I turned 28 last week, an insignificant milestone which brought along with it a wave of emotion.
I have always cherished birthdays. As a young girl, the day was full of gifts, friends and birthday cake. Normally one to shy away from attention, I quite enjoyed a full day that was dedicated to me. I got to pick what food we would eat, what theme my party would be and who I’d get to invite. I’d be too excited to sleep the night before; my birthday used to be one of my favourite days of the year.
As I hit the legal drinking age, my birthday became more of an excuse to drink too much and dance the night away with friends. As I got older, it became a birthday week; trying to squeeze in as many brunches, lunches and dinners with friends as I could. I would receive meaningful cards about ever-lasting friendships and genuine well wishes for the year ahead.
Considering some of the things I had experienced last year, I coped quite well when I turned 27. I was enjoying my new job, looking forward to future house plans with Cam and getting ready to move in with new housemates. The depression was lingering but I was looking forward to the new changes that were occurring in my life. This year, however, was an entirely different story. Despite still looking forward to our new house (handover is now growing ever so close!) and being showered with lovely, thoughtful gifts from my nearest and dearest, I was sad.
Whether we do this consciously or not, a birthday usually brings about some self-reflection. It has been a tough year for me, so it does not surprise me that upon reflecting on the year that was (or the last 28 of them!), it has brought with it grief and sadness. The wave of depression hit me the night before my birthday.
For awhile I’ve felt lost and directionless. I don’t know where I’m headed or where I want to be headed and it frightens me. I am struggling to accept where I am in my life at the moment and I am still mourning the girl I once was. I feel alone and isolated in my journey with mental illness. I feel that those close to me don’t understand what I am experiencing and this has caused some distance. I’ve lost friendships and much of my excitement for life. Every waking moment I spend focusing on my recovery and bringing back some normality to my life, it’s exhausting.
Then comes the guilt and shame for feeling sad on my birthday. I tell myself I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I’ve lived to see another birthday, I should be celebrating and having a good day! Like clinical depression, it’s a vicious cycle. You feel bad and then you feel bad for feeling bad which ends up making you feel even worse!
After a therapy session with my psychiatrist, I was surprised to learn that ‘birthday depression’ is a real thing and people without mental illness can experience it. Like Christmas or the beginning of the New Year, a birthday is an event which can trigger unconscious or conscious thoughts about what we have achieved over the past year. Maybe we have failed to meet our own expectations or haven’t accomplished life goals by a certain age.
The birthday blues can also be triggered by feelings of being unappreciated or unloved. I admit that I was a little upset that my birthday wasn’t acknowledged by people I considered friends. Already feeling isolated, it hit me harder than it usually would. Lack of acknowledgement from loved ones can leave us feeling insignificant and contribute to low self-esteem.
Other reasons we may feel depressed on our birthday include:
– grief over lost friendships or family who shared our special day with us in the past.
– memories of previous birthdays, good or bad. They made include a longing to go back to happier times or the desire to forget the times that weren’t so great.
– the desire to have a good day or feeling the pressure to celebrate.
– comparing ourselves to others and/or the social media ‘highlight reel’.
For me, my birthday depression was triggered by a combination of these factors. Maybe they sound familiar to you or maybe your blues were prompted by something entirely different. Regardless, know that it is absolutely normal to feel this way. It’s not uncommon and it’s okay to be sad; you are not alone. If you need support, I have a list of resources available here, or alternatively, reach out to someone you know (a friend, your GP) and let them know how you are feeling.
If it happens again next year, at least I can prepare and have some strategies to help me deal with it. Having clarity on why I was feeling the way I was has helped me and although the fog hasn’t lifted yet, I have made peace with my birthday blues and I hope you can too.
Have you got any tips for combating the birthday blues? Let me know in the comments below!