Why the pandemic has made me dread my birthday even more than I usually do
Just in case things weren’t bad enough right now, let the record show that I have a birthday coming up next month, and I’m feeling pretty bitter about the fact that I’m still being expected to add another year to my age when, thanks to Covid, I don’t feel like I’ve actually lived that extra year.
Seriously, though, how is that fair? I’m OWED a year of my life, but you’re still going to deduct it from my total, anyway? NOT FAIR. I feel like we should all get some kind of a do-over, or… or a refund, or something to make up for all of the time we’ve missed out on during the pandemic. At the very least, I should be getting to remain exactly the same age I was at the start of all of this but, nope, here comes another birthday instead: enjoy!
(Other things I am currently bitter about: the fact that, if you were to judge by my appearance alone, you’d think I’d spent an entire decade in lockdown at this point, not just 12 months. I mean, I’m not saying this experience has aged me, but you know the story of the Sybil, who asked the Gods for eternal life, but forgot to also request eternal youth? Pretty much that, really…)
I won’t enjoy it, though, because, hi, my name’s Amber, and I hate birthdays. As in, actually HATE them: and if you’re reading that and thinking, “Aww, I bet you like them really!” then allow me to submit into evidence the time I literally left the country just to avoid the pressure to celebrate a birthday I was particularly dreading. And I would do that every single year if I could possibly afford it.
I have never felt that birthdays were something to celebrate, though. Rationally, of course, I know they are, so please imagine that I typed a long, painfully earnest paragraph here, ruminating on the fact that birthdays are not guaranteed, that age is a blessing, and getting older is a privilege not everyone gets to experience. Then imagine me reading that paragraph and cringing so hard I fall off my chair, because while my HEAD knows that all of this is true, my heart just won’t accept it.
I really wish I could feel the way I know I’m supposed to about this, but although my head tells me I’m lucky to be getting to experience another birthday, my heart still remembers the time I found out my mum was in her 30s, and not, in fact, 21, as she’d been telling me for the past however-many-years, and I immediately burst into tears because I thought it meant she was going to die any second.
(I should probably add here that I was very, very young when this happened, although, now I come to think about it, I approached my own thirtieth birthday with a level of dread that would only have been appropriate if I really WAS likely to die any second, so it’s not like I got any wiser with age: which is yet another reason to hate birthdays, really…)
I do not cope well with reminders of the passing of time, is what I’m trying to say here. I never have: which is incredibly inconvenient of me, given that I appear to now be ageing in dog years rather than in human ones. Even as a child, though, I never wanted to have a birthday party, or any kind of big celebration. Sure, I was absolutely A-OK with being showered with gifts, but the thought that these gifts were effectively being given to make up for the fact that I was now one year closer to my inevitable death would frequently keep me awake at night – and, again, I’m speaking literally here, because that’s the kind of asshole I was and am.
As an adult, I continue to experience huge amounts of anxiety about birthdays. Some of that’s connected to the rituals of the day itself, of course, which trigger my social anxiety and seem designed to make us introverts uncomfortable. Being forced to open gifts in front of a crowd of people. Being the centre of attention, but not for some kind of good, dramatic reason, but just because you alone, of all the people present, have had the audacity to AGE that day, while everyone else has remained the same, as if frozen in time. Repeatedly trying to explain to people that you REALLY don’t want a fuss, and being cheerfully ignored, because most people just can’t understand the concept of GENUINELY not wanting a fuss.
(It’s like the episode of Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom where King Thistle is feeling sensitive about his birthday and tells everyone not to mention it, but then the elf band turn up and sing a song they’ve written for the occasion, called ‘Old King Thistle is a Very Old King, and Today He’s Older Still!” I know King Thistle in that episode. I AM King Thistle in that episode…)
(Look, I have a 3 year old, all my cultural references revolve around kids’ TV now, OK?)
It’s mostly the whole “cruel reminder of the passing of time” thing, though, let’s be honest. And this last year has been the WORST for that, hasn’t it?
This was the year in which time passed, but with absolutely nothing to fill it, or make it feel worthwhile. We achieved nothing. We experienced nothing. (I’m speaking purely for myself here, you understand, so no need to chime in to tell me all about that novel you wrote, or whatever else you did to put the time to good use…) And yet, the time still passed, and we still got older, and I’m honestly not sure quite how to deal with that, really.
For me, every single birthday has been an existential crisis. When I turned 16, I cried all day. When I was 25, I concluded that my life was likely a quarter over now, but, as I’d yet to achieve anything of note, I might as well be dead already. All of which is just dramatic nonsense obviously (OBVIOUSLY), but, at the time, it felt very real to me, and I dealt with it by telling myself that there was still time, and that, in the course of that time, I would be able to do all of the things I wanted, and more.
Now, though, we have nothing BUT time, and yet not nearly enough of it, because all of these hours we’re struggling to fill during lockdown are hours we could, in that other life that ended last March, have spent doing ANYTHING other than this. We are, quite literally, killing time. It’s ALL we ever do now, and the thought of all this time we’re wasting – time we’ll never get back – is the scariest thing of all to me.
“When you’re young, you always feel that life hasn’t yet begun—that “life” is always scheduled to begin next week, next month, next year, after the holidays—whenever. But then suddenly you’re old and the scheduled life didn’t arrive. You find yourself asking, ‘Well then, exactly what was it I was having—that interlude—the scrambly madness—all that time I had before?”
And so this year I am dreading my birthday even more than I usually do: because, not only is it a reminder of the passing of time in general, this year it’s also a reminder of wasted time. We aren’t getting that do-over. We aren’t going to be paid back the time we’ve missed. But, at the same time, we also aren’t going to be forced to stand in the middle of a circle of people while they all sing ‘Happy Birthday‘ before forcing us into a round of performance present-opening for an audience, so I guess that’s at least ONE reason to be grateful? Maybe?