November 24, 2022

Birthday Blues

It was my birthday the other day and I was not in a good place and so I put a post into my Facebook group about having the birthday blues.   It resonated with some many people that I thought that I would rewrite it a bit and put it on here.

I write about mental health as so many people experience times in their life when they struggle with feelings and thoughts and yet rarely speak about them. I do not do it for sympathy as I need none. I know that feelings are temporary, and I have developed great strategies to help myself. I am grateful that I had a break down as if I had not, I would not have reassessed my life, be frugal and living the lovely life that I do now. The subject is often taboo, hidden and people feel ashamed or weak or that there is something wrong with them when they feel down, depressed, anxious or stressed. I no longer do. I hid my feelings when I worked and had a family. It would have destroyed my career and other areas of my life. Now I have nothing to lose, I am free, and writing about my feelings is part of my therapy and something that I do to remind people that it is ok not to be okay (don’t know who first said that).
Today is my birthday. Everyone wants to celebrate with me, but it is a day I dread each year. A day I spend a lot of time crying and can’t cope with. I have tried celebrating and doing things differently, but I do not enjoy myself and the feelings catch up with me later. Friends and family often despair and do not understand.  I am sure they think that I am ungrateful when they make an effort, but it is actually a response felt by a lot of people, especially those who have experienced childhood trauma, are aging, have lost someone close or those that feel that they should have achieved more by a certain age. It is called birthday blues or birthday depression and is a recognised condition and so if you experience it, you are not alone.  I also understand the guilt that you feel too, towards your loved ones who are trying to celebrate and make it a nice day for you, as most of us feel that too.
For me, as a child I had expectations of birthdays, which never happened, it wasn’t like in film or books when everyone made a fuss of me, and I felt special. These expectations followed me into adulthood. The expectations experienced are often unrealistic but if you have birthday blues little things send you into a spiral. It might be someone close not putting a birthday post on social media, a gift with no thought to it, someone close not sending a card, silly little things that add up in your head to remind you of those past feelings of not being worthy, loved or cared about. The whole thing just feels a big let-down. Even if I make lovely plans little things trigger the cloud and so I cancel or don’t really enjoy myself any way. I always feel this massive load of unexplained sadness, even though there is no real logical reason to be sad. My self-esteem always plunges at this time too and I don’t want to socialise or see people. Some people think about suicide or lose their appetite, but that doesn’t happen to me. I have come to realise that so many people feel like this but there is not much research into it, unfortunately and no one talks about it.
The way I cope with it is as follows.
1. I am honest. Those closest to me know I will struggle and be upset on that day. I know they still struggle with it and want to celebrate, though.
2. I try to start the day in a positive way and do selfcare, but it doesn’t always work. It depends on what else has happened in my life recently.  Little things going wrong in the days prior do not help with this
3. I allow myself to feel what I am feeling without beating myself up. This often helps me bounce back the next day. I set a limit on my sadness so that it cannot go beyond midnight.
4. I let the day unroll and don’t make any big plans. If I want to stay in bed, I stay in bed and sleep the day away.
5. I found birthdays easier when I worked and kept busy and so I try to keep occupied (if I have got out of bed).
6. I organise something on a day near my birthday to have fun so that I can pretend that was my celebration eg last year we went to London the week before and we were supposed to go last week but Mr S had his leg operation. That makes it more socially acceptable not to celebrate.
7. I set myself goals for the following year and use it as a reset as that gives me optimism and something to focus on the day after my birthday.
8. I try to lower my expectations. I know I have high expectations of people. I expect them to act as I would but am often disappointed. I find it really hard to lower those expectations.
Just writing about this helps me. I am not looking for sympathy as that actually make me feel worse. I just want people to understand that if a friend or a person in your family doesn’t want to celebrate their birthday, please don’t force them. That doesn’t mean you can’t do nice things for them on their birthday. On my 50th my children and I went out for a meal. There was no pressure, and I could have cancelled. We just enjoyed the time together but didn’t focus on my birthday. An odd year I have coped well and initiated going out and so it is nice for loved one to keep time free as it could reinforce the sadness if I thought they didn’t care and had made other plans.  I often feel guilty as I know that people close to me cannot win.  If they ignore my birthday, I will feel rejected, and it will trigger the blues. If they make a fuss and celebrate but don’t do it to the level of my expectations (which are hard to explain) they will trigger me.  I hope I have explained this OK, as these feelings are not logical and so it is hard for close ones to understand, or for me to dissect and put into words. Even though it is not logical, it is still real and difficult for the person with the birthday blues, and also for close ones, Thanks for reading if you have got to the end of this.  If you do resonate with this, as many did in my SFL FB group, please be careful if commenting as this is a public space, and comments can be read by others.

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