Let’s talk about birthdays, emotional rollercoasters, dreaded birthday songs and anxiety.
I haven’t seen or read a lot about birthdays & mental health / anxiety.
We all have birthdays, and people with anxiety are a growing number, sadly - especially since our school systems still aren’t changing, but that’s a subject for another day.
People have a lot of different experiences with birthdays, for some it’s just a day.. for others, it’s a lot more than that!
If you’re a 4 on the enneagram I think birthdays are especially filled with expectations, hopes and a wish to feel special on your special day, which often leads to disappointment when those expectations and feelings aren’t met. Add anxiety to that.. and it gets messy, emotional and complicated.
So birthdays and anxiety..
Growing up I was always looking forward to my birthdays because it meant getting older and cooler, GIFTS and usually a fun party. That made the day feel special.
BUT I also dreaded it, especially the school part, because that meant a lot of unwanted attention and birthday songs.. oh, the evil birthday songs.
Having a birthday on a weekend was the ultimate dream.
Having a birthday on the day where the whole school had a gathering, was the ultimate nightmare.
I still don’t get why teachers feel the need to force kids to stand in front of the whole school just to sing a birthday song, when they say no. I’ve seen kids carried to the “stage” who refused. For some that can be quite an traumatic experience. If the kid say no, it means no. Not everyone loves attention.
Some of my most humiliating experiences and situations have happened on my birthday during the birthday songs. I know it’s meant for a celebration and people mean it well, but having anxiety and a big big issue with blushing when unwanted and/or sudden attention, it has turned into my worst minutes.
I’ve experienced kids, “friends”, schoolmates, my whole class, even the whole school having a good laugh at my extremely red face during what feels like a forever long birthday song. Yes, my “friends”, even the girl sitting next to me would laugh straight to my face, while I was the most uncomfortable tomato. Those “friends” where invited over for a birthdayparty afterwards. And gave each other funny looks and tried to kill a chuckle when my mom asked me how my birthday was at school. I think the word I might be looking for is bullying. Please don’t be like that, when you see people blushing, getting anxious, weird or awkward, you don’t know what hell they might go through and how it will haunt them for years after.
Teachers, you often don’t know what kind of traumatic hell you often put kids with (social) anxiety through. Please be aware. Educate yourself!
There’s so many other ways one can be celebrated than having to be the center of attention for a whole song. Just typing this makes my my body react. So much anxiety is surrounded with those kind of situations. Maybe have a few suggestions and ask the birthday kid how they want to be celebrated, or if they want to be celebrated at all in school. Don’t assume that a lot of attention and eyes on the birthday kid is what every kid wants.
Some birthdays I’ve wanted so badly to be sick to avoid birthday songs (and unwanted attention) that I actually got sick, even though I can probably count on one hand the number of sickdays I’ve had. If I didn’t have such a bid consciousness I probably would’ve just skipped school on my birthdays. Not probably. Definitely.
Anxiety and fear is a powerful thing.
Back to adulthood. I recently turned 24, I don’t go to school anymore so anxiety and birthdays look different for me now.. the day isn’t as dreaded as it was before. And most adult parties are usually at night when it’s darker, so that helps a little tool. I know, crazy, but that’s how someone with anxiety might think. Every little detail.
Anyways, I invited a few friends over, even though it was very chill, down-to-earth and it was with friends I’m very comfortable with and something I did look forward to, I still had little to no appetite + an anxiety-filled body and diarrhea (let’s be real) for two days including my birthday.
Enjoying a birthday cake or anything sweet is impossible for me on my birthday. I can’t get a bit down of something too sweet when on my birthday. For some people I might be other tastes, but sweet stuff is the worst when my anxiety is high.
So why invite people over if it brings me so much anxiety? Well, don’t I deserve to be celebrated and have a normal life? Yes. I also do want to share it with friends. Not always, but sometimes. It is worth it in the end. For me. So to have a nice evening, I sacrifice a few days prior and post my birthday where I’m an absolute mess or a zombie walking around. Not all birthdays are like this, but I try to build myself up and beat my anxiety. I refuse to let it control my life.
This is also true for most “bigger” social gatherings, depending on the people and social situation it gets more or less draining.
Last year I had all my 7 cousins over, even though they are family, I’ve known them my whole life, I’m older than most of them, I still couldn’t do anything the whole day before they arrived. My mom asked me to find some cheese or something in the fridge, for some reason I couldn’t handle that, so I broke down and ran to my room crying and trying to calm myself down before going downstairs again to continue the preparations, because well.. the guests arrived soon. It didn’t make sense at all, but anxiety doesn’t make sense.
It was a day I had looked forward to very much! The evening with my cousins is a night I won’t forget (in the best way possible), but the days and especially the hours leading up to the event was extremely draining, tough, messy and painful, but I’m so glad I didn’t let that stop me from having one of my absolute best days!
For me, I know that once people arrive and the party/events begin my nerves mostly calm down and I can have an amazing time. But.. my mind has been overworked and my body has been exposed for something very intense, so if I don’t make sense, forget a lot, seem a little shaky the first half hour, eat slowly or nothing at all or maybe zoom out on your story.. it’s because of what my anxiety just put me through, but I do still enjoy my time and your story! Please don’t take it personally, but maybe show a little mercy and don’t make me feel stupid for telling you the same thing for the 3rd time, hah.
I also use 1-3 days mentally drained after this day without any mental capacity to do anything except maybe watching netflix, do a brain-less actitivity, stare into the air and basically just be a zombie. So don’t expect to much from me the days after a big and/or social event.
Not all experience it like I do. Anxiety looks different for everyone, but this is one story. One person with anxiety. Maybe you can relate? Maybe you know someone with anxiety. I hope this can help you understand them a little bit more or at least give them some credit for what they go through, for something you or others take for granted.
I just thought it was important to address this and talk about birthdays with anxiety.
anxiety is not glamorous.
anxiety is not attention seeking.
anxiety is tough
and stealing too many moments and memories that was suppose to be fun, nice and carefree.
Why am I sharing all this? Not to make you feel sorry for me or those with anxiety, that’s like the worst. Don’t feel sorry for us, but to openly share about my experience with birthdays while having (social) anxiety. I hope for those of you who can relate that this might be helpful or give some hope or comfort and I hope that for those of you who are happily unaware, that this might give you some insight on how to be there for and understanding your classmates, co-workers, friends or family with anxiety.
last thing I wanna say is,
you don’t know the size of the battle someone is going through.