Birthday are tricky. You are expected to have the perfect day which can be mentally taxing leading to birthday anxiety. At the same time, friends and family are trying to make it a special day for you.
I remember staying up till midnight on my last birthday, not because I was excited, but because I felt anxious and impatient. Before the day even started, I wanted it to be over. My parents had made dinner plans, and I kept thinking if there was any excuse I could come up with.
I felt emotionally exhausted replying to messages and birthday wishes throughout the day. I was dreading phone calls from friends and relatives. And, I had to emotionally push myself to get up from bed and get ready for dinner. Every moment, I kept wishing that the day was over.
We all have that friend who doesn’t like talking about their birthday. They don’t mention the date to their friends; they don’t like birthday surprises or making birthday plans.
I’m that friend. Birthdays are tricky. Growing up, I used to relish birthday plans. The thought of having a day completely dedicated to me was flattering. My friends would be invited over. There would be a flashy cake, themed parties, lots of presents, and more. My parents would do everything they could to make my day special.
I would spend the entire month counting down days and planning the perfect D-Day. Then, I would stay up till midnight watching the clock tick over. I would frantically refresh my Facebook feed to read wishes. I loved to line my birthday cards and presents carefully along with my bedside table. And, I would often pester my friends to sing “Happy Birthday” to me during school recess.
Things have changed. As I’m growing older, I’m not only less bothered about my birthday, but I also dread the fact that the day is arriving. It’s strange. Throughout the first two months of the year, I feel okay. There are occasional moments of stress and panic, but nothing concerning. But, every year, on my birthday, I freak out.
It’s hard to explain. It feels as if my brain is wired to have a crisis on 21st March. There’s a spiral of thoughts. I find myself on the fence about what I want to do. As much as I love spending the day with the people I love, I’m constantly worrying about how the day will go.
“What if my friends forget to wish me?” “I don’t want to feel like a burden.” “The day feels so forced.” “What is wrong with me?” “Why do I feel this way?” These are just some of the thoughts my mind wanders around throughout the 24 hours.
Of course, the lack of enthusiasm or eagerness isn’t the only thing that has changed over the years. For the last few birthdays, I’ve even ended up crying. Sometimes the day will start ideally and just like how I imagined it. But, along the way, there’s always a bump that ruins everything.
My friends and family have always made an effort to make my day special. And, every time I start dreading the day, my brain tells me, “It’s not them. It’s you.”
I wake up in the morning, and the existential dread hits me. Over breakfast, I’m dissecting the year’s achievements and contemplating if my growth has been substantial. As the day progresses and my messages start to flood, I try to feel grateful. I try to act like everything is okay. But, I have slowly learned that how you act on the outside doesn’t reflect what’s going on on the inside.
On the one hand, there’s a forceful reminder that I’m a year older. I’m 19 years old, and the realisation that my 20s are fast approaching is frightening, to say the least. On the other hand, past experiences resurface just as I’m about to cut my cake.
I think the realisation goes deeper than turning a year older or evaluating my progress since the last birthday. There is also pressure to plan the perfect day. I’m someone who loves planning, but when it comes to my birthday, I don’t know how I should celebrate.
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I have a painstakingly elaborate Pinterest feed on birthday ideas, but none seem to make sense. If my friends make plans on behalf of me, I’m more than happy and grateful to join them. But, I end up feeling like a burden. If my friends start singing “Happy Birthday”, I’m embarrassed and flustered, hoping I cancelled on them. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but this is how it is.
My fear of birthdays is like a cocktail of mixed feelings. There is embarrassment, guilt, expectations, anger, pressure, and loneliness. I agree that birthdays are an important milestone in a person’s life and they should be celebrated. And, I envy those who love birthdays and can be carefree about it. But, I’ve also realised that it isn’t me.
Being an overthinker, I’ve extensively googled about birthday anxiety. It turns out I’m not the only one. I know this is supposed to make me feel better, but it doesn’t. Now I not only feel sorry for myself but also a million others who feel the same as me.
Birthdays are like New Year’s Eve. It’s the time for annual reflection. There are a lot of expectations and valid questions that I ask myself. “Where am I headed in life?” “Am I on the right track?” “How can I be better this year?” Birthdays seem to come and go, but these feelings probe me like a constant needle.
I don’t want to give unsolicited advice on the Internet, but I think I’ve figured out what works for me. Self-growth is an ongoing project, and I’m constantly working on myself. I’ve accepted that my feelings are valid, and there’s nothing wrong with me. Birthdays are special. It’s a celebration of my existence in this world, but it doesn’t have to be one where I judge myself.
This year, I’m going to try and be kind to myself. I will try to live in the moment and not think about how far I’ve come since last year.
Note: The author is part of the Dec ’21 batch of the Writer’s Training Program.