Yesterday I celebrated 35, that magical age when as a woman everything starts going downhill - this according to an episode of Steve Harvey I caught last week when I was home sick. Despite the less than optimistic outlook presented in this fake Dr. Oz segment, I really do feel like 35 is going to be an excellent year.
When I was a child I absolutely adored birthdays. While I never could wait to get older, I think it was more the excitement of having one day that was MY day where everybody spoiled and celebrated me that really made me look forward to and love each passing birthday. Things changed seven years ago when my usual anticipation and excitement for my birthday transformed into anxiety and dread as that “special day” approached. I became unsettled and irritated in the weeks leading up to my birthday, and as it quickly approached I refused to make any plans at all to celebrate it - waiting to the last minute the day of to ask friends to meet me at a neighborhood restaurant for dinner, a far cry from years past. Last year was particularly unique. I knew the anxiety/dread/anger cocktail was coming (origins still unknown), so I took off work the week before my birthday and decided to try and occupy my mind by completely renovating a room in our house by myself. I stripped wallpaper, I patched and sanded walls, I hand-sanded and finished the hardwood floors. It was grueling work that occupied my days and nights, but even though I was occupied I still couldn’t hide from the looming hatred I had toward my birthday. I decided one evening that week to stop into a local shop owned by a friend of mine, and immediately she asked me what the hell was going on. “What do you mean,” I asked her. I had thought my renovation distraction was at least enough to keep others from knowing how out of control I was feeling, but I was wrong. She said my Facebook posts seemed very odd all of a sudden, and she flat out asked me what was up. I told her I hated my birthday. She asked me why, and after 6 long years it just came out of my mouth without me even thinking about it: I missed my dad.
I have no idea why I had never consciously connected the two - it was immediately after his death that I started hating celebrating my birthday. I think it’s because I was still so angry that he was gone that in a way I was protesting allowing myself any happiness in his absence. We do odd things in grief, and many times we don’t even realize why we do them until years later. So why this year? What broke the cycle? Well, part of it was my friend forcing me to articulate my discontent last year, but I don’t think that’s the bulk of it. As many of you know, last year I lost a very close girlfriend in a very sudden tragic accident. It was, and still is, unreal to me. However, I think her death made me realize that this is just going to keep happening. People you love die, and they will only continue to die, because ultimately that’s what we all do. I’m blessed with a wonderful mother and many, many loving friends whom I consider my family, but with great love also comes the possibility for great sadness when we lose another good one. Somehow my friend’s death triggered something unexpected in me as my birthday approached this year. I realized that not only is life short, but I can’t continue to protest my personal happiness, refusing to be happy, because of the pain I’ve also experienced from loss. The death of my father and my good friend can still upset me, it can still be painful, and I can still cry over those losses, but more importantly, it can coexist with the happiness and joy that I find in my life, including - yes - my birthday.
Looking forward to and thoroughly enjoying the time leading up to and including my birthday was a sign of unexpected growth this year, and luckily I didn’t fight it. My deep-down overall longing for happiness was able to stifle any pattern or habit that had conditioned me to be miserable and sad. Because of the stark contrast between my feelings this year and and those of years past, I couldn’t help but recognize how the joy I felt surrounding my birthday impacted my daily quality of life, especially yesterday. Several times throughout the day I thought to myself, “Wow, it would be great if every day was my birthday.” But how was yesterday any different? The main difference was my perception and how I consciously choose to handle adversity - big or small - throughout the day. I worked on my birthday this year, which I don’t typically do, and when things went wrong at work or when I get a text that our dinner plans had changed slightly, I didn’t let it bother me because it was my birthday. I was more apt to dismiss the tiny annoyances that abound in daily life and choose happiness. By last night I had realized that my birthday may have been the catalyst for my continued decision to be happy, but it in itself didn’t make me happy - I made me happy. Wow. If I could do it yesterday, why not today? Or tomorrow? Or next week? Of the many presents I received to celebrate my 35th year on this earth, the biggest and best one I gave to myself: permission to be happy.