Birthday Lessons

(TW: suicidal ideation, depression, etc)

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m so intense about my birthday. As someone who isn’t always that attached to the concept of being alive (my delicate way of saying “as someone who often engages in suicidal ideation”), the amount of emphasis and energy I put into the one day (week, really 😇) of celebrating my life feels incongruous to how I actually feel about life in general.

But I’ve always been superstitious about my birthday. It’s my new year. It’s the one day — April 29 — when I consciously allow myself to chill the fuck out, cosplay as someone who loves life, choose to be fully indulgent, release my anxieties about life and the world, practice real gratitude, and accept love without hesitation or doubt. I know these are things that I can and should do all the time, and I definitely try, but there’s a magic quality to my birthday that’s always just made it a little easier for me to at least gesture towards the kind of happiness and contentment that has always felt so elusive.

The older I get, the more freaked out I become about being a person. Not necessarily in a bad way. Not in a good way either. It’s neutral, more awe and amazement than anything. Every year I become more and more profoundly aware that I am, in fact, alive, and that the life I have to live is finite, and that I can either choose to be totally overwhelmed or overjoyed by that fact. I’m not sure which it is yet.

This year, I turned 32-years-old, a number so nondescript as to be irrelevant. I don’t know what to do with being 32. Getting older is weird. Being in your 30s is weird. People tell you you’re an adult and you look around at your life and wonder, “where?” I remember being 10 and thinking 30 was so old.

Now, I realize that I’m still “young,” whatever that means, but I also know that this amorphous thing known as “aging” is slowly creeping its way towards me. I don’t look the same as I did in my 20s. I certainly don’t feel the same. I think at 32, I’m more confused about who I am than I ever was in my 20s or even my teens. Sometimes, I think that I need an aging doula, someone to walk me through the labyrinth of passing time.

My plan for my birthday was to suppress all these weird feelings I have about getting older, about being alive, with a week filled with food and friends. Dinner at a French bistro with bae on my birthday. A dinner party/sleep-over with three close friends the following day and then, on Sunday, an outdoor dinner at Rule of Thirds in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, none of that happened (I was exposed to COVID and had to cancel all plans).

My partner was amazing and tried to make the most of things (we ate a delicious almond birthday cake and ordered pasta) but I was, and have been, really down in the dumps ever since. It feels as though I didn’t get to complete a very important ritual, and because of this, everything else is out of alignment. My birthday was nice, I received some beautiful and thoughtful presents, flowers, and the love and affection of my partner.

But because of the change in plans, I had more time with myself. I did not have the distraction of food and wine and kiki-ing to pull focus away from meditating on why I can only muster up enthusiasm about being alive once a year. In the silence, I’ve been thinking more deeply about my life thus far, and the reality that for the majority of it, since 10-years-old at least, I’ve felt an immense guilt for not being more enthusiastic about being alive.

The relentlessness of Black death (George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Ma’Khia Bryant, Mikayla Miller, there are too many names) is a constant reminder of two things at once: I am lucky to be alive. I do not feel safe. I’m trying to figure out how to hold these two things at once. I’m teaching myself how to be in constant gratitude of the life I have while also acknowledging that for me, my family, so many people I love, it has also been a really painful one.

My depression is also relentless. Medication, meditation, mindfulness and all the rest have certainly helped, but they do not eradicate the damage that trauma can do to a mind and soul. Sometimes it feels strange and exposing to talk about it or write about it because I fear being misunderstood or dismissed or seen as insincere. It takes immense strength to function let alone thrive in a world that views mental illness as a weakness or a moral failing. Mental illness decimates families, communities, whole generations and yet we still talk about it as an abstraction when it is anything but.

For me, depression is not external, this thing that hinges only on your circumstances or even your “perspective” on life. My depression is an identity crisis, an inability to differentiate between myself and my hopelessness. In other words: this thing is not of me, I know that, and yet I can’t tell where it ends and I begin anymore.

This confusion becomes clearest for me every year I get older, and I realize that what I’m really trying to celebrate, or at the very least acknowledge, isn’t the fact that I am alive but the fact that I am not dead. That just makes me, for lack of a better word, really really sad. But recognizing that, really admitting to myself that this is where I’m at, is a lesson, a step. That’s something.

Some other lessons, answering questions I received via Insta last week:

How do you overcome self-ageism? I’m gonna be 35 soon & I’m struggling mentally.

Honestly, I think I’m embarking on that journey, so I’m not sure. I’m definitely bracing myself, trying to be kind to myself. Recently I watched some old videos of myself when I was like 25, a time when I fully believed I was “ugly” (whatever that means) and was actually stunned by how beautiful I looked. I’ve been holding on to that feeling and trying to remind myself when I can that I don’t want to look back on myself at this age and feel that same pang of disappointment and regret at not fully accepting and loving myself where I’m at. I don’t want to look back ten years from now and have that same reaction. But it’s a fucking journey, and if you’re struggling, know that it’s OK and valid to feel these feelings about aging — we live in a world that hates women over 25, that hates older people in general, and these are things that we can’t help but internalize. I believe the older we get, the closer we get to who we really are.

How to overcome imposter syndrome?

What has really helped me these days is remembering, honestly, that none of this is real and that, to quote Regina Spektor: “People are just people, they shouldn’t make you nervous.” We’re all just little kids in the shape of adults, trying to figure shit out. Nobody knows what they’re doing, really. Remembering that, and the fact that all of this is so incredibly temporary, makes it easier for me to get out of my head. The other option is to just not do anything, not push yourself, not to accept blessings or opportunities because you believe you don’t deserve it. That is fully an option. I think the thing about imposter syndrome no one talks about is that a lot of the anxiety comes from this misconception that we need to do things that make us scared or uncomfortable or overwhelmed. We really don’t. Time spent feeling stressed out and out of your depth could be time spent working on your relationship with yourself. The better and more honest your relationship with yourself, I think, the less like an imposter you feel.

How do you deal with your emotions every time you see another black person get lynched?

I give myself as much time and space to mourn. If that means ignoring emails, texts, staying off the internet, etc that’s what it’s gonna have to be. If I need one day, two days, a week to process my emotions I’m gonna give myself that time. Period. White supremacy/capitalism wants very much for us all to suppress, repress, and keep on moving with our lives like nothing happened. This is historically how Black death, Black lynching, has been normalized. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to actually grieve without interruptions or obligations.

I hope this newsletter hasn’t been a complete downer - actually, oop, wait, take that back, I don’t care. Final lesson I’m learning: not to apologize for being sad.

That said, I’ll leave you with this, which I thought was pretty funny 😅: