This past week was my birthday. I’ll be honest – historically speaking, I’m not big on birthdays. Actually, let me be more specific: I’m not that big on my birthday. I’ll help anyone else celebrate the day they were born. Name the time and place and I am in there, ready to do it up big. But when it comes to my own birthday, there have always been a few challenges that have gotten in the way of enjoying my birthday the way I’d like to. There are plenty of reasons for why I feel this way, but since this is a mental health blog, I’ll focus on what one of the most challenging reasons that birthdays are difficult for me, which is one of the simplest aspects of a birthday: celebrating yourself.
As someone who experiences depression and anxiety, it’s not a mystery to see how a day that’s all about me could make me uncomfortable. I don’t like when the attention is on me, and I don’t really know how to handle it, which ends up creating more anxiety instead of alleviating it.
In the past, I often thought that if I didn’t make a big deal about my birthday, I could limit those situations where I feel uncomfortable being in a situation where the spotlight was on me. Not only did that prove to be wrong, but it also left me unprepared every single year when someone asked me how I wanted to celebrate my birthday. Instead of solving a problem, I’d just created additional ones.
As someone who has experience self-worth and self-esteem issues for a long time, birthdays are not always fun for me (I know, surprise!). It wasn’t a shock to come to that understanding, but it still hurt nevertheless. There was always something in me that stopped me from really enjoying my birthday – I could never really put a name to it, but it was always there. But as I later learned, I was looking at this all wrong, and ignoring what the real challenge here would be going forward.
I thought the biggest challenge for celebrating myself was that I’d need to learn how to love myself and love celebrating who I am. This sounds like a nice long-term goal to work toward, but that wasn’t going to help me in the mean time. And that’s when I realized I was looking at it all wrong. Celebrating me didn’t have to mean having a bunch of people getting together to celebrate the wonder that is me – it could just mean doing the things I love, the things that bring me peace, on the day I was born.
So that’s what I did. I didn’t actively ‘celebrate me’ on my birthday. Instead, I listened to music that I love. I took a bath because they relax me. I worked on a puzzle because that’s become one of my favorite hobbies. I didn’t do the self-reflection I normally do, or try to take stock of my life on that day. In fact, I ignored any type of critical thinking that night. And it wasn’t perfect, but it was one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time.
I tend to forget that when it comes to what I want to do, my opinion is usually the most important (and often only) thing to take into consideration. One birthday at a time, I hope I can continue to change my perspective on what it means to celebrate myself. In the process, I hope I can continue to show myself love not by trying to give myself the warm and fuzzies, but by recognizing that what makes me feel good – whether that’s a puzzle, a book or something else – is often a good way to celebrate who I am.