Birthdays are universally a time to celebrate. It’s a big pat on the back for surviving yet another year. You share this annual milestone with friends and family and generally you’re made to feel like the centre of attention. It all sounds like fun and games, however birthdays can be a very difficult day for someone with mental health issues especially those who experience depression. This year I avoided any discussion surrounding my birthday plans and did my best to forget that it even existed. I insisted to friends and family that I didn’t want to go out nor did I want to receive any presents (not in that attention-seeking way where you hold the pretence of being modest but in reality you wrote a birthday list six months ago consisting of every designer bag you’ll be demanding for). I simply wanted to pretend that the day wasn’t happening.
As well as a day of celebration, birthdays are also a day of reflection – we look back at our past achievements and start to consider our futures. As we get older we become more sensitive about age and how much longer we have to accomplish our goals (apologies for sounding so morbid). Those who have depression are told to slow down or even to lower their expectations but, in an ever so competitive world its growing more and more difficult to pile less pressure on yourself. I’m sure by now you’re getting some sense of how that birthday malaise can creep in.
Yesterday, despite my resistance, my 26th birthday arrived and the only thing I received was the birthday blues. Ok, I do appreciate that I’m privileged and that I should be grateful for the supportive family I have and the many opportunities that I’ve been given, but when you’re possessed by the beast that is depression, your brain can’t process those positives. For me personally, this birthday has been so difficult to cope with because I feel like I haven’t achieved as much as I wanted to by now and that disappointment is only amplified by my awful, unbreakable habit of comparing myself to others. For me, one of the most oppressive symptoms of having BPD is having zero self-worth, so this year I simply felt that I didn’t deserve to have a day where I was made a fuss of, I didn’t deserve to receive the kind birthday wishes from friends and family, and I certainly didn’t deserve to receive any gifts. Overall, it was a day of struggle and I did have a fair few wobbly moments ( I cried when I was presented with a beautiful birthday cake because yet again I felt that I didn’t deserve it) but I got through it because I was reminded throughout the day of the love and support I have from those closest to me.
It should also be noted that my birthday coincided with the London Marathon this year. It was impossible to avoid the extensive coverage of it on social media and television. Every year I watch it, in absolute awe by all of those who complete it, but this year it meant so much more to me on a personal level to see all of those running in aid of Heads Together and other mental health organisations. On a day that wasn’t my best, it provided me with a glimpse of hope that we will increase mental health awareness and change the attitudes towards speaking about it.
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