Not too long ago, it was my birthday.
It was nice. I got some great presents, people were kind to me, I was social, and there was a fantastic cake.
But it wasn’t happy. In fact, I was depressed. I felt empty, lost and apathetic. Of course, because that’s never enough when it comes to a mental illness, I also felt guilty, hopeless, and sad that I couldn’t feel happy on a day that I should.
I had never experienced fully blown clinical depression during a birthday before, so it felt like a step back compared to last year’s, when I was happy, hopeful, and finally making steps in my eating disorder recovery. As a result, I felt ashamed and cried both the night before and on the evening of my birthday.
It was only afterwards, talking to my doctor, or rather ranting (about how dare my depression stay strong on the one day that should be mine), did I realise that me being depressed on my birthday was the perfect example to throw in the faces of those who believe a mental illness can just be switched off, that it’s just a phase, that it’s easy to just stop, or whatever nonsense some ignorant douche may have told you.
The sad reality is this: there are some people who will be spending their birthdays in hospital because of self harm the night before. There are other people who will get happy birthday greetings from their fellow patients and nurses, being stuck in a clinic for a few weeks. There are many, many others who won’t be able to ignore the demons in their heads even on their special day.
You see, there are those with an eating disorder who will hate themselves and feel extremely guilty for eating a piece of birthday cake, if they can push themselves to eat it at all. Ditto for a restaurant or meal that used to be their favourite.
Those who compulsively or obsessively exercise won’t give themselves a break, even on a day they are supposed to spoil themselves.
There are those with binge eating problems who will eat all of the leftover cake and any edible gifts in secret that evening, and utterly loathe themselves for it.
Those with depression may feel guilty for receiving presents they feel they don’t deserve, and have just as much struggle taking care of themselves as they do on any other day.
There are those with anxiety who will be afraid noone will have fun at their party and find it boring, if they are able to organise it without panicking.
Someone with an obsessive compulsive disorder will have just as much trouble dealing with behaviours and urges as on any other day.
Even on your birthday, the voices, demons, urges, behaviours, fears, cruel thoughts and dangers are still present. Mental disorders do not rest. (Nor do panic attacks, for that matter.) Not on your birthday, not on Christmas, not on your wedding, not on the day you lose your virginity, not when you turn 60, not when you graduate, not when you fall in love, not when you are on holidays, not when you come first in something, not when you travel overseas.
Of course, happy events can make things easier and sometimes provide welcome distractions, but in my experience (not that all of the above things have happened to me), as soon as they are over the mental illness resurfaces, just as strong as ever.
So we have to be super strong, super brave, I would even say super noble, and accept this. We have to fight just as hard on our birthday as we would any other day. We have to keep on challenging our illnesses and taking care of ourselves. We have to keep taking our medication, we have to eat what our body needs, we have to resist damaging urges and not act on harmful thoughts – even if all of this if is the hard thing to do and we just want to be a little lazy and give in to it all, because after all, it’s our birthday.
You and I need to accept that it’s ok to feel rubbish on a birthday (or any other special day.) After all, there are (hopefully!) many many many more to come and memories of joyful ones in the past. But most importantly of all, if we keep fighting, seeking support and developing strategies to deal with our difficulties, in the future we can celebrate the birthday of our dreams. For me, while my most recent birthday was tough mood wise, compared to the ones in the past which were dominated by eating disordered behaviours, this is admittedly a step forward.
Don’t forget: recovery is possible, and therefore so is a happy birthday. It may not be this year, or next year, but it WILL happen, eventually, if you keep on fighting.
See ya next Thursday! :o)