This week, a close friend of mine had a birthday. They hate to celebrate their birthday, which I’ve always felt sad about. But it’s not for the reasons that you might think. When they were growing up, birthdays were kind of a challenging time rather than a fun celebration of their life. This friend of mine generally wants to just treat that day as another day, but this year, they did want to celebrate a little, which I thought was pretty cool. After all, birthdays are a lot of fun. But it made me think about all those holidays and birthdays that are loaded with a meaning we’d rather not think about, and how we navigate those.
For example, I’m generally not in Australia at Christmas time, and that can be pretty weird. I happen to love Christmas, but I do always get a little homesick too. An old old friend emailed me this year and asked, “do you remember when we were kids and you had that giant tree? It can’t have been as big as I remember it being”. It made me laugh: yes it really was that big, I think it was 8 feet tall, it was a monster! But it made me sad too. I loved sitting on our white rug and watching the lights on our tree flash and glitter and all the decorations on it that we had collected over the years. It felt like a million years away and I felt so sad. For me, I’ve learned to embrace the emotional tides of Christmas, so I tell stories about the good old days, and have a laugh about them, and accept that I will almost always cry on Christmas Day at some point, and yet also still have a good day. I think accepting those tears and not trying to hide them or push them away works for me. And honestly, a lot of people feel like this at that time of year, it doesn’t bother people or bring them down, which is sometimes the reason we might feel like bottling things up.
The trickier ones can be times that are linked to one person. Like Mother’s or Father’s Day if those people in our lives have passed. Or the birthday of someone special who is gone. While these days can feel like an ordinary day to everyone else, or even be a special date they look forward to, you can end up feeling pretty weird that they’re a nightmare to you. Seeing those flowers and signs up for that holiday can trigger a range of emotions. It can actually be harder to deal with if you had a bad relationship or no relationship with that person. We still grieve for the relationship we can never have, sometimes. And I think these aspects are harder for other people to understand, especially if they haven’t experienced something similar. If you feel like you can’t talk about what’s upsetting you, it can make you feel all bottled up. It’s important to take some time to yourself and do something nice and comforting, and allow those feelings to come up, without judgement, either from yourself or other people. Choosing who to open up to about how you’re feeling and reaching out to someone can be an important step. Sometimes having a good old fashioned cry, and then talking about that person with someone can be a really good option.
To go back to where this blog post started, my friend and their feelings about birthdays, there are some times that remind us of the gaps in our lives, maybe. My friend is slowly opening up to celebrating their birthday, but at a pace and in ways that suit them. You have to do what’s right for you, and not feel pressured to celebrate or do things to please other people or to fit in. So should you celebrate if you don’t feel like celebrating? For me, I can feel really uncomfortable if someone is pressuring me to do something that I just don’t geunuinely feel. Celebrate when my heart is breaking? No way. Drink when I have big things on my mind? A recipe for disaster. If you feel like a night out might get you out of your emotional rut or from going over the same problems and emotions in your head, go for it. But I’ve made the mistake of doing that before and ended up having a little weep in the ladies bathroom of a bar, or needing to talk and being out on the town with the kind of friend who is great fun, but not a great listener. I ended up feeling worse.
In fact, once I was going through a truly awful breakup and a friend I wasn’t super close to convinced me to go on a beach holiday with them. You’ll feel better, they said, don’t be a party pooper. Not only did I not end up feeling better, but the problems I wasn’t dealing came right along with me. My once-friend was so mad that I couldn’t “just be happy” while we were there and I was mad that she was turning out to be a pretty mean spirited person all round. She ended up leaving me alone for most of the trip and we’re not friends now. And even though I could blame her for not being very nice, I have to blame myself for giving in to pressure and trying to do a quick fix solution.
I think it all boils down to two things. Learn to say no. And listen to your heart. Corny, right? But it’s true. If your gut says, sit this one out and take some time alone, do that. If it says cry until you’re all cried out, do that. If it says, cook your best friends a meal and talk it all out, that’s a great idea too. But don’t avoid your feelings, or they’ll just come out in weird ways. Say no to celebrating if you don’t feel up to it. Your real friends will always understand or even just respect that it’s not right for you right now. Don’t be pressured. For me, I think it’s better to think about what’s lost and be sad, but a little grateful for good memories, than to be out somewhere with a smile glued to your face and feeling like the loneliest person in the room, just because it’s an official holiday on the calendar.