Thursday, the 15th of January, was my birthday. I turned 26 years old in 2015. I was perfectly happy with the quarter, 25, but time has a way of convincing us to move along.
The past several days have shown me just how great celebration and excitement can be when embraced. It wasn’t always easy, and still isn’t, to work up to and believe that the joy of accepting a holiday and joining those around you celebrating is greater than a more lonesome reaction. This week I’m reflecting on my common response to birthdays and holidays in the past, and how more enthusiasm has made me happier.
Everyone using social media knows one really visible way birthdays are celebrated today is by piling on to a friend’s Facebook wall and wishing them a giant, “Happy birthday”. Technology has made giving notice of people’s birthdays trivially easy and offering goodwill a snap.
One year, though, I decided to reject all of that. It was several years ago around this day that I temporarily hid my birthday information from Facebook. This had the effect of removing my entry in the birthday reminder rotation and leaving my wall and space whisper quiet.
I didn’t want to be inundated with these “Happy birthday” messages, or so I thought. I didn’t make a fuss about it, and I did genuinely wonder who would remember the date by themselves. Not as a test, not to blame anyone. But there was a deeper, uglier, subconscious reason for my actions: I wanted to prove to myself how unloved I was.
I thought it original to take a divergent path, fixating upon the negative and convincing myself that these days were pointless and that I was unworthy of them and forgotten in them.
I can clearly and confidently see these things only in hindsight. I can recognize succumbing to my own mantra of, “Cynicism is easy mode,” (meaning that often, taking the negative, overly-critical stance is only superficially satisfying and rarely constructive). As much as I dressed it up as an innocent experiment, it was still at the expense of receiving the positive attention and well wishes that people are entitled to once a year.
That day and that retreat from even the mildest form of celebration was a deep, personal nadir. I let the cynic in me win, shutting out virtually everything. I remember being alone in my room, trying to weather the storm of expectation by distracting myself and yet still longing for a yearly dose of friendliness.
The temptation to retreat bubbles up on any big day, be it holiday or personal milestone. Any time that Something Positive Should Happen is a chance for my bad brain to creep up and taunt me with hollow satisfaction by way of self-pity.
For example, it’s technically true that the 15th of January is a regular day to most other people,(1)Except those who remember that it’s MLK’s birthday. and it’s sometimes really hard to embrace the meaning it has to me. I do the same thing on holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas, where I’ll ponder about the folks driving by on the road while I’m with family. I’ll get stuck on the idea that since not everyone is participating, then it must at some level be a crock.
It strangely feels noble, like you’re not wasting anyone’s time. You feel you can soldier on without people pouring out some of their happiness on you to keep you going. Of course, this is operating on the theory that happiness is a scarce, finite resource, and that sharing it with others diminishes theirs (instead of creating more for both of you). It’s that kind of shortsightedness and mistaken logic that fueled my actions.
That’s the narrative that you construct when you’re digging for every bit of pyrite in this warped mentality. “I’m saving them the burden of messaging me today.” “It’s a meaningless day for almost everyone else.” “Life is finite and depressing, anyway.”
Sometimes when I do this, I picture cameras capturing the sad, pathetic, “selfless” moment with beautiful angles and soft transitions. I imagine sad music playing (putting it on myself would be too on-the-nose). I externalize the purpose for retreating to creating a literal narrative of my life, performing for an audience that doesn’t exist.
This Blerch-cousin is always there, ready to pull me down if I let it. It shows itself when I don’t leave my home all day, or when I choose not to do the Fun Thing with friends. I’m always learning more about it: how it moves, what it feeds on, and what to do to avoid it.
So I don’t want to pull that audience-of-one deprivation stunt ever again.
This year, this past week, was so much the opposite of everything I just described that it almost felt excessive. Perhaps in a good way.
I received the cutest video game imaginable, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, from my dad, and I played through a huge portion already! The day before my birthday my mom visited me to have lunch at a new place near my work. We talked for hours, which is my favorite thing to do!
On my actual birthday, I went home in the evening to grab my brother and sister and try a new restaurant.(2)I’m very interested in breaking out of the well-worn paths I and my family have created of our experience in Marietta. It was fancier (and more expensive) than we expected, but yet a totally new and fun experience that I had with my siblings.
Finally, the day after my birthday, I had a dozen people over to my apartment to play the newest Super Smash Bros., converse, or play board or card games. These were friends from disparate groups like coworkers, secular/atheist people, Georgia Tech buddies, online friends, and more.
Turning 26 was only really an excuse to get a bunch of fun people together to have a great time,(3)…As my bad brain might cry out, shriveling under joyous sound of good company. but that’s not so different from any other holiday. We pick these moments to focus our attention on important ideas and people. It’s this concept that makes so much of life worth living.
It’s almost trivially easy to compare moping alone in an apartment room to having a wonderful time with friends and family, but that would miss the point. It’s not always easy to accept or convince oneself to do what in retrospect or to an outside observer is obvious. Brains get in comfortable, if toxic, patterns. So I do not ridicule my past self, because I understand and live the struggle to avoid becoming him ever again. Please offer him, me, and anyone similarly in mental strife the same courtesy.(4)Though I do recognize the value of laughing at something to take power away from it.
Also, some people have an even harder time accessing the emotions or tools needed to break free. Nothing in what I have shared is meant to say that anyone should be able to do these things; this was a personal story and exploration first. For those that teeter on this edge like myself, though, I hope that perhaps something in this post keeps you on the positive side.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Except those who remember that it’s MLK’s birthday.|
|2.||↑||I’m very interested in breaking out of the well-worn paths I and my family have created of our experience in Marietta.|
|3.||↑||…As my bad brain might cry out, shriveling under joyous sound of good company.|
|4.||↑||Though I do recognize the value of laughing at something to take power away from it.|