Today is my 35th birthday! This is me in 1991 - my 18th birthday.It just so happens that this was the last time I truly celebrated my birthday. Since then, my birthdays have - by choice - been very quiet affairs in which I managed to get by with as little fuss as possible. Most years, I would just as soon have pretended that my birthday didn't exist.
But all of that is changing this year.
Growing up with a birthday that was just 8 days before Christmas was never really that much of an issue. My family did a WONDERFUL job of separating the two holidays, making sure I never once felt slighted or had less than a full birthday celebration. In fact, I was born three weeks early, and my family seemed to take that as a blessing - that I had been in a hurry to see my family and celebrate Christmas with them. I have had many friends over the years with birthdays close to the holidays, but none were as fortunate as I when it came to celebrating the event.
The problem began my freshman year in college. Surprise! My birthday was right smack in the middle of my first finals week ever. While finals themselves didn't bother me (I've always rather perversely enjoyed that type of testing.), it did mean that I couldn't spend my birthday with my family and that most of my friends were so preoccupied as to not even notice my special day. I did go home with a friend who lived close by, and her parents made sure that I had a really nice birthday dinner, but that upset my parents. By the time I got home, I was exhausted and ready to move on. My birthday would never be the same.
The year I turned 20, though, was the year that things truly changed for me. In order to understand what happened, you must know a bit of my own personal history. You see, about the time I turned 16 I started suffering from anxiety attacks and depression - although at the time no one in my family really knew what was going on or how to deal with it. It all came to a head on my 20th birthday. I spent that night in the dorms, watching home-made movies with my friends. Something in one of those movies triggered my emotional wounds, and I got up and quietly left. Fortunately, a friend saw me leave and knew something was really wrong. He went home with me that night to my condo, and stayed with me so that I wouldn't be alone. The next morning we drove in to campus for early finals, and I was delivered into the arms of a second friend. That friend gave me the lifeline I needed to sustain me through the holidays. He was as good as his word - his mother always knew where he was if I was to call and need him. A third friend provided the support I needed to call the doctor and set an appointment, and was there when I came home with a prescription for Zoloft. In fact, he had helped me to figure out what was going on some weeks earlier because he had just received his own diagnosis.
For years after that I wanted to forget that I had a birthday. Why on earth would I want to celebrate the anniversary of my biggest emotional crash? In many, many ways I was grateful that it had happened because it had opened me up to the type of help that I needed. I'll never regret the two years I spent on meds or the therapy I had during that time. God knows where I would have wound up if it hadn't happened. But my birthday was no longer a day of celebration. I wanted to let it slip by without notice so that I could quietly reflect on my life in peace.
There are other issues that have come into play as well. I don't like being the center of attention, for one, and have been horribly embarrassed by my size for years. I'm generally a shy person, and I get claustrophobic around people. I've felt distanced from all of our college friends by way of life situations and location, and I've had several disastrous friendships which have caused me to retreat even more at times. If I'm brutally honest, I'll also admit that my own extremely low self-esteem made me feel that I just didn't deserve (fill in the blank).
The good news is that things can change.
You can imagine my husband's surprise when I sat on his lap a few months ago and told him that I wanted a birthday party this year. He certainly wasn't expecting that, but he took it and ran. He and my BKB have planned out the day for me on Saturday, and I can't wait to see what they've come up with.
For a long while now, I've had a feeling that 35 is going to be my best year ever. Perhaps it sounds a little bit silly, but I truly feel that this is the year that I will finally conquer some of my demons and come into my own.
I'm going to spend today doing two very nice things for myself. First, I have some serious writing I want to do in my journal. Second, I'm going to start a sweater for myself. I may not be able to work on it again until after Christmas, but I think that I deserve a day to do something nice for me.
35 is going to be a very, very good year.