Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Birthdays aren’t always happy, sometimes they’re blue

Kellyn Taylor
Illustration Kellyn Taylor

Opinion editors are not responsible for agreeing or disagreeing with their writers but rather elevate each individual’s specific voice.

My mom’s sad, distant voice over the phone 2,000 miles away was bad. Even worse was my best friend being pulled away from me and the hazy memory of last weekend, making me question whether I scared away the friend I had a crush on. The frosting on top of the cake was that it was my nineteenth birthday, and before even leaving my room in the morning, I already wanted the day to end.

When I was a kid, birthdays were planned by my parents and often involved elaborate themes with bracelet-making and balloon arches. But as I’ve gotten older, my birthdays have become clouded with inexplicable feelings of sadness; this is referred to as the birthday blues (aka birthday depression).

These are feelings of dread or sadness in the days surrounding your birthday. Talkiatry, a psychiatry blog, claimed that the feelings stem from worrying about “our own mortality.” But at 18, the first year I experienced birthday blues, I wasn’t worried about mortality. Even now as I near turning 20, death by old age and sagging skin aren’t the problems overshadowing my special day. The problem is that I have lived almost 20 years and feel as if I have accomplished next to nothing.  

Birthday depression can be a result of various forms of self-loathing. Even the jargon we use to talk about birthdays is exclusively positive. When you acknowledge someone’s birthday, it’s always assumed to be a “happy” birthday. How you’re feeling versus how you’re told to feel on your birthday can add to the sadness surrounding the holiday. 

Morgan Mandriota, a writer for VeryWell Mind, wrote, “Some people may feel guilty for feeling this way when loved ones or friends want to celebrate.”

Birthdays create attention whether or not the celebrated individual feels it’s deserved. Despite it being your birthday, there is a feeling that other people are expecting something from you in return. 

I prefer small gatherings for 364 days out of the year, but my birthday pressures me into hosting a big party as if the value of my year is based on the number of people I can crowd around me. I use the day to squeeze in all of my unanswered wishes, like a second January 1. 

“Being kind to yourself during the process is important,” Mandriota wrote. 

Allow yourself to feel those feelings of sadness, whether they arise based on trauma surrounding your birthday or disappointment about the goals you haven’t met. Trying to ignore these feelings will only make them worse. 

Just because no one is speaking about the birthday blues doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing them. When I turned 18, I didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling because I didn’t understand the reasons for my sadness until later. Every gesture my family made to create a picture-perfect celebration felt dull. I was frustrated with my own dissatisfaction. Was I being ungrateful?

In retrospect, it was a birthday surrounded by endings. Only a few months later, I would be graduating high school, moving to a new city, and attempting to be a fuller version of myself. I had expectations that 18 should be the first of many highs, but as the day approached I began to feel that I had failed myself. 

I felt that I hadn’t changed enough since the year before. After my birthday passed, I looked the same, had the same friends, and remained a mediocre tennis player. It felt like I was going to be stuck in that feeling forever. All of the false hopes from the year before put an overwhelming damper on the day I desperately wanted to enjoy.

My tastebuds didn’t work the same that year either. The cake I made tasted like day-old oatmeal and toppled over before I could cut it. The bread at my favorite restaurant seemed like it had been sitting in a grocery store for months, and every color in my world turned from bright to neutral—and I felt an overwhelming blueness. 

Looking back on pictures from that birthday, I posed in a way that made me look uncomfortable, and scrolling through I renewed my embarrassment from the moment my 17-year-old self painfully tried to ask a guy out. 

The whole night I tried to smile but my lips felt off-center, and my teeth attempted to look pleasant but instead protruded in the wrong way behind them. I went to the bathroom during dinner and smiled at myself in the mirror to check if my smile looked as off as it felt. 

In my journal from that birthday, I wrote “I thought it was never going to end.” Blowing out the candles that year, I wished to shake the feeling.

Birthdays aren’t easy. Despite the bright candles, round cakes, and Instagram posts that conveniently disregard the sadness birthdays can inspire, birthdays happen only once a year—a pressure that makes us feel we must celebrate them to the fullest.

Lower expectations for yourself and the ones who love you. Birthdays can feel insurmountable some years, but providing yourself the space to acknowledge another year of living and continuing to treat yourself with forgiveness is important.

You don’t have to make a birthday wish or blow out candles, but if cake is something you want to enjoy you can have its sweetness—and the birthday blues too. 

Leave a Comment

Comments (0)

The Berkeley Beacon intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. We welcome strong opinions and criticism that are respectful and constructive. Comments are only posted once approved by a moderator and you have verified your email. All users are expected to adhere to our comment section policy. READ THE FULL POLICY HERE: https://berkeleybeacon.com/comments/
All Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *