I’ve waited a week to write my usual birthday post. I found it a little bit too painful to write about in the last week. But I’m now at the point when I can’t NOT write about it because it’s something that I have to document.
I’ve written before about how I have a birthday curse. Name a birthday, I’ll tell you about the disasters that occurred on that day. The milestones are usually the worst.
16th? Stuck for an hour in a public toilet in Dartmouth because I was constipated while someone outside was acting out a Punch and Judy show. Not the kind of place you want to be in that predicament.
18th? Supposed best friend phoned me to tell me that my then-boyfriend was seeing someone else. Nice.
21st? Hangover. Only had half a glass of wine. Not sure I deserved that hangover.
30th? Well, I was pregnant and since I was expecting, my family decided not to mark the occasion. Because I was pregnant. Logical? Not really. Not one of my cards said 30. My husband gave me broken jewellery as a gift and a box of cupcakes he knew I was allergic to, and the sister I went all the way to Barcelona to spend a few hours with on her 30th sent me a text to tell me she couldn’t call me because she was really busy. By the end of the day, I felt so unloved and so confused about why my milestone was being ignored that I found myself standing on a balcony in Cyprus, seconds away from jumping. I only stopped because I was pregnant. I promised myself I’d have the baby first and then do it. Obviously that didn’t work out as planned.
My 40th last week wasn’t much better. I started planning it in March 2011, three weeks after Luke was born. I was severely depressed by that point. I had asked for help, BEGGED for help from my doctor, who just sighed and gave me a phone number of a service who said they couldn’t see me for at least three months. I was suicidal and so far gone that I didn’t know what I was doing. I remember it was a Monday morning and I had walked out into the road, thinking there was a truck coming my way. Yes, I know how selfish that is, but suicidal brains don’t process that. I heard it so clearly. But I found myself standing in the middle of an empty road and the truck never came. I told myself God had saved me. I now think, as an agnostic and a chaote, that it was an auditory hallucination. I wanted so badly for something to end my suffering so my brain made that sound appear. But back then, I felt like I was meant to be here. I took comfort in the idea and I started planning my 40th birthday on the walk home.
I was going to go to Torquay, where I spent many a childhood holiday, on my own, so nobody could fuck it up by failing to mark the occasion. The thought of my lovely, lonely holiday kept me going for many years, through many tough days. It sweetened the memories of that unpleasant night in Cyprus. I’d buy myself a card that said 40. And I’d buy myself a cake I’m not allergic to. I’d put 40 candles on it, because dammit, I have earned every last one of them. I would treat myself the way I wanted others to treat me and nobody would forget because nobody else would be around to forget. I wouldn’t even switch my phone on. I’d eat fish and chips in the rain, maybe have an ice-cream, and go to the arcade. It was going to be magical.
And then it happened. I don’t mean Covid. I mean me, forgetting how bad I felt on my 30th. I softened. I got over it. I said that my husband could come and of course, I wanted my son there, and my dog. I didn’t want to be without Luke or Rum on my special day. So I booked that holiday and I chose a flat that accommodated 3 people and dogs.
By the time July 2020 came around, I had already come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going anywhere. It was out of my hands. So, I asked my family for a quiet day, with no drama. Just peace to let the day pass without trauma or upset. Unfortunately, this is me we’re talking about. And it’s a milestone, the biggest yet. I was never going to get that.
I can’t go into the details of what exactly happened. All I can say is that as a woman who has reached level 40, I feel that I am able to pinpoint feelings and emotions in a way that I couldn’t as a younger woman. I’m able to articulate myself. It’s not that I am unloved. I am unseen and unheard. I think those closest to me are too quick to project their own feelings about ageing and their own desires to not mark milestones that they assume I feel the same and make a conscious choice to ignore what I am saying, with both words and actions. I happen to think it is also why I have developed a social networking addiction and it’s why I blog. Because on the Internet, there’s always someone listening.
I wanted my life to be celebrated. I wanted my achievement and tenacity to be celebrated. I wanted the fact that I have battled eating disorders, acute anxiety, suicidal thoughts and what feels like constant depression and lived for 40 years in spite of those obstacles, to be celebrated. I think I’m worth walking to another part of the greeting card shop to find a card with a number on it. I think I’m worth spending a couple of extra pounds on more candles. It’s what I would do for someone that I loved. It’s what I do for my son. When he was born, he had a fight on his hands to stay alive. He spent time in a special care unit and I remember those nights, sitting up in my hospital bed, in excruciating pain from the surgery, unable or unwilling to sleep (who knows?!), wondering if he would ever see his first birthday, his first day at school, if I would hear about his first crush… I celebrate his birthdays with those thoughts in my mind and my heart, every single year, and I show him how loved he is. He will never ever doubt it.
Perhaps the best gift that I got this year, for reaching level 40, was the wisdom to know that when other people don’t treat me the way I want to be treated, it’s not because they don’t love me, but because I am part of a family where I have always felt displaced, because I have the mind and heart of someone who thinks deeply and feels acutely and they do not. That can be very difficult to accept and it can make life lonely. But it is no reflection on me.
As for my friends, a small number remembered, and they’ll be treasured. But sadly, most forgot completely.
I’ve felt sad all week since my birthday because I know that yet another milestone has passed and I have another bad memory to add to the collection. I have no doubts that in ten years, if I’m still here, I’ll have another new bad memory. I’m already mentally preparing for it and the fact that I have to do that makes me even more sad. I had dreams of a day that would be just for me, and later, when I realised that wouldn’t happen, I pictured a quiet day spent with family, with my milestone achievement being celebrated. Instead, I find myself sitting up at 2 am a week later, crying over the presents I would gladly have swapped for 40 candles, a card with a number on it and just one birthday without tears. I can get a present for any birthday. There was only one day I would ever turn 40. But sometimes, we just have to accept that we’ll never get what we want.