Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Ghosts of Birthday's Past

I have the birthday blues. As the day which should mark my final year as a teen rolls closer (June 29th), I find myself feeling far from excited. For most people turning 19, the preceding weeks should be an overwhelmingly exciting time. I should be making plans with the people I love to do something fun, something that'll probably involve alcohol. I should have a demanding list of birthday presents. I should be looking forward to it. If you hadn't gathered already, I'm not.

I haven't had the best of luck with birthdays lately, or Christmases for that matter, but that's a whole different story. For a start, I've never really been the "birthday type". Sure, I've enjoyed them as much as the next guy, but the last time I had my own party or went out of my way to celebrate was primary school. I'm a summer baby with a winter soul. I spend the first 6 months of the year dreading the day that summer arrives. I don't do heat, I don't do bugs and I don't do the overwhelming pressure to be "outdoorsy" as soon as the mercury hits 18 degrees. I would much rather celebrate my birthday in February, when it's cold as heck and everyone is a little less intense. If the Queen gets to then I want to too. Summer gets into everyone's brains like a drug and gives them a loss of inhibitions. This sense of freedom makes people behave strangely, they're louder and they're more excited and for such an introverted personality as I am, its all a bit much.

Aside from the fact that the timing of my birthday isn't quite right for me personally, they've also managed to fall at some really tough times in my life. 3 years ago, I was soon to turn 16. A lot was changing in my life at the time, though I suppose no more than the average 16 year old. I was moving schools and I'd broken up with a long term boyfriend. On the 18th of June 2013, my anxiety became the most important thing in my life. I was sick, very sick, for months. I lost almost a stone in a matter of weeks and my zest for life had been sucked out of me. I vividly remember my birthday that year. I had spent the entire day feeling sick, moaping around in my pyjamas. Luckily, I was unaware that what was happening to me was caused by anxiety and I still had the confidence to leave the house. That evening I attended the final event of the year at the school I was leaving behind, and once I was distracted and enjoying myself I finally felt less sick. Retrospectively that should have been a clear sign that what was happening to me was entirely mental.

16th Birthday, 2013

After a year at a new college, my sickness began to fade, although leaving both my body and my mind scarred. I'd lost faith in my body and I lived day to day life somewhat apprehensively. However, I successfully completed my first year at college confidently. I felt as though I'd found my feet and the past summer was behind me. Good Lord was I wrong. Once AS exams came around, my mental state had shifted. I was feeling sick again and my weight was rapidly decreasing, and this time my old familiar symptom had brought new friends to the party. I was dizzy for the majority of my exams and the weeks following, my vision was blurred and my heart was pounding. All of these are just parts of my day to day life now and I wish I'd known at the time that what I was going through was once again, all in my head. The day before my birthday was the very first day I had taken off school in years. At some point during the college day, I felt as if I was going to die, and I desperately needed to go home. At the time, we wrote this off as exhaustion from completing my exams. This is why I'm so passionate about spreading awareness about the physical symptoms of anxiety. I don't like to admit it, but if I had known sooner that what was happening to me was anxiety then maybe, just maybe, I would be in a better place today. My birthday fell on a Saturday that year, and I did absolutely nothing all day. Once again, I lurked around the house in my pajamas questioning why I felt this way. I have only one picture of that year, and I only took it because the level of pink my family and friends seemed to think was appropriate was entertaining to me. I saw no one outside of my direct family that day, and I cried at least once. A week after my birthday had my second panic attack (I still didn't know what was happening and was definitely convinced I was dying) and was then finally diagnosed with a whole array of anxiety disorders. 
17th Birthday, 2014.

Last year I was finally ready for a good birthday, third time lucky, right? I had dropped out of college six months earlier, and then failed to successfully complete my exams at home on my own as I had naively planned to. So it was fair to say I was ready to enjoy myself, and it was my 18th so there was no way I could avoid celebrating this one. My family and I had decided to spend the week in Wales with my grandparents, which is far more fun that it sounds. ( I also share a birthday, and a name, with my grandmother). It is, after all, my favourite place in the world. Also, although never spoken aloud, this plan allowed me to spend my birthday away from my friends and gave me a concrete solid excuse for not "partying". Despite my crippling fear of being away from home and a 4 hour car journey, I was uncharacteristicly excited. My birthday was our first full day away and it was a good one, at least to start with. Breakfast was filled with laughter and happiness, opening cards and presents together around the table. The morning was spent in a quiet cafe overlooking the sea, and walking along the sands, how could I ask for more? Unfortunately, my brain doesn't exactly keep up with long term enjoyment. By the afternoon I had crashed, I was tired and overwhelmed. I spent hours in bed watching reruns of friends and mentally preparing myself for dinner out in the evening. You see, food and I aren't exactly best friends and restaurants and I are definitely not best friends. So the age old tradition of going to dinner for your birthday wouldn't be my own first choice. But it wasn't just my day, and I like to think I'm a good sport sometimes, so I did my best. I had a panic attack at the table, like I said, food and I don't always see eye to eye. I cried twice. Thankfully, after a year of intense training, I've gotten very good at not looking like I'm falling apart in public. That certainly would have been a birthday to remember. By the end of the night my carefully done hair was tied up and my makeup, done properly for the first time in months, was smeared down my face. Shortly after turning 18 I hit a devastating low of suicidal depression. It happened, I won't pretend it didn't. 

18th Birthday, 2015
   (My Dad is comforting me after my panic attack, my cardigan is around me like a blanket)

So here I am, just days away from my 19th birthday and to tell you the truth, I'd rather it wasn't happening. Aside from the fact that my birthday this year brings another series of pressurised events, it also serves as a reminder that this is my 4th birthday since becoming ill. It's hard to accept sometimes that it's been so long and yet I'm still here, in an evolving but ultimately unchanged state of anxiety and sadness. Due to unfortunate timing, my birthday acts less as an anniversary of my birth and more of an anniversary of when my life took a turn for the worse. Melodramatic, I know. Although it seems at times that very little has changed for me since anxiety first became a part of my life, I know my mental state is stronger now than ever and it's always progressing. So this year, I have sworn to myself that I'll enjoy it, or at least I'll try. Every year I would tell myself that next year will be better and so far I've only been left with a trail of painful birthday memories. This year, even if it's not perfect, I will work my hardest to craft a memory that makes me smile, or at least achieve a birthday where I don't cry. That's not too much to ask, right? 

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