry of “Oh, you’re not doing anything for your birthday?” – add head tilt and awkward lip movement indicating pity. Like it’s somehow my fucking duty as a human to celebrate being alive on mother-fucking-schedule or it doesn’t count. Like my one guaranteed yearly achievement is having made it out of another year on Earth and now I’m forced to be grateful and forcefully accept half-hearted votes of ‘congratulations for not having died’ with a smile on my face and a beer in my hand. Never mind all of the other days that I feel truly and organically blessed to be alive, no no. We celebrate happiness on July-fucking-fifteenth, people!
It’s safe to say I experience aging as a generally burdensome experience. As a child, I would usually spend the winter break month of July – southern hemisphere kid speaking here – at my grandparents’ house with my two cousins. My mom would usually call somewhere around 7 a.m. before heading for a day at the hospital where she worked, followed by my dad and six aunts and uncles, plus my other grandma. Some people would call whenever time allowed – sometimes so late in the day I had already had a good cry about it in the bathroom. Back when the telephone was a static chorded thing that sat on a little awkwardly small table with a chair up against the wall and a note pad and a pen next to it, getting birthday calls was about as boring an activity as it was important. And I hated it. My grandmother would work really hard at making my weirdly-timed birthday as nice as possible. Coconut-chocolate Bounty cake and strawberry white cake were usually baked simultaneously. She would invite around all of the neighborhood children my cousin and I skillfully avoided all winter so my birthday experience looked more like the real thing. Even as a child I recognized her efforts and tried to fake happiness. The amazing cakes helped. Double-cake and sugary drinks are a child’s beer and liquor and I sure made full delicious use of both coping techniques.
In stark contrast to my feelings of inadequacy and general existential ponderings surrounding my yearly ‘special day’, my sister has always loved her birthday. She’s always been the ‘birthday week’ type of person, whose birthday wishes were clear-cut and open to variation so long as they were awesome. The idea of getting presents and bringing together her many beloved friends is a yearly treat and not a yearly obligation filled with anxiety. From her perspective, the thought of someone important forgetting her birthday and still calling a day later has always been more of a testament to their love than a reason to cry in the bathroom mid-birthday. Even as a very little child, I was never as excited for my birthday as I knew my sister was for hers. As I get older, I can’t help but wonder whether I’m ever going to be able to find a way to make this birthday thing any less of a pain in my ass. Like, get to a place where I find a way to make it either organically and naturally enjoyable or somehow less important. It scares me to think that the same thing experienced by so many people as a wonderful yearly milestone is something that causes a state of near-depression for me. With all of the dedication and love of my dearest and closest who truly exert themselves to make things nice for me year after year, I still can’t help but feel slightly bummed out by the occasion.
Ironically, I love a good party. In fact, I enjoy planning and attending other people’s birthday parties more than most things in life. Not to mention that I actually truly enjoy hosting any other type of party and having dear friends around me any other time of the year. I just can’t help but feel like the pressure to prove happiness as well as to ensure people are entertained during the yearly me-fest in ‘celebration of my life’ is just a little too much to handle. It feels both super forced and a little self-obsessive to me. All of that while I’ve never felt that way about anyone else’s birthday other than my own.
I don’t know if New Year’s resolutions can be made on your birthday but, seeing as the big fuss made around it in fact appears to be welcoming a new year, I will say this: I vow to try to get the fuck over this feeling by the arrival of my late twenties – which by the way I just conveniently decided occurs at the age of twenty-seven – and to find a way to enjoy a birthday as much as any other day in life. The latter of course meaning that I should totally not have to beat myself up if I’m not in a particularly celebratory and joyous fucking mood. I also vow to stop panicking about my life choices every birthday, and using July as my yearly self-evaluation month more than any other month of the year. The significance of this date must somehow be overcome if I’m ever to have a truly stress-free birthday.
I figured birthday blues, much like the importance of birthday celebrations as a general concept, should be perceived as a social construct. A ritual which the social scientist in me is able to contextualize and, in that way, divorce from subjective feelings of inadequacy and pressures to perform. I have all of 366 days to figure out how to do that, but for now, in light of this little self-reflection, let’s see how tomorrow pans out.
I guess what I’m saying is: can I get a side of ‘good luck’ with my ‘happy birthday’?