Birthday Depression: Why you Actually Hate your Birthday
After New Year’s, it dawned on me that I’ll be turning thirty this year – THIRTY! This epiphany was immediately met with nausea and existential dread; which quickly spiralled into ‘it’s not too late, you still have a couple of months to make it onto the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, buy a home in a crashing economy, produce offspring and walk down the aisle’ – in that exact order. Since that moment, I could swear I’ve gotten five more grey hairs and now walk into rooms not knowing why I entered them in the first place.
Always have unexplained feelings of anxiety and what feels like a depressive episode in the days leading up to your birthday? This phenomenon is called ‘birthday depression’, and it’s pretty common.
If birthdays were as simple as going to Spur, awkwardly smiling as people sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to you and watching the sparkler in your complimentary ice cream fizzle out, that would be great. But for many adults, birthdays come wrapped in fear and anxiety, otherwise known as ‘birthday depression’.
What is Birthday Depression?
The period leading up to one’s birthday might serve as a time of deep self-reflection and taking stock of one’s life, which can make your accomplishments and personal growth seemingly meaningless. Intrusive thoughts surrounding your birthday may arise; you may notice yourself become more irritable, frustrated or angry. There are many reasons why people get the birthday blues; they range from irrational fears to deep-seated fears.
Urban Dictionary describes ‘birthday depression’ as a looming birthday triggering ‘a series of depression related to ageing, lack of accomplishment, unhappiness.’
Birthdays are meant to be a time of celebration, but this can be a difficult time for many. With the advent of social media, many of us compare our lives with others’ and question what we have to show for it. Depression might be a generalisation here, but this emotional turbulence is felt by many. Those feelings could fade once your birthday is over, in which case, those emotions could more likely be explained as ‘situational depression’. But, lack of accomplishment, fear of age, or not knowing how you’ll be spending it, are very much real.
Why you get sad on your birthday
These are some of the most common reasons you might experience birthday depression:
Fear of Ageing
At some point, your younger self has probably said, “I can’t wait to be older” and now that you are, this couldn’t be further from the truth…
People usually say that “age is just a number”, but many people harbour shame about their current age. It’s the same reason anti-ageing serums exist, why we dye our hair at the first sight of tinsel grey hair, or the reason women are praised for ageing backwards like Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her. But the fear of ageing is more than wrinkles and beer bellies. It’s what that number represents for each individual.
Success is often correlated to age. Some people might measure success in physical assets like buying a home or car. Familial pressure of being married and having kids before a certain age could add to that existential dread, while others might question their career growth and want to climb the corporate ladder or start a business. These ideals are often dictated by society, family or oneself.
Fear of death
It’s not uncommon to associate life with death. Turning another year older might mean being closer to death, which could manifest as an irrational fear for hypochondriacs; fear of death could also relate to your bill of health or family health history. You might notice the stamina you once had as a twenty-something has been replaced with bad knees and body aches.
Death of a loved one
The death of a loved one is often felt most acutely during holidays, milestones or birthdays. What’s meant to be a joyful celebration could serve as a painful reminder of someone’s absence. Birthday depression could be triggered by traumas or associations with life-altering events. You could miss your grandmother calling you at the crack of dawn, or a spouse, friend, parent or child that has transitioned. All of which could make you resent your birthday and not want to celebrate at all.
Birthday depression can also be rooted in financial circumstances, whether it’s your birthday or someone else’s.
We often show how much we care for others through gestures and gifts, which can be difficult with monetary limitations. This can appear as a lack of appreciation and potentially cause rifts in personal relationships.
Expectation vs. reality
Birthday depression could be caused by feeling neglected by friends, family or someone you value having forgotten your birthday or not making the effort to wish you. Reality can crush expectations of birthday spoils when you’re not showered with gifts and adoration.
Stress of planning
Many feel the pressure to throw a big birthday bash or be extravagant, this is especially true for those milestone birthdays – 30th, 40th or 50th. Coordinating any large event requires elaborate planning, which could be stressful and can sap the fun out of your birthday.
Social withdrawal and loneliness are some of the most common symptoms associated with depression/birthday depression – reasons differ. Perhaps you don’t want to celebrate or be around lots of people. Social media can also be mentally and emotionally draining and feelings of dissociation might occur. Some people don’t like being active on social media in the days leading up to their birthday or the day of. It could be that they generally don’t like being the centre of attention or simply want to go off the grid to a remote place and be alone with their thoughts.
How to Cope with Birthday Depression
If you usually hate your birthday, for whatever reason, these are some ways to help cope with birthday depression…
Admit your fears
It’s important to do something that scares you every once in a while. It could be something like making more of an effort to be more social, going rock climbing or navigating your fears by creating a dialogue with others – you might find that you have similar fears. If you can’t speak to a confidant or are battling with circumstances beyond birthday depression, seek counsel from a therapist if you have the financial means.
Life is a rocky road and is way too short. Don’t forget to celebrate yourself and your successes, no matter how big or small. But also remember to celebrate you for being you. Wanting to establish a good career, have financial success, get married or have kids are all great goals, but make sure it’s actually what you want and not what you think you should have, according to society, family or peers.
Don’t place unnecessary pressure on yourself by thinking you need to achieve something before a certain age. The reality is there is no proposed timeline for milestones.
Things cost money; whether it’s your birthday or a friend’s, establish boundaries and make your financial limitations known. If they are truly your friend, they will understand and respect this. If there is a misunderstanding, this might require some conflict resolution, which doesn’t have to end up in discourse or potentially ending a life-long friendship. Try to find a happy medium, but be transparent with them.
If you don’t want to make a splash about your birthday and prefer spending it doing something small that brings you joy, that’s perfectly normal. On the other hand, if you are up for celebrating, then make a splash about it and enjoy every minute. It’s your day, you can choose to spend it in whatever way you want.
Is it your birthday soon? Treat yourself to these Free Birthday Specials in Cape Town.
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