When I was younger and heard adults saying things like “I just want to forget about my birthday this year”, I thought that adults were crazy and needed to seriously reconsider the way in which they were living their lives. Why on earth would anyone ever want to forget about their birthday?
For me, birthdays were something to look forward to and something I couldn’t forget about if I tried. Birthdays were about choosing which soft play area you were going to take all of your friends to for the party, buying rainbow coloured bouncy balls to fill party bags with and deciding whether you wanted a Thomas the tank engine or Spice Girls birthday cake ready to decorate with a flaming beacon of candles. Birthdays were about unwrapping incredibly exciting and complicated plastic contraptions that you would then spend the rest of your day watching your mum struggle to assemble amidst an encyclopedia of instructions in every language but English, before finally making it look like the thing on the box, only to realise that batteries were not included, causing your mother to curse the creators of Toys R Us and howl at the moon until the early hours of the morning, Barbie’s camper van standing motionless and taunting you from the corner. Birthdays were about wearing a badge with your age on it to school so that everyone would know how very mature you were and how much respect they should bestow upon you, and no birthday was complete without a trip to TGI Fridays where you would stand on your chair like a king whilst a chorus of red and white striped waiters belted out “Happy Birthday”, the performance concluding with rapturous applause from all around and, if you were lucky, an extra gummy worm in your Mississippi mud pie. With all that to look forward to, how could anyone dread a birthday?
I was sure that I would always look forward to my birthday and would never be one of these fools who looked upon the occasion with anything other than spine tingling excitement. I was wrong.
For the past few years, despite little Katie’s best intentions, I have become one of those people who wants to forget about their birthday, and I think it is because as you get older, birthdays don’t mean the same things as they used to. They become less about gummy worms and birthday cakes and more about time passing you by, life passing you by, which isn’t something you really care about when you are younger and your main focus is getting the bit of icing on the cake that has your favourite cartoon character on it. On top of that however, when you are mentally ill, I think they are especially hard because for me at least, a birthday can feel like a reminder that you have wasted another year drowning in anxiety and the older you get, the longer you have been stuck with this mental illness bothering you all the time.
That said, I guess you can sort of see birthdays and that marker of time passing as a positive thing. This year for example, I turned 25 (I did it last Thursday as a matter of fact and luckily, despite all the dreading and worrying about it talked about in this post, I really did have a lovely birthday, so if you sent me a birthday message or said hello to me at all on the 22nd June then thank you for being someone who made it special. I really appreciate you all so much). Alas! I must get back to the point!
So, turning 25 means I will have been unwell for 14 years. On the plus side, whilst a depressingly long time, it is an improvement in the sense that I can say the number 14 because it is a safe number, unlike the number I used to have to say, (the one that comes between 12 and 14), which is a somewhat difficult number for me to handle in terms of OCD (YAY SILVER LININGS).
Also there is something rather motivating about birthdays in that they often inspire you to make goals of things you are unhappy about and want to change before the next one.
Indeed, I think that as the number of years I have been ill has gone up, the more motivated I have become to fight my illnesses and push as hard as I can for recovery even when it involves doing something scary.
During the first years of my illness when I had to go back a year in school and take time out of education to go into hospital, I was motivated to fight purely because my illnesses were making me unhappy, but not so much because I realised what I was missing out on whilst stuck in my head. Ok I often couldn’t leave the house and I missed out on a few sleepovers with friends, a couple of school trips and several opportunities to share a pizza and watch a movie on a Saturday night, but to begin with, missing the odd pizza isn’t that big a deal. Obviously I would have liked to have done all the things like going bowling with friends and eating popcorn at the cinema, but for me being safe at home not having to touch or eat anything, felt a lot more comfortable. I would have rather stayed in my little bubble avoiding as much anxiety as I could, even if that meant being a little bit lonely, than go out of my bubble and cause myself a lot of distress trying to wear a pair of bowling shoes or eating a mouthful of popcorn. Staying safe was my priority, and if that meant missing out on a few sleepovers/meant less terror, that was a necessary sacrifice I would take. Why terrify yourself for weeks and weeks just trying to get the courage to see a friend for an hour? Better just to avoid it.
However the longer you live with mental illness, the more those little things add up over the years, and suddenly you find you have not just missed the odd sleepover, you have missed hundreds of sleepovers, hundreds of moments in which people took photos and made memories that they reminisce about and fondly recall with sentences beginning “Oh my goodness do you remember when…”. After several years, you haven’t missed one bucket of popcorn, you have missed an entire swimming pool worth of popcorn (not that I advise you put popcorn into a swimming pool…just trying to get the image of how much popcorn we are talking about across), and that amount of popcorn can’t be caught up on as easily as the one bucket you missed in the first place. As the days become months and the months become years, you realise just how much of your life you have missed out on because you were too scared to take part in it, and suddenly the motivation to work even harder to stop the years passing by without you noticing increases, because you finally understand how rubbish it feels to be left so far behind everyone else.
However at the same time, whilst the longer you live with a mental illness the more anger and frustration you have at it to motivate your recovery, the further entrenched you are in that illness and thus the harder it feels to get better. It is a catch 22 situation, the most vicious of all the vicious circles.
Time passes, you get angrier at all the time wasted, you become more motivated to fight but then find it is harder to fight than the first day you tried to challenge yourself because the illness has used the time wasted to dig its claws into you even further. Odd things that started out as little quirks to keep yourself safe become engrained habits and habits are a lot harder to break than things you only did a few times. I have smoked only one cigarette in my life and I will be honest, I hated it. It was like swallowing a smelly smokey fire. Therefore deciding to “give up” on the idea of smoking after that cigarette was not a challenge at all. I had spent longer as someone who didn’t smoke than I had spent as someone who did, it wasn’t a habit and I was not addicted or used to the comfort or feeling of a cigarette in my hand. Now however, I have officially been mentally ill for longer than I have ever been not mentally ill and I have dug myself into a hole so deep that it is far harder to get out of. Years ago I didn’t go to a meal out with friends because it made me uncomfortable, but that uncomfortable feeling has built over the years, and now I don’t go because I am terrified. Eating out doesn’t make me anxious, it makes me feel like I am dying on the inside. The longer you are ill, the more set in your ways you are and the harder it is to get better.
This year then, as always, though I dreaded my birthday as it scares me to think how long I have been trapped in my own mind, I am trying to see it as a positive motivation for change, an opportunity to say “this past 14 years has been hell and I am determined to fight as hard as I can to make sure that number doesn’t go up by one every time my age does”. I am fed up, truly angry every year as I see the growing list of all the opportunities I have missed out on and I really do want things to be different. It is just difficult, ageing with mental illness. As the years pass you may feel more motivated, but at the same time, you just feel more trapped.
Take care everyone x
14 thoughts on “Birthdays And Mental Health Problems”
Ugh did WordPress seriously just eat my comment?! 😦
UGH, IT DID! SO RUUUUUUUUUUDE! 😦 I poured my heart out, too.
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Damn it WordPress! Luckily I am a forgiving soul and will imagine your heart poured out comment in my mind with the greatest accuracy. I can practically see it now! Thank you for such wondrous words! Have many hugs of as a sign of my gratitude and support! xxx
OMG! I feel the same. The longer I’m ill the worse it gets. I don’t have any friends because I just pushed them away. Everytime I was asked to go out, I cancelled because I have to eat at set times or because it would include drinking alcohol (a.k.a. calories) or many more reasons. And they stopped asking me, which was kind of relief because I don’t have to make up an excuse all the time. But it also means than when I’m motivated to do something with my life, I don’t have a chance now.
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I am sorry you feel the same 😦 That said please don’t feel that your chance to “do something” with your life is over. Trust me I feel like that a lot too with all the missed opportunities but it is NEVER too late for new opportunities and chances to live the experiences we have missed. Trust me it may happen a few years later than planned but you will get there eventually and will be out with friends eating and drinking without a care in the world. I have faith in you xxxx
I commented on a post of a similar nature that you have done before (maybe on your last birthday?) expressing how I could relate and how birthdays just served as a reminder of how far behind my peers I was in terms of social life, relationships, careers etc so I won’t repeat myself here but what I will say is that things can change. I never used to celebrate my birthday because a) I felt there was nothing to celebrate and b) who would want to make the effort to come to a party for me? c) parties/celebrations involve food. Last year my friends actually made me go out for my birthday, which was really lovely and showed me that people DO want to celebrate with me. This year, I have given no fucks and I am going to a posh rooftop bar in London with all my friends, kind of as a way of making up for all the lack of celebrations over the years.
The recognition of the passing of time is never easy, but perhaps you could use your birthday to set goals eg ‘by the time I am 26 I want to be able to xyz’. Maybe then next year you will feel like you have some progress to celebrate.
Also, don’t forget that whilst you may not be where you want to be, you’re not where you were. You did lots of great things in the year when you were 25 eg holding down a Xmas temp job which is stressful at the best of times for most people, let alone anyone with MH problems. Don’t forget to acknowledge your achievements.
Take care, my love. If it’s any consolation I didn’t begin to properly recover until I was 25. You are still young and have time to catch up on the lost years xx
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Thank you so much my wonderful chum! I think it is especially helpful to hear that “you are still young” thing! Going on Instagram recovery accounts I am always struck by how all these people are still in school determined to “be better by the time [they} are 21” and it makes me feel so old! I think I am definitely going to take your advice too and make a goal so here goes: for my 26th birthday I want a birthday cake! A big one! With chocolate involved! Really hope your birthday celebration is as epic as you deserve. I will be waving balloons for you in jubilation! Much love xxxxx
A fantastic goal! Let me know if you’d like any help in planning how to work up to it 🙂
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Yay! Thank you! Also sorry if this post felt like last years! My birthdays often make me feel the same! Do not get bored of me! Sorry! Xx
Katie, I wasn’t saying that your post felt like last year’s at all, I was just saying that I am too lazy to type out a similar response 😂. Please don’t let your head turn what was intended as an innocent comment into criticism of you.
And even if you did post repetitively (which you definitely don’t!), I would NEVER get bored of you!
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Having had more than twice as many birthdays than you have had (and mine is quite close to yours), I will reiterate for you that you are still very young. I do know that feeling of lost time though. That very same time; however, has taught me that there is nothing at all to be gained living regretfully in my past because it will not change it and only sets me back. That Katie of 15 or 16 years ago is still very much alive. We don’t lose parts of ourselves even though it may feel as if we have. Some of the parts of that Katie of 15+ years ago are just not as accessible…………right now. Certainly not forever though. I would imagine that doing this blog might, at one time, have been too difficult to accomplish. You are not only doing it, but you keep getting better at it. I can see the progression and growth in your writing and, since that is the only way through which I know you, I would venture a guess that you have really grown in many more ways as well. Your writing is just one expression of that growth. I would always tell my son to set small and consistent goals and they would add up in the end and they wouldn’t always be accomplished the first time through. That certainly doesn’t take the pain of lost time away, I know. I don’t want to sound cliché or minimize how bad all of this feels for you; I know how difficult it is to keep getting back up. That said, I believe that you will, because you have for 14 years. This is far from over.
June 22nd is a special day in my house as well as it is my youngest daughter’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Katie!
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Ahh that is so cool! I hope your daughter had a wonderful birthday on the 22nd!
Also thank you so much for that reassurance. Because I still feel mentally 11 a lot of the time it is easy for my brain to freak me out that 25 is old when really that is nonsense. I don’t apply that to other people and I honestly don’t think people count as old until they are 90 at least! I definitely think I need to stop living regretfully though as you are right, it solves nothing! If those pieces of Katie haven’t been lost it is my job to head out there and find them! Thank you for being lovely. Love and hugs to you and the family xxxxx
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I think a common thing is that if you get caught up by mental illness at a certain age, in some ways, you get stuck at that age. So this is no insult at all to you, Katie, but in some ways you are prob. still stuck around the age of 11 and such. It’s really just how it works.
Physically I’m gonna be 41 soon but mentally I’m not there. (I mean that begs to ask how anyone is ever really their full physical age when we’ve got all these mental things!)
You know 25 is when I had my quarterlife crisis. Haha, sounds funny. I didn’t know such a thing existed but it really DOES. At 25 I lost my first major job due to a layoff and no longer knew what the hell to do… I didn’t know what anything meant.
I don’t know if this will comfort you at all, but I eventually landed the most amazing job in 2002 at the age of 25…. I got in 2 years before the IPO (stock thing) and while it meant nothing in 2002, it fucking meant a lot in 2004 when the company went public and I suddenly had a lot more money that was previously just on paper. That company ended up giving me what I live on today, even though I haven’t worked for them in several years. I NEVER counted on that, I never expected that. Sometimes things just freaking HAPPEN, and that’s what happened to me. I consider it “right place/right time”… you just never know.
I pretty much doubt I’ll ever be that lucky again but… sometimes lightning strikes.
Ugh & now I have to quote a favorite Fleetwood Mac song: “lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice…”
Yes, work hard and improve yourself. But sometimes it’s where you are. You’re YOUNG and so much can happen. I know you’re depressed and struggling but please don’t count yourself out of anything. Esp. since you’re so freaking smart. You’re gonna do great. Maybe soon, maybe later. Give it time. It’s an exciting age/time.
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OMFG YES. I do not count it as insulting and am so flipping happy that someone else gets that whole “stuck at the age before mental health problems” thing because I feel like I am 11 all the time! I worry people will think I am being immature but genuinely past then I had no time for developing and things. I had handwashing and crying to do!
Your story did comfort me too so thank you for that. I really hope lightning strikes twice for you. If you ever want a job in England as a professional freaking awesome person I am willing to hire you…unfortunately pay won’t be great as I am unemployed but hey! Every job has its down sides 😅
Thank you for making me feel more confident today. I actually just wrote a diary entry about wanting to give up but you have reminded me that there is still shit to do for both of us!