Getting Over Holiday Birthday Angst

I don’t hate my birthday. I just always felt undeserving of my own personalized celebration.

Dec 15, 2011 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

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In my defense, it wasn’t my fault that I was born on December 24. I can’t blame Jesus for his supposed birth date either, though the proximity of the two sure as hell cramps my style. Having a Christmastime birthday -- or any holiday-related birthday, especially in the winter months -- is just crap shit luck.

I was never very graceful about accepting the reality of combined gifts, postponed birthday parties, or gifts “held back.” (As in, “Oh, we held this back from Hanukkah for your January birthday.” Thank you for enlightening me about this particular gift-giving tactic, January birthday Lesley!) I don’t care how I’m supposed to feel about capitalism and forced giving. It’s always disappointing when someone gives you a pair of socks and declares, “This is for both holidays!”

Talk about exacerbating deep-seated fears that I am completely unworthy of personalized attention or considerate thought.

I don’t think my holiday birthday itself is the root cause of unhappiness. In my case, I think complaining about my Christmas Eve birthday was just a symptom of feeling unworthy of a singular celebratory day of my own.

Growing up, I just felt like an especially big burden around the depression-inducing holidays, and it seemed as though the act of planning one more party that time of year was terribly inconvenient for everyone else.

Thinking back on pre-teen birthday parties, I remember that I’d often have a party in January so as not to inconvenience other kids’ parents who were already overwhelmed by the holiday season. I’m not saying that those parents were unwarranted in wanting one less event to worry about during the third week in December. I also can’t imagine the chaos involved in trying to organize and host a mid-December slumber party for 10-year-olds, during which one of us will inevitably knock over the tree. I get it as well as I can.

But I’m also saying that I was haunted by the lingering fear that nobody gave a flying fuck that I’d survived another year.

For most of my young life (which assumes I am old now, and I’m not but bear with me), I just flat-out bitched about my birthday. Sometimes it didn’t even matter if other people actually did make a fuss. I was just full on insufferable, raved by insecurity.

“Waaah no one buys me extra shit!” “Waaah I have an imbalanced wardrobe because I get so many sweaters every year!” Waaah! Nevermind that I like sweaters and don’t need or want more random crap in the form of candles/picture frames/cheap lotion/other generic woman-y gifts. I wanted everyone to know that this SUCKS.

Or, to put it another way, I wanted to feel loved.

Call it only child syndrome. Blame reluctant parents or detached relationships with ambivalent boyfriends. Cite unrealistic ideals of friendship. Whatever the reason, I felt compelled to bitch.

Sometimes, it even worked. In my early 20s, I had a good friend whose boyfriend gave me two gifts! Granted, he was a huge sweetheart, but I was shocked when I read the card, something to the effect of, “I remembered it’s your birthday too, so I got you two gifts!”

Of course he remembered. I always, always, always complained about my poorly timed arrival in the world. He gave me a pack of blank CDs and a book about crop circles. Seriously, that was awesome shit back then. I remember it for a reason.

I’m not sure if the crop circles book was what began the shift. I do know that one long-term aspect of my life changed my angst into ambivalence, if not contentedness about my competitive-with-Jesus birthday.

I wish I could say I learned to love my stupid day or something about being enlightened about consumerism. I wish I could say that I just got older and quit caring whether or not everyone cared about my messy emotional baggage or that I’m alive.

All of that is sort of true, but mostly, I partnered into a rad family. I know, I know, I KNOW. It shouldn’t be about some man coming to save me from my grouchiness. And it wasn’t totally about that. That transformative healing in psychotherapy coincided with meeting my partner just makes it seem a bit more like a shitty dominant cultural narrative than I’d like. Look at me! I fixed myself and then I understood how to love and be loved!

Ugh.

But anyway, that’s how it honestly happened. I spent two years working through some deep-seated issues on a weekly basis with a woman who looked and acted a lot like Catherine Keener and felt like my therapist soulmate. And after months and months of talking it out together, feeling like I was finally stabilizing into the woman I’d always wanted to be, I met my kind-hearted fella.

Turns out, it isn’t even about celebrating my birthday. It’s about feeling worthy. And great partner or not, I think it’s finally stuck, this idea that I don’t have to care or freak out about my dumb birthday because I know that I am loved, regardless of the magnitude of the celebration or the day of the year.

Do you have a holiday birthday? Is our angst universal? Are you over it?

(Also, if you love a holiday birthday person, it goes without saying that I want to hear from you about this much-misunderstood subset of the population.)