Pass the party poppers because it’s time to talk birthdays. Although ageing is one thing we all have in common, birthdays are a different experience for everyone, from a time of celebration or another average day, to a time of loneliness and anxiety. With chronic illness and/or chronic pain, birthdays can be all the more challenging to navigate.
The Must-Have-Fun Hype
There’s a lot of pressure on birthdays to have a good time. When you’re younger it can be about celebrations, parties, times you can capture in a photo for Instagram. As you get older, the focus seems to be far more on having people close to you, a partner, your own children, and dear friends.
Chronic illness changes the playing field. We can lose friends and our jobs. It may not be possible to plan an event in advance, or we may have to cancel at the last minute. We may not be well enough to go out in the first place. Even those without illness can empathise with things like being alone and feeling lonely, the feeling of impending doom over ageing, feelings of regret, disappointment, frustration or worry.
We want connections, people who make us feel good and who are more than passing acquaintances. Chronic illness can be isolating. Birthdays have a way of painfully showing us if we’re lacking those true connections.
We feel we ‘should’ be doing all the things we hear about being birthday appropriate. There are also things we might really want to do, but physically aren’t up to doing. If you’re not partaking in these things, it can feel like a let down. Like you’re missing out. FOMO, anyone?
This is where we need to change our perspective, adjust our expectations, assess what’s really important to us, and find ways to adapt. Even with chronic illness, fatigue and/or chronic pain, we can still live our best lives and it’s still possible to enjoy the small joys in life.
After we hit 21, instead of wanting to be older it feels like we’re desperate to keep birthdays at bay. There are lots of question marks over the future with chronic illness, adding to the anxiety.
There seem to be unwritten guidelines and social rules on what you ‘should’ be doing and ‘should’ have achieved at certain ages and points in your life.
When a birthday rolls around, we often compare ourselves and our situations to others. More often than not, we end up feeling like we’re lacking and that we’re behind in life.
Maybe we think of how we thought our lives ‘should’ look by the time we reached this age. I know my life went off the rails with chronic illness, and now it looks nothing like what I’d ever anticipated. The key is to acknowledge how you’re feeling without letting it rule your life, to be able to grow from your experiences and still live in the present so you can make the most of your life.
Feeling the Birthday Blues
I find that feeling down about your birthday can set off a heap of guilt. Guilt is a common element with chronic illness, so it’s perhaps unsurprising. My big 3-0 was last year and my inner dialogue was awful, and I felt generally miserable because the whole thing went down like a led balloon.
Guilt sneaks in anywhere it possibly can, and it’s always a no-win situation. Layered on top of that is physical pain, illness, regrets, maybe even resentment, loss, hurt and everything in between.
Figuring out what to do on your birthday can also cause far more hassle than it’s worth, too. You want it to be good, but you can’t plan if your health is unpredictable, and you don’t feel well enough to do anything. You can tie yourself up in knots with it all and it’s exhausting.
But none of that truly matters because what you do is only part of it. It’s about facing what’s giving you the ‘birthday blues’, and challenging the deeper problems, frustrations, regrets and anxieties.
That’s life with chronic illness and/or chronic pain. Acknowledging that things aren’t what they used to be. As we age it’s hard not to think of the years lost due to our health. The present is difficult and the future is murky, but there’s always hope for brighter days ahead.
Let’s say ‘stuff it’ to the unnecessary pressures, to the regrets and resentment and“should’s” and unrealistic expectations.
Age : Exchanging Numbers
I hope the saying “you’re only as old as you feel” isn’t true, though I wouldn’t look too bad if I’m really 120.
To put things into perspective, remember that birthdays are social constructions. You get a new number each year, though I think we should really be getting survival medals instead.
This number comes with it a healthy serving of thoughts, emotions & expectations. But imagine that instead of a number, you’re assigned a muffin flavour. If you’ve just turned Banana this year, you’ll be Berrylicious Blueberry next year. It seems far less anxiety-laden when you take away the insignificant number, doesn’t it?
Forget the numbers. In August this year I turned Chocolate Chip! It was a very quiet, but I enjoyed starting a new good book & I was grateful for home comforts.
Tips For Birthdaying With Chronic Illness / Fatigue / Pain
Here are just a few thoughts on ways to better manage birthdays when you’re living with chronic illness and/or pain :
- Instead of trying to cram too much into one day and being overwhelmed, consider it a birthday week, or even a birthday month.
- Think big (like a day trip, a cinema visit or a get together) and small (a drink in your favourite coffee shop, a film night with snacks or a whole afternoon to snuggle with a good book). Those small things can often be far more valuable to our wellbeing while also being more budget-friendly.
- Find things you can enjoy that are manageable, whatever they are – focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.
- Forget about what or what a birthday ‘should’ look like or what you feel you ‘should’ be doing.
- Don’t forget to prioritise rest and self-care.
- If you have friends & family to celebrate with – Speak to them about any concerns you may have. You’re not letting anyone down. They may not even realise how you’re feeling & they’d rather work around your health needs than have you struggle through it.
- If you don’t have others to celebrate with – Enjoy your own company and try to view it as a chance to do whatever you want, whenever you want.
- If you feel lonely, don’t suffer alone, reach out. Guilt and feeling unworthy can compound negative feelings around birthdays. Samaritans has a free phone number in the UK (116 123) you can call any time. Speak to others online, through social media groups or blogs or forums.
- Try to remember : You’re worth it and you deserve to live your best life. Give yourself permission to feel however you’re feeling, it’s okay. Think of your reasons to be grateful and what makes you happy. Treat yourself and be kind to yourself.
♥ Caz – Blogger at InvisiblyMe