I’ve found comfort in knowing that I’m not the only person who feels this way. But it’s true. Specifically, MY birthday makes me feel sad.
When I was younger, I think it’s because I had really high expectations for how people should treat me on that day or week, since I felt I deserved to be super spoiled because I would go over and beyond on their birthdays. It’s that whole “I love you so you should love me” mentality that we hopefully come to realize is an immature form of “love”. Sometimes we also expect to be loved in exactly the form in which we show love to others.
I have a distinct memory of going to the mall with friends for my 5th grade birthday and feeling incredibly depressed. That’s a familiar feeling that’s followed me to many birthdays through the years.
I’ve always shown love by giving an outrageous amount of hugs, writing super long letters, and sometimes creating unique gifts. My best friend growing up would often give me a gift card and a templated card that just said “happy birthday!”. And dang that hurt. I felt so unloved and unseen. I would think of all the parties I threw for her and the love I gave that I felt should be equally returned.
I don’t mean to sound melodramatic as if no one has ever showed me any love on my birthday. My mom has always made me feel special on my birthday–but because of my expectations of my friends, it just wasn’t enough. Which to be clear, is 100% partially my fault. I didn’t have the maturity to express my hurt or expectations, and if I can’t say it then I need to level my expectations.
Now looking back over the past five years of birthday, much has changed in this department. Here’s an overview:
-19 yrs: Surprise llama birthday party (I was obsessed with llamas and goats, okay! Leave me alone) and iceskating at the mall
-20 yrs: Friends kidnapped me from my bed, played a kazoo happy birthday song, blindfolded me, making me go in my pajamas, and took me to Jack in the Box, then we watched my favorite movie (Anne of Green Gables). Then they took me to the Hobbit Cafe (LOTR 🙌).
-21 yrs: Friends took me to Vino & Vinyl (had me pick out 2 records and gave me a record player—which I was grateful for because I had spent so long trying to pick a record player that I might’ve never gotten one).
-22 yrs: Went to a fun restaurant downtown, then went to the Continental Club (a 1900s general store turned into a music venue that I’d been DYING to go to). We saw the Okey Dokeys.
-23 yrs: Didn’t do anything the day of, and didn’t super have a desire to—which will tell of the other reason why birthdays make me sad.
Before I explain birthday 23, I want to acknowledge that the past few years I was blessed to be in a circle of people who knew how to love well. I think with the years before 19 I need to be mindful of the fact that all my friends were kids.
We were all just figuring out how to love and that is largely affected by our upbringing and how our parents love us.
I believe that that earthly relationship is the one in which we learn the basics of how to love, whether in a healthy or toxic way. Again, I was blessed with parents who modeled love so well for me. My mom is wonderful at getting unique gifts on special occasions and even just because. She’s a big “just because I love you” gift giver. I love the way she loves me, and so I have always desired to try to love others at least half as much as she loves me.
Something I’ve come to realize about my best friend growing up is that she truly loved me how she knew how. Her parents didn’t give her unique gifts. She would give them a list of things she’d want, and they’d give them to her. They didn’t write her notes for valentines day and all the other special days, or even just the ordinary days.
But what they did do was go on family vacations. Nothing extraordinary. But something special to them. They’d pack themselves in the car and go to a state park and spend time together. Her family often would invite me to come on their camping trips–and those are some of my favorite childhood memories.
When I see that I realize that that’s how my friend showed me love. We spent so much time together. We had all our classes together, went to church together, she’d sleep over every weekend to go to church with my family, and we shared a love for choir for almost our entire friendship. People thought we were twins, because where you saw one you always saw the other.
She always gave me the gift of presence. She showed up. Both of us being introverted, we supported each other in being courageous in uncomfortable situations. She was a constant friend.
What more could I truly want in a world that can often be so lonely?
My family didn’t go on vacations growing up. That’s something I missed but received from my friend’s family.
My family loved me with affirmation, gifts, and service.
My friend’s family loved her with time.
Both different, but both love.
What I’m trying to say is that many times people might not love you the way you prefer or most understand love, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t loving you. Sometimes it does mean that they don’t truly love you—but not always. I think that is worth thinking about.
So, if the reason birthdays make me sad is no longer because I don’t feel loved by others than what is it?
*warning* this next part gets a bit sadder
Two weeks before my birthday comes, I start to feel it. I feel sad because time is passing me by. I start borrowing feelings from the future of what could be, and what I feel inevitably will be. I think about how it will feel when my parents are dead. I think about what it will be like and what I will do, if marriage truly isn’t what life has for me–which usually leads to asking God to help me be ok with that. I start thinking of all the time I’ve wasted, and all the endeavors I could be pouring passion and discipline into.
I feel like I’ve failed (because high expectations!) and I spend time wondering when this will all be over. When will this earth pass away so we can be restored? My heart longs to be at peace. It longs to be at rest–for anxiety to no longer rush through my veins. Gosh, have you ever felt like that? I know I’m not the only one.
I’m tired of thinking. Of failing–or really just fearing failure. I’m tired of second guessing myself and wondering who I can trust.
I’m tired of pain.
I’ve written before (embracing sadness) on how I often sense that sadness always lingers underneath my joy. Not that my joy is fake. I believe joy is given to me by God, along with strength to be resilient in the face of terribly difficult circumstances or emotions. I believe that sadness and joy can coexist.
More recently, I’ve been sad because there’s parts of life that are moving forward that I don’t feel ready to let go of yet. My best friend is dating this awesome guy, and it’s so hard feeling simultaneously so so happy that she’s found this love, but also feeling an anxiety and dread for the time when I can’t live with her anymore. She’s my best friend. My family. The person I can fully be myself around. We do life together so well and I’m not ready for anything different. So I guess this birthday is reminding me that I’m going to be 24 and this time next year my friend could be married, and it makes me feel like I’ll be alone. It’s not even about wanting to be married too. It’s about not wanting to lose such a good, life giving way of friendship.
Birthdays are kind of like the January of my life. I think of the past, the present, and the future and get weighed down by rational, irrational, and just straight up existential thoughts.
Birthdays make me sad. But sometimes they also give me hope—and I feel some of that hope starting to settle in. I’m going to write about the other spectrum of emotion I feel about birthdays sometime this week (turning 24 this Saturday!)
But for now, I think I’m going to leave this here.