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There’s No “Right” Way to Honor Your Birthday

This post was originally published on September 17, 2019. I’m resharing this year, the day after my 35th birthday. While pandemic birthdays look and feel different than other birthdays, the sentiment of this blog remains the same. We all get to decide how/when/where we want to be celebrated on our birthdays.

My Birthday Week Google Searches

As September rolled around, I felt excited for cooler weather, Virgo season, and my birthday. Now, during the week of my birthday, I’m feeling a little blue, a little heavy. My 34th birthday is next weekend, and these are some Google searches I’ve done in the past few days:

  • why are birthdays so stressful?”
  • “best brunch places in austin”
  • “birthdays are too much pressure”
  • “gluten-free brunch”
  • “best gluten-free restaurants in austin”
  • “how to make your birthday less pressure”

Okay, truthfully, I spent most of my time on the food-related searches. And once I decided to write a blog on this topic, I wanted to see what other people are saying. More importantly, I wanted the validation that my uncomfortable and complicated feelings about birthdays are valid, normal, and common.

Regarding all the food searches… after a few hours of researching and texting friends, I still haven’t made a decision. Why?! Because I’m putting too much pressure on the whole experience, so nothing sounds or feels good. In this state, it’s very easy to come up with excuses– too far away, not enough GF options, in a gentrified area, too expensive, parking sucks, and so on. (When I’m stressed, I’m really good at excuses, y’all.)

What Do Birthdays Mean to Me?

To me, birthdays are milestones. Each birthday indicates that I have experienced another full year of life. The Earth has taken another full trip around the Sun with me in tow.

Birthdays can be a natural and recurring time to slow down, pause, and reflect.

That said, life involves varying levels of loss, failure, and struggle. Thus, as I look back on last year, there is grief and pain. There is also beauty and joy. Honestly, while the idea of reflecting sounds really lovely and important for personal growth (blah, blah, blah), this also feels hard to do– emotionally and logistically.

My desire to belong and feel significant seems to be more and more activated the closer my birthday becomes. In the first few days, this was mostly happening subconsciously, but now I’m aware of the patterns. Parts of me want to be seen, treated as special, acknowledged, and loved.

Through this process, I also find myself resisting asking for what I need and want. I don’t want to be a “burden” or bring extra attention to myself. (Which is why I wrote a whole blog in honor of my birthday– lol.) Honestly, the birthday experience can be quite meta and even more conflicting.

What Do My Friends Think About Birthdays?

As I often do, I reached out to my IG community about this topic. My intention is to broaden the perspectives of this article, to share a range of voices and experiences. Below you will find the questions/polls I asked and the answers folks shared:

  • Have you ever felt sad on/before/after a birthday? 28 votes yes/1 vote no
  • What do birthdays mean to you? Symbolize for you?
    • Another year older. A reminder to spend more quality time with the people I love.
    • A reflection on the past year.
    • Not feeling special because my mom and dad aren’t around.
    • Every year it’s different, so it depends. But it feels like a new start, new goals.
    • An uncontrollable, unpredictable, unwarranted amount of positive attention.
    • A time to reflect, reassess, dream, and plan.
    • To me they are a day that forever ties me to my mother. I think about her on the day.
    • Now it’s a celebration of “I’m living. I’m alive.”
    • Newness and renewal
    • My New Year!
    • Birthdays are a time to reflect and do a personal inventory.
  • How do you prefer to celebrate your birthday and/or be celebrated?
    • Kids and hubby make me breakfast in bed with coffee. Then, just relax.
    • I like to celebrate myself and be celebrated by others.
    • Literally nothing special, just hang with me. I might be sad, but please hang out with me.
    • day off, lunch with special people.
    • Being with and sharing fun experiences with those who enjoy my existence.
    • Honestly, now I like to go somewhere by myself.
    • Before her death, I loved listening to my birth story. Now, I tell myself.
    • With my family. Food is my love language.
    • A fave way to celebrate is a lovely, messy dinner table of friends and conversation.
    • Quiet time with my love. A movie and hot dog. A nice meal.
  • What stressors are involved with birthdays?
    • Who to include and how to make sure those people are happy.
    • My birthday is really close to Christmas which has led to all kinds of stress.
    • The let down associated with wanting to have so much fun and feel so special.
    • I don’t want to spend the day with people that I don’t care for.
    • Making sure people have a memorable time while commemorating myself.
    • Mine is just before Christmas; it’s hard to get people together, and I feel overlooked.
    • That I will be forgotten. One year my dad accidentally forgot (I was turning10), and he felt so bad.
    • Planning!
    • Any planning–lol.
    • Giving and receiving gifts. I’m not really into that. I feel guilty when I receive them.
  • Do you like celebrating other peoples’ birthdays more than your own? 18 votes yes/3 votes no

There No “Right” Way to Honor Your Birthday

Here’s the thing: You have permission to honor your birthday any way you’d like. In simple ways, grand ways, solitary ways, in crowded ways, and any other way YOU choose.

Birthdays mean a lot of different things to all a lot of different people. You may see your experience reflected in someone else’s words above, or you may have an additional voice to add to the conversation. Furthermore, all of this is valid.

Furthermore, everything you are feeling, experiencing, and thinking on or about your birthday is valid. If it feels supportive to your birthday experience, I invite you to take stock of your support system as you reflect on the year past and look ahead to the next year.

In conclusion, it is my hope that you know (deep, deep down) that you are worthy of being honored in any way you choose.

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