Today is my birthday and I’m very excited to share that with you. I’m turning 32, and even though I feel a bit like a dinosaur, I’m grateful to be heading into the next year of my life feeling good – especially because that hasn’t always been the case. My birthdays and how I feel about them have been a roller coaster for most of my life, making up some of the best days of my life, but also some of the worst. If I started weighing my scales (cause I’m a Libra, get it?) it feels like I’ve had more bad birthdays than good. I’d like to share a little bit of what I’ve gone through because I know I’m not alone. If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I suffer from type 2 bipolar disorder and therefore fall into a very deep depression at times. As it turns out, there is such a thing as “birthday depression”.

Depression drains the life out of you, and I’ve felt it’s awful tentacles wrap around me particularly strongly on my birthdays. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact feelings and why I felt them, but during those days that should feel so special, I often instead feel like I have no friends and that no one likes me. I feel like I’m all alone. It’s not just about social connections. I can’t help but reflect on my life, and feel like a failure.

I don’t remember much about my 21st birthday, when I was in university and living on campus. What I do remember is one of my friends calling to wish me a happy birthday. She was visiting some friends on campus, and wanted to know if I would join them. I was sleeping when she called, and it was definitely past a decent time to wake up. I told her that I would not be able to make it. I wasn’t doing anything and we both knew it, so she was understandably annoyed. I didn’t end up going over to see her or any of my other friends. What I did instead was feel lonely for the rest of the day. I felt like I had no friends, like I was alone in the world.

It’s a very strange contradiction. On the one hand, I had friends calling me to spend my birthday together. On the other hand, I felt like I had no one to spend my birthday with. That was not unusual for me – I was apparently as bipolar about my birthdays as I was about my disorder. My birthdays tended to fall in one of two categories. The first was a big party, inviting lots of people to go out. I used to love these celebrations, feeling like I was surrounded by people that love me. The second type was the exact opposite, where I would be alone, feeling like the world was this miserable and awful.

A few years ago, I started a new job. It was actually my dream job – I was working at an organization that I had admired since I was 18 years old. I was so excited, and I was ready to kick ass. The two weeks after receiving my offer were some of the most nervous of my life, because I was so ready to go. I did my best to prepare and make sure I would hit the ground running. I had just moved to Toronto, which had been a dream of mine for a long time, and I was reconnecting with old friends, including one of my closest friends from university. I started the role about a week before my birthday, and it felt good to hit a career milestone as I was about to turn a year older. I felt like I was ready to conquer the world. I went to work on my first day, and my (fantastic) boss introduced me to all the teams and took me to lunch. I was on cloud nine!

I made it until Thursday of my first week before I had to take a day off. And then I took the Friday off too. I went into work on Monday, but then took Tuesday off too. That was my 27th birthday. It didn’t make any sense to me. I was in my dream job. I was reconnecting with cherished friends. I was living independently in the city.

The thing was, depression didn’t care that I was supposed to be happy. I don’t know why I felt so down as early as my first week on the job. What I do know is that on my birthday, I felt awful and lonely. I received wonderful messages from friends and family, and phone calls from my parents, aunts and uncles, and some cousins. But it didn’t matter – that birthday felt like one of the worst days of the year. I remember feeling alone in the middle of a call with one of my cousins.

That birthday is in stark contrast to two years ago. I turned 30 and I had been suffering from depression throughout the summer. However, around the time of my birthday, I started feeling much better. In fact, I felt good enough to have a small party with some of my closest friends. It was one of the best birthdays of my life. I had friends over to play games, catch up, and most importantly, eat cake. I had a lot of anxiety at that time about seeing people, especially after the isolation of the pandemic. That day was a little bit difficult, but so worth it. 30 is such a strange age, because it’s supposed to mean that you’re officially getting old with a capital ‘O’. But I had no qualms on that day. I felt excited to be starting a new decade of my life, one that I was (and still am) convinced would be my most exciting yet.

That brings me to today. It has already been one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had! In fact, it’s been so good that I had to rewrite some of this post to take it all into account. My girlfriend took her gift for gift-giving to the next level, with a book of poetry, written about the author’s experience with bipolar disorder, and the most elegant watch I’ve ever seen in my life. I received wonderful messages from family and friends.

More than anything, I feel content about my life at the moment, and I feel hopeful for the future. It’s special to me because while 30 was fantastic, 31 happened during one of the most difficult times of my life. The wonder felt so far away, and all I could experience was misery. That’s why it’s amazing to find myself where I do today. I think back to 21 and the way I felt lonely even as I was surrounded by people. I think back to 27 and how professional success and rekindled relationships could not bring me solace. I think back to 30 and the joy it brought, and then to 31 and how that joy felt so far away. I don’t know what my next birthday holds, but I feel optimistic and hopeful (which is such a blessing).

There’s a lot that’s changed over the last year to make me feel this way. I’ve gotten the psychiatric help I need, am taking medications that help me, and am meeting with my health care team on a regular basis. I’ve done a lot of work to mentally feel better, working through bipolar disorder workbooks, going through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness-Based Therapy, and spending a lot of time writing and reflecting on each of those things.

I’ve written this post for several reasons. The first is that I wanted people who have been depressed on their birthdays, but didn’t understand why to know that they’re not alone. What you go through is not only legitimate, but also shared by many of us. You don’t need to justify to yourself or others that you are suffering. And the second is that I wanted people to understand what a terrible monster depression can be. In what should’ve been some of the best periods of my life, my birthdays have been some of my worst. I hope that you can see that many of us really struggle with our birthdays. If you see someone who seems unresponsive or unhappy on their birthday, please recognize that they take no joy in feeling the terrible way they feel. They’re not ungrateful for your efforts – they’re depressed.

There is something in my life that is a little bit harder to quantify. That thing is love. The love and support that Chelsea gives me has been so crucial in the person I’ve become, and the way I feel mentally. I’ve always had love in my life from both family and friends. But I think everyone in my life would agree that the patience, kindness and boundless love Chelsea has given me has completely turned my life around. Don’t get me wrong, love is not a replacement for medication or therapy or doing the other work you must do. However, I think love is a big part of the reason I feel the way I do today.

I’ve been thinking recently about the broader theme of The Worst of Me, and I think it’s loving and supporting each other to the best of our abilities. I think people with mental disorders need love. I think everyone of us has stresses, and so every single one of us needs love. Give as much love as you can, because that is the way to ready yourself to receive love. My birthdays have become very special and a day that I look forward to. I hope yours will be too. And if they’re not, don’t put yourself down and don’t lose hope. Sometimes the only thing you can do is get through the day. So get through it. And as much as possible, surround yourself with love.

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