Maybe you didn’t get the memo, so here it is, minus a birthday present bow on top: The mental health profession doesn’t judge unhappy feelings as forbidden, wrong, or bad. Unhappiness is a normal part of human life. Sadness is one thing, though, and a sense of shame another. Both can be temporary. Depression, however, is a serious, lingering matter, an issue to be reckoned with. Let’s look at how to know if you have simple birthday blahs, or what’s known in mental health circles as Birthday Blues, aka genuine depression about a birthday.
When your emotions harm your day-to-day life you have a thinking process to straighten out, not necessarily a mental illness issue. Sadness is normal in many circumstances (e.g., death, relocation, the loss of something valuable). Depression, however, is more serious than sadness because it compromises your ability to function and to imagine a better future.
Birthday Blues/Birthday Depression is a biological and mental/emotional issue based on a heightened awareness that you are aging and closer to death than before. It also involves thoughts about having missed some goals, looking and feeling older, and, perhaps, intrusion by people you want to avoid. Some perfectly normal people prefer to mark their birthdays alone, or only with the people they prefer. Privacy is a precious part of life because it refreshes us. If someone insists on intruding into your life because of your birthday, the emotional pain that they cause can be miserable. If you’re considering suicide at birthday time, for any of the reasons cited above or for another reason, you can seek immediate relief by talking it out with a trusted confidante or therapist. Crisis lines are available around the clock.
The sense of feeling ashamed is another issue. Shame is about feeling inferior or unworthy in your opinion or someone else’s. Feeling ashamed at your misery over a birthday is a multifaceted issue. Let’s see if we can take your sense of shame about a birthday out of your thinking processes, or at least minimize it. Re-read the first paragraph of this article, and then continue with the next paragraph.
We’ve sorted out a few issues, so now let’s take on depression alone. Birthday depression can be minimized and prevented. Normal people fail sometimes. We, and you, need to focus on what goes right in life. Consider spending time thinking about your achievements in life well in advance of your birthday. If your birthday is today or tomorrow, think of your positive achievements now, today and tomorrow. Make a list of those achievements, even if they’re smaller or bigger achievements compared to each other. Your brain will process the thinking involved as a pleasant experience all over again. Re-read the achievement list from time to time. Add to it when you remember another achievement.
Count up the unexpected bonuses you’ve experienced since you were born, such as found money, job promotions, recoveries from some setback or other, the delight of hearing someone say “I love you,” and the like. Count them on a piece of paper, too. Writing all those occasions down will help you to better feel the positive impact they made on you. And, you can add to the list when you remember some wonderful incident at another time.
If you’re a normal human being, you might recall some unhappy events as you tried to achieve some goal. Put things into context: Was everything under your control or not? If some aspect of your path to the goal was not preventable, there’s no need to blame or to feel ashamed of yourself. It happened, and not because of you. Murphy’s Law is often a part of life: What can go wrong will, and usually at inconvenient moments. Consider yourself heroic for getting past the glitch(es). Maturity is all about forging on despite setbacks.
Spend time considering how you want to spend your birthday. Alone time with a good book or movie, maybe a meaningful person, could suit you well. A party with a few friends and/or relatives might be appealing. Perhaps getting a great massage or a facial will boost your mood. The choice is yours. Spend your birthday in a way that leaves you smiling, content, and certain that you made a good choice. And if you decide to spend your birthday as you would any other day, that’s fine, too. Some of us simply don’t enjoy fussing over our own birthday. It can be a relief to leave it alone.