"Happy heart palpitations to you, happy hyperventilation to you..."
That's pretty much how my body reacts when people serenade me with Happy Birthday. Being the center of attention can be incredibly unnerving for me. And yet, I've written some pretty happy birthday-related posts in the last few weeks. How can this be?!
Here were the problems I used to have with birthdays: #1 The attention. I was already trying so hard to keep my anxiety in check on the regular that I just could not handle the attention that comes with birthdays. People surprising me would make me jump out of my skin. #2 The authority. People would constantly ask me to make plans and decisions when all I wanted to do was calm my anxiety by shifting the focus to the others and making THEM happy. So here is how a typical birthday planning session used to go: But I don't want to inconvenience anyone! Ahhh we'll just do whatever you guys want to do! I would hide behind others' ideas and say that I was "bad at being the birthday girl." Now, though, I've come to realize I'm not "bad" at anything. A birthday (like the holidays, ugh) is a jarring, routine-disrupting event for we anxious types who thrive on calm and consistency. OF COURSE people suddenly bombarding me with affection and attention would make me want to hide under the bed! It makes perfect sense.
But therapy has helped to shift my perspective. People love me and want to celebrate me... and that's a good thing! That's ok! I'm allowed to have a day of fun! EVERYONE deserves a day of fun, a day to celebrate themselves. And I am totally capable of picking out and doing exactly what I want. The world will not end. (I should add that it's also fine to do nothing on your birthday, but that I used to do so out of fear, which is not ok.)
Certainly people experience anxiety in different ways, but in case anyone else gets all unsettled when dealing with his/her birthday, I want to share some of the things that have helped take my birthday from giant stress to fun for Jess :)
Figure out how YOU want to celebrate!
Finding what actually excited me was key to having a happy birthday this year. I was very meh about what I wanted to do, until I started thinking about what makes me happy and what nourishes my soul. A spa day, then, was a no-brainer. I love massages, and I've never had the guts to do an indulgent whole spa "day" (or three hours!). A teeny tiny party with a few friends was also a good choice. (I get overwhelmed with big parties, trying to mesh friend groups etc.) And then, when it came to planning a dinner with my family, I picked a spot that thrilled me and was definitely a treat. (I was so excited when I booked our reservation that I called B to squeal about it, haha.) The bottom line is that it's your day, so celebrate it how YOU want. And if you do want to include friends in your plans, all you can do is ask for what you want; how other people respond is up to them. (I say this, and yet I constantly footnote things to B with "but you don't have to!!" and he's like, "Yes, I know I don't have to!" LOL) It may be uncomfortable if you prefer doing things for others, but it is THEIR CHOICE to be with you or not. Ultimately, you have to do what makes you happy.
Speak up about what you want
This may sound dumb, but realizing that people can't--and more importantly, should not be expected to--read my mind has been a HUGE life-changer. Dysfunctional thinking urges you to anticipate others' needs and hint at your own, rather than articulate them. This creates SO much drama and miscommunication. So I made sure to pick what I wanted to do and convey that to others, rather than sit back and pout later when people didn't intuit what I wanted. For instance, when B offered to get me cupcakes, I was like, "You know, I'd really like cookies from the Acme." So that's what he got, and it made his life easier that I didn't hem and haw and hint at what I wanted. Be direct in crafting the day you want, rather than being the birthday victim. But at the same time...
Realize that you can't control everything
My anxiety really flares up when I feel out of control. (Hello, I cried my first time at Disneyland because I was so overwhelmed... and I was 20.) So a huge thing for me to keep in mind is that I can't control everything or make everyone happy. I can only take care of me and make myself happy--and the world won't end if I do so. A few years ago, I NEVER would have worn a sequined dress on my birthday. But this year, I rediscovered it and was just like, "Hey, if not now, when?" No one is judging us as much as we fear; they are all too busy in their own stuff anyway! Which leads me to...
Don't take things personally
In the past, I would always hang my happiness on people coming to my parties or getting me super thoughtful gifts, etc. etc. That's another way that I made my b-day all about other people. And when these sky-high expectations weren't met, the day felt like a huge disaster. Letting perceived "slights" lead to drama are a total hallmark of a dysfunctional family occasion. Instead, just try to keep a positive attitude and have fun no matter what happens. Stuff comes up, people forget things, that's life. It's not your fault, and it's not some huge, premeditated ordeal either. The more energy you put into wallowing over perceived slights, the more you're letting a potentially fun day slip away.
I hope this post provides some insight into the anxiety struggle, whether you can relate to all of it or none of it. And if you'd rather hide than celebrate, throw on your sequins and party hat meant for a five-year-old (or whatever your equivalent of doing-what-you-want is!) and have a fantastic birthday! :)