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Birthday Ambivalence Disorder: When You’ve Got the Birthday Blues

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

Photo of woman walking, carrying balloons, looking sad. Script says: Birthday Ambivalence Disorder (B.A.D.)

No, not an actual, official DSM diagnosis. But, yes, an experience many encounter.

Sometimes, every year.

I hereby define Birthday Ambivalence Disorder—B.A.D. for short—as the ambivalence, sadness, anxiety, grief, regret, yuckiness, and overall funktafunk BADness one may feel leading up to, during, and immediately after their birthday.

BUT WHY? Isn’t it supposed to be a joyous, wonderous, best-day-of-the-year, you’re-supposed-to-feel-so-special-cuz-you’re-the-queen day?!?

Well, for starters, any event or day that is built up to be that big is primed to be a big letdown if it doesn’t end up delivering. What about the 364 other days of the year? Why set up one day out of 365 to be the best one? That's a lot of pressure on that one day. Let's spread the wealth.

WHY else?

As a significant time marker, birthdays can bring up a lot of expectations and memories gunk. For example:

Pressure to perform happiness and glee (It’s OKAY if you’re not feeling happy on your birthday!)

Memories of previous disappointing birthday experiences (Did they really forget to celebrate you?!?)

Memories of previous birthdays spent with loved ones no longer living, no longer in relationship with, separated from by great distance (I miss you Momma----insert sobs), or never met (for folks who were adopted, their birthday may be complicated by grief and trauma related to being separated from their birth parents. Feelings of abandonment, of not being wanted, of guilt for parents having had to make such a decision, etc. are sometimes present).

Feelings of expectation of what one feels they *should* have accomplished by this point (I guess I’m not destined to be Oprah....long sighhhh….)

Fears and grief about the realities of aging (Whoa, my body doesn’t move like it used to)

If you’re experiencing crummy feelings on your birthday, for WHATEVER the reason, consider these tips:

1. Spend time with loved ones (pets included) who you feel good around. Avoid the energy vampires and energy projectors.

2. Ask for what you need. If you really want to hear from a certain loved one on your birthday and they’re not so good at remembering dates, give them a heads up a week before. “Hey, can you believe I’m turning ___ next week?! I love hearing from loved ones on my birthday. Would you mind giving me a call or shooting a text my way?

3. Buy or bake your own cake if you need to. Surefire way to make sure you get the kind you want! Don't forget candles...(unless you don't want them).

4. Buy yourself a present. Who says presents have to come from others? Gift yourself. AND gift yourself permission to fully enjoy the gift. No strings attached.

5. Give yourself space to feel crappy if you need to. Cue: “It’s my party...I’ll cry if I want to.” A good, self-indulgent cry is often what we need. Grab some tissues and fill that wastebasket up to its brim.

6. Get outside. Try getting a dose of Vitamin D or touching grass with your toes or noticing a new flower sprouting.

7. Stay inside. Netflix it up with shows that make you laugh hard, give you a reason to cry, or that you just enjoy for enjoyment sake!

8 Get outside yourself. Volunteering can be a great way to do this. Doing something that helps others or your community can give you a sense of accomplishment and pride, and remind you that the world is bigger than just what you see right in front of you.

9. Get inside yourself. Meditation? Prayer? Breathing? Massage? Yoga? Music? Anything that will help you connect with your inner self and provide you a sense of embodiment.

10. Use or Don’t Use Social Media. Does it make you feel better? More connected? Super. Sign on! Does it make you feel worse? Jealous? Less Connected? Give yourself permission to stay off. It’ll be there when (if) you want to plug back in.

11. Be kind to your FOMO. Fear of missing out is a natural human experience and response. We’re built to be social beings and built to notice contrasts and similarities. The key is being fair to what you’re noticing. If you’re experiencing FOMO, notice what it is you’re missing (or think you’re missing), make space for the feeling attached, create compassion for the feeling, and shift (if you can) to a focus on what you're grateful for OR to just what IS. Maybe what IS is not so positive and yet you need to spend some time with it. That is OKAY! Keep in mind that others’ celebrations may appear happier than they may actually be, that NO ONE feels happy ALL the time, and that even if others’ celebrations are happier than yours, it doesn’t indicate any sort of failure or deficiency in you. Your goodness or happiness aren't dependent on how good or happy others are.

12. Treat it like it’s not your birthday if you need. Who says it has to be different from Any. Other. Day. Is it a Tuesday and you usually do laundry on Tuesdays? Super--Do some laundry. Don't feel like doing laundry? Okay--don't do it. Either way, on repeat, remember that it is Just. One. Day. Tomorrow, you’ll keep going just like you have been. You’ve been through worse days. You’ll get through this one too.

P.S. From us, here at Three Birds, wishing you a birthday. Whether happy or otherwise!

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