Written by Marie Bartz
“It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.” - Lesley Gore
I think of this line from a popular 1960s song as my birthday approaches in a few days. However, given my current mental health status, I think it’s more fitting with a quick upgrade:
“It’s my party, and I’ll cry even if I don’t want to.”
The way I’ve viewed my birthday has thoroughly evolved over the course of my life. As a child, I could not be more excited for it. I looked forward to the attention and adoration that it brought; it gave people reason to acknowledge and appreciate me. But as I got older, I found myself somewhat dreading the approach of my birthday. This dread was somewhat concrete; for the last 7 years in a row, I have ended up crying during birthday-related activities for all sorts of reasons, from being dumped on my birthday to being triggered by my perpetrator as I was about to go celebrate.
It’s a weird feeling to know that on a day meant to be joyous—people do say “happy birthday” after all—I anticipate experiencing the Birthday Blues.
I now am relatively unsure of how to approach thinking about my birthday. On one hand, if I am overly optimistic and treat my birthday as if it will be the absolute pinnacle of happiness, I will surely be disappointed if it does not live up to my expectations. On the other hand, by very blatantly dreading my birthday, I am prone to the Pygmalion effect, which regards the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy. By acting on the dread I am expecting (spending my day on my toes, being overly cautious, acting defensive in the face of imminent disappointment), it is more likely that I will experience the disappointment that I am fearing. In a way, I am setting myself up for failure.
While I'd like to believe that I'd fall somewhere in the middle of those two options, I know that I have a tendency to shift toward the dread. In the throes of depression, birthdays remind me that the clock of my life is ticking by; this brings to the forefront of my mind the question of how many more years I have left and if life is going to get better in the years to come. I find myself thinking, “Another year older, another year of suffering to come.”
That’s one of the difficult things about depression: I am more prone to a negative outlook on life, and it has been taking time and effort to shift my perception.
For example, I am only slowly shifting my view of myself from being a rape victim to being a rape survivor. However, I believe this type of shift is what will help me push through my birthday blues.
Rather than looking toward my birthday with a kind of resentment, I hope to begin thinking about my birthday as an acknowledgement of the fact that I’ve pushed through. That I’ve been fighting. That I’ve been surviving. My birthday marks a success: I’ve made it through another year. And sometimes, that’s enough.