A Birthday is by far the most reflective-inducing day. It is a time to celebrate, yes! But for most people it is a time to reflect on what they have accomplished so far and for most it becomes a trap of reflecting on what they lack. Thoughts like “I should have had a degree by now” or “I should already be in a career by now” or even “I should be married by now” inevitably creep up and sometimes you feel like banging your head against the wall instead of cutting your cake and appreciating what you DO HAVE.
Rachel Hollis outlines this trap in her book “Girl, Wash Your Face” as one of the lies we tell ourselves: “I Should Be Further Along by Now.” She even mentions sitting with a group of women, having a glass of wine, when the topic of age and whether or not they like to celebrate their birthday came up. The general consensus was “definitely not.” The reason was because birthdays serve as a reminder of everything they hadn’t achieved. The passing of another year marked a point in their life where yet another thing they planned on having achieved by that age still hadn’t happened.
Hollis explains that everything in life happens exactly when it’s supposed to: “You look at your life and the eight things you thought you’d have accomplished by thirty-five (in my case twenty-seven) and feel depressed. But maybe it’s just that you don’t have enough life experience yet…or maybe the goal wasn’t ever meant to be yours. Maybe you are destined for something so much cooler, which won’t come until five years down the road” (Hollis 106).
I thought I would have a degree, be in a career as a professor and be married by now, by twenty-seven. I know these seem like lofty goals but if you had seen the trajectory I set myself on at the age of 13 you would have known it was possible and believed me when I said it would happen. However, my mental illness which I didn’t even know I had derailed literally all those plans. Suddenly I was spending my twenties in and out of a hospital bed rather than finishing my undergrad and going on to my masters then eventual PhD. I could chose to reflect on this loss as I have every year up until this birthday but something finally clicked in my brain this year (maybe it was reading a plethora of self-help books) and this year I chose differently.
This year, rather than reflecting on what I DON’T HAVE, I have decided to think fondly on all the things I do have such as a new found empathy for all humans as a result of my crippling mental illness. I also may not have a husband but I have a loving boyfriend who has taught me so much about love it astounds me. I am the healthiest I have been in a long time since I am now sober and cigarette free. But more importantly I am thankful for my sanity another year, something I used to take for granted until I lost it to manic psychosis.
I have figured out that life doesn’t always follow the path you set out on but rather branches off into avenues unknown. I am excited to travel these new and different paths because what I may see on them may not be what I expected but is exactly what I need or was meant to see. I may not have been meant to become a professor but maybe I’ll become something much more worthwhile and time will tell. I have always wanted to be a writer but thought it was not worth investing my time in because I had nothing truly I wanted to share with the world. Now, after having experiences with bipolar disorder, I finally have something I want to write. I want to write a book that outlines my life struggling with this disorder so people with mental illness may connect with the words and know they are truly not alone in this. I’ve been there and I’ve fallen and chosen not to get up but ultimately I did chose to get back up and you can too!
A birthday should not be a day to reflect on what you have not accomplished so far but a day to reflect on everything you did! You survived, you made it this far and that is an accomplishment in itself. My family did not think I would see this birthday and that I was going to die in the hospital but I am here and I am glad. I am proud of the woman I have become – empathetic, strong, resilient, loving, forgiving, you name it! I refuse to negate this by becoming caught up in a shit storm of “if only’s” or “what ifs” in my mind. The fact is I am here and I am able to celebrate another birthday and you know what that is enough for me right now. I also see this birthday as a challenge to live my life as authentically as possible moving forward and to constantly work on bettering myself. I may not have all the things I wanted but heck I have all the ones that I need.