The year I turned 11, no one wished me a happy birthday. They hadn't forgotten it was my birthday; my stepmother just thought it would be fun for everyone to pretend to forget it. She instructed everyone in my family to ignore it, and for some inexplicable reason everybody went along with it. ( It was a weekend, so I wasn't at school or around friends that day, and this was way before Facebook was a thing.)
Maybe it would have been different if the day had culminated into a surprise party or something - some big event to offset the rest of the day. Hell, even a cake or a present would have been nice. But no. Right before I went to bed, my stepmother popped her head into the room and said, "Happy birthday, by the way! We knew the whole time." She grinned as though her little joke were some grand gift, how lovely to make a kid feel forgotten and unimportant.
My oldest son turned 11 just a couple days ago. Thankfully, each of his parents - including his stepdad (Chase) and his stepmom - put a ton of effort into making sure he had a good time and felt celebrated, which is exactly how it should be. We love him, so of course, we want him to feel special, particularly on his birthday.
For the first time, I let myself think about and get truly angry at what happened to me. It was not some major tragedy - there are people who experience way worse in life - obviously, I know that. I think that's why I buried my sadness and bitterness about it. I told myself to get it over, that it wasn't a big deal, but I never properly dealt with it, and unfortunately, I've had a series of mild-yet-still-pretty-terrible birthday experiences since then.
Outside of some other sucky birthdays I had as a kid, there was the year I got into a huge fight with my ex-husband and ended up curled up, crying in the closet while he went out for the night, or the time he got on stage and sang "Happy Birthday" to some stranger in the audience but refused to acknowledge my birthday for fear of looking unprofessional. (I don't tell you this to make him look bad - he was never trying to hurt my feelings, he just didn't get my obsession with trying to make birthdays perfect.)
There was the time I overheard a conversation between two people really close to me who were discussing in great detail how my birthday is the worst day of the year and proceeded to list all the things they don't like about me. I never brought it up to either of them, because... well, because that's really fucking embarrassing.
On at least two occasions, I was invited to eat on my birthday, and I ended up having to pay for the other people's food in addition to my own. Which is fine. I guess. But um... it's also weird and awkward. It makes you feel used, not celebrated.
Let's not forget the time I baked and decorated a cake, and then I put a pic of it on social media implying someone else had surprised me with it... I will cringe about this until the day I die, I swear. Gah. That's so humiliating to admit.
Most of my birthdays have ended with me crying myself to sleep. I know that sounds dumb and dramatic, but I'm not telling you so you'll feel bad for me. I just want you to know I relate to what it's like to feel hurt and heartbroken on a day that's supposed to feel special - and to simultaneously be made to feel like you're just a brat (which, maybe you are...) for caring about it so much.
I'm not the only one who has experienced a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with their own birthday, whether that is due from disappointment in the past or a fear of aging, but I'm proud to say I've finally figured out how to get past that attitude. My last few birthdays have been truly wonderful, which is saying a lot if you know my history of birthday insanity, so I'd love to share some of the things I've learned along the way.
1. Don't Rely On Other People
This may come across as harsh or tinged with bitterness, but I promise that's not where I'm coming from. I read a quote a long time ago, and it really stuck with me. "Don't ever put your happiness in someone else's hands. They'll drop it. They'll drop it every time."
Here's the thing. Like it or not, no one else is responsible for making sure you have a good day. I get it. I know what you're thinking. If you have a significant other or a best friend, why wouldn't he or she go to the ends of the earth to make your birthday an epic occasion?
Because they're human. Because they may not care about birthdays the way you do. Because they have other things to think about. Because they may feel they can't live up to your expectations. Or maybe they're just inconsiderate. Who knows? Either way, if you want to celebrate the day, make the plans yourself. Then, if anyone does decide to contribute to the day, you'll wind up pleasantly surprised instead of disappointed.
Side note: It's only fair for me to acknowledge here that I really lucked out with Chase. He's a considerate person and a total romantic, so he always goes out of his way to make my birthday feel special. I realize not everyone has that, and believe me, I'm incredibly grateful that I do.
2. Think Small
For me, it's not about some huge event like a party or expensive gift (even tho, your birthday is an excellent excuse to treat yourself to something you really want). I like to make sure the whole day is filled with little treats I can look forward to and feel indulged by. Make a list of things you enjoy doing - bubble bath or hot shower, coffee from Starbucks, reading, wearing perfume or makeup when you normally don't, going out to dinner, splurging on renting a brand new movie, whatever. Do as many of those things as you can. Pamper yourself.
You don't have to go to Hawaii to enjoy your birthday.
3. Do Something Big
On that note, maybe you SHOULD go to Hawaii - or some other trip, even if it's just for the weekend. Even if it's just a local hotel for one night. If you allow yourself some major splurge in honor of your birthday, maybe something you save money toward for the rest of the year, it'll finally be something you can look forward to instead of dreading.
4. Get Yourself A Gift
Look. I'm not a materialistic person. But everybody likes to open a present on her birthday. And who is better to pick out something you'll truly want than YOU? So get on Amazon already. But here's the catch. You can't open it until it's your actual birthday. Treat it like your own personal Christmas morning - what's not to love about that?
5. Give Back
If you're like me, you've had your share of pity parties - and they suck. So instead, why don't you spend at least part of the day thinking about others. It's one way to give you some perspective and make you more appreciative of what you've got. Spend part of the day volunteering at a soup kitchen or animal shelter. Make a donation. Bake cupcakes for your friends. I spent my 30th birthday doing 30 things to "give back" and I gotta tell you, it was a game-changer for me.
If nothing else, find comfort in knowing you're not the only one who has experienced the birthday struggle, and your feelings are valid. Most importantly, know this, you are worth celebrating.
What about you? Do you have any really shitty birthday experiences? Or do you have any helpful tips or advice to add?