Learning to lean in to the Birthday Blues

It’s probably a surprise to most of my friends – who routinely mock me for my extended birthday, which I drag out as best I can for as long as possible, and my habit of posting a steady stream of pictures of cards and presents on social media – but birthdays and Christmas always make me melancholy.

Christmas, for fairly obvious reasons – since my mum died, it doesn’t really feel like any kind of holiday, and it’s mostly just a break in my deadlines and a reason to eat Chocolate Orange for breakfast, these days. My birthday is a little stranger. In theory, it should be exciting. I always great September with the bookworm’s back-to-school enthusiasm – the dog days of summer giving way to autumnal freshness, the excuse to buy new notebooks, the chance of reinvention as the wheel of the year turns towards my favourite season. And then there’s all the presents (and I get a lot of presents).

But yet, I still can’t shake it. Every year a little more poignant, the melancholy of time passing. Of another year where I failed to publish that bestselling book, take that trip, pay off that debt, lose that 10 pounds, find that lover. Another year of looking around me and thinking everyone else has this adulting thing down, and I am still stumbling around looking for anchors – the mortgage, the job, the husband, the life. (I might not want all of those things, true, but a chance at some of them would be nice). And every year I feel the window to achieve those things is closing, that my chances to be [fill in the gaps] before it’s too late are fast crumbling to dust around me.

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It’s ridiculous to compare yourself to others, I know, and there are plenty of people – people I care about, and am close to – who have had far worse years than me. Ill health, loss, tragedy, crises – I don’t have to look far in my inner circle to find evidence of these. At a rational level, I know it’s ridiculous. And yet sadness settles like a mist, every year.

I have tried to combat this in the past. List my achievements of the previous year: there are always more than I think, and often my ‘new normal’ is so far ahead of where I was the previous year that I had simply forgotten about my progress, sublimated it into the everyday. Distract myself with celebrations (for myself, or other people – September and October abound with birthdays among my friends). I had hoped that making my big move this year would appease it – here, look at me, I did something concrete and notable this year. But if anything moving to a city where almost everyone I know has nearly paid off their mortgage, has a nice pension and drives a car has made me feel even more of a failure than ever.

So you know what? This year I have decided to just lean into it. Fuck it, and feel sad. Instead of trying to negotiate and bargain my way out of it – ‘hey, I might not have published a book this year but I got some new clients! I wrote a lot of stuff!’ – I am just going to let myself sit in it; let it settle, let it pass. Let that be this year’s progress. Autumn, after all, is the season of new starts.

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