Have you ever felt unexplained moodiness and sadness every time your birthday approaches? Every year when my birthday rolls around, I find myself feeling extremely blue.
And I can’t remember exactly when it started.
- Was it the year when I sang the birthday song alone because my parents fought?
- Or the year that my ex cancelled on me?
- Or the year that I overheard a cell group member saying that it was so troublesome to plan for my birthday celebration?
- Or the year that my friend made plans but never showed up?
It wasn’t always like that though. I remember the birthdays when we had the whole family over.
I would be dressed up in one of mum’s handmade princess dresses. There would be an intricately decorated buttercream cake and longan jelly for dessert. I’d take some goodie bags to school, everyone would sing Happy Birthday to me and there was always Capri Sun.
“So, what are you doing for your birthday?”
Now, I find that perpetual anxiety and nausea are my loyal companions.
Every time someone asked (no matter if they were serious or not) what my birthday plans were, I would feel a wave of panic arise within me, followed by a deep sense of pure sadness.
The truth is, I no longer have birthday plans. Every year I would spend a significant part of the day trying to hold myself together, or if not, in tears.
I would stay up until midnight, hoping to see if anyone remembers. No one.
I want to give myself some time for the disappointment to start setting in, so I wait till the next morning to check my messages again.
Usually it’s from my dad. Then my insurance agent. Some time later maybe there’s a pre-scheduled “do not reply” video message from my pastors.
I’m not surprised, so I try to get my day going. I wait for that special birthday feeling to hit me, but nothing happens. Coffee tastes like coffee, and breakfast just tastes like breakfast.
The rest of the day rolls by. I sit and hope that nobody at work contacts me… for work. It’s all very anti-climatic.
By afternoon, I decide that I no longer want to be in this birthday mood for a minute longer so I start to cancel on my plans for the rest of the week.
But by the next morning, my self-sabotaging self decides to lay down “better” plans for next year’s birthday. Those plans never come to fruition.
The Big Three O
This year, I turned 30.
In the weeks leading up to that day, I had so many people ask me what was in store for the “Big 30”. The familiar sense of anxiety returned and was even more amplified due to the significance of turning 30.
“Nothing much,” I told everyone.
Well, I was lying. I was turning 30 and I wanted it to be special. I already had a full-blown celebration planned out in my mind. I knew what I wanted to wear, what cake I wanted, where I wanted to go.
Spoiler alert: on the actual day of my 30th birthday, I came down with a terrible flu bug. The rest was history.
If you’re feeling melodramatic like me on your birthday, you’re not alone. Welcome to the land of Birthday Blues.
Why is my birthday blue?
Birthday blues often refer to feeling sad, apathetic or disinterested in celebrating or thinking about your birthday.
Dr Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, a licensed clinical psychologist and member of the media advisory group at the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, wrote:
“For some, it could be tied to previous negative experiences with birthdays. Others may reflect on their lives and may not feel they are where they wanted to be by that specific age. For others, birthdays can come during times when they are going through something difficult.”
I asked around to see if I was the only weird one who preferred to curl up and cry in the darkness of my room on my birthday. It turns out that there were a whole bunch of people out there who felt the same as I did.
Among the many reasons cited as for why they felt that way, there were some that were repeatedly mentioned:
- A fear that people won’t show up for you
- Feeling like you don’t deserve anything
- Feeling insignificant and unimportant
- Anxiety from being the centre of attention
Others also mentioned that birthdays made them more aware of what they didn’t have, or haven’t accomplished in life. “It’s a reminder of how I’m failing,” said one friend.
In a TikTok video by Social Dropouts that went viral, artist Koy Suntichotinun called his birthday his least favourite time of the year. He shared that while he grew up being excited about the possibilities in life, reality soon caught up with him and he began to stumble in life.
“Every year I hated myself a little more,” Koy said. In the sea of comments that followed, many resonated with Koy’s sentiment: “I’m crying because it’s terrible to know how many of us feel the same exact way. I don’t like to celebrate myself anymore and hope others will (do so) for me.”
Many of us will relate. There is that weird kind of quiet mourning and grieving that comes when a new year or birthday rolls around, and you’re not who you thought you’d be, or where you wanted yourself to be.
So whether it’s your birthday (and hey, you deserve to be celebrated!), or you’re just feeling the blues about time passing and growing older, perhaps we can consider a few of these handles to help us navigate this season.
Helping handles for better birthdays
1. Be honest with yourself and everyone
It might also be helpful if you could try to be vulnerable and honest with yourself and everyone else about the birthday blues.
Let them know how birthdays can make you feel. Maybe you need some space or more gentleness. Or maybe you need your friends to be more thoughtful, or you would want to feel seen. People don’t know what they don’t know, so help them out to help yourself too.
For a change, I confided in some of my friends about how anxious birthdays make me feel – and how I truly only always feel like ugly crying on birthdays.
Now they don’t really ask me what I want to do for my birthday anymore, but they remember to check in and ask how I’m feeling instead.
Having these honest conversations can help your friends understand and support you better.
2. Lower your expectations
Our emotions and feelings don’t regulate themselves conveniently according to our calendars. Sometimes you simply just feel thoroughly at your worst on your birthday, of all days. It’s okay.
And to put it bluntly, our birthdays may not be someone else’s most important occasion on their calendars. Some people will forget, some will not show up for you. Maybe they’re too busy, or maybe it just doesn’t mean much to them.
While it may be a kind of litmus test of friendships and relationships, remember that it does not directly imply anything about our own self-worth or identity.
Not all birthdays are the same, and not every birthday has to be happy. Whatever it is, sometimes it helps if you lower expectations on yourself and others.
3. Look back and reflect
If you haven’t really journalled before – except for that brief period of “Dear Diary” in primary school – perhaps it is time to try again. In writing, consider the reasons behind why you might be feeling this way about your birthday.
Is it trauma from friends flaking out on your birthday plans? Disappointment from a spoiled surprise? Disappointment with your current place in life? Loneliness from being forgotten by others?
Sit deep with your feelings and ask why these reasons are causing you to feel a certain way. Pour out everything to God, then surrender these feelings to Him.
4. Celebrate yourself!
What if – just what if – you stepped out of your comfort zone to try celebrating yourself for once? It could be doing some activity you’ve always enjoyed doing, or trying something new.
In response to his own viral video, Koy decided to spend his last day of being 26 doing activities he loved like rock climbing and thrift shopping, and also trying out new experiences – like dining for the first time at Sizzler.
Celebrating yourself can also mean looking back at what you have accomplished so far, and giving yourself credit where it is due.
What were some of your breakthroughs in the past year? Which areas of growth have you witnessed for yourself? What were some of the blessings that you’ve experienced?
Remember to give thanks to God for taking you through these recent journeys.
You may not feel special, but…
Birthdays, anniversaries and milestone events in life can be stress-inducing and even depressive for some of us.
As we are so wired by societal norms, special occasions in life can often amplify what we do not have instead of focusing on what we already have.
But for all the birthday cakes we can ever eat and birthday songs we can ever sing, one fact remains.
God loves you.
You were made in His image. You were made for more. You are His workmanship. You are so precious to Him that He knows every strand of hair on your head and counts every tear that you cry.
Even when the whole world forgets you, He remembers you. He sees you.
Before you were born, He knew you. All the days ordained for you were written in His book before one of them came to be.
You are complete in Christ.
So while you may not feel special, you should know that you are His beloved child.
And for this reason, celebrate. Celebrate His goodness in your life. Celebrate His faithfulness. Celebrate His love for you.
Celebrate because you are His.