I don't know whether this is just me, but I always feel this odd pressure every year to have the BEST birthday possible. I turned 23 last week and, like I usually do, woke up on my birthday with a strange sense of impending doom, overwhelmed by the feeling that I had to have this incredible day. For the first time in years, I asked off work for my birthday. (Last year I worked at the coffee shop that I'm sitting in now. I blared Feeling 22 over the speakers after close while I counted the drawer and cried.) This year, I guess I just wanted to have a whole day to actually...celebrate myself? I haven't quite adjusted to the concept of arranging your own birthday plans as an adult...and I also have always struggled with feeling guilty and self-centered in doing so.
I'm not sure where I wanted to go with this post. I thought a lot throughout my birthday about depression. I went into the day with the expectation that I needed to have an amazing time, to feel great about myself but the truth is that those things are really hard to achieve when you're struggling with depression. Hell, depression makes it hard to feel okay most of the time. So it's a stretch to expect to be able to suddenly feel happy and positive and hopeful.
I tried not to push myself too much. I took myself to one of my favorite coffee shops. And instead of sitting at a table with my laptop to get in some writing, I sat on the leather couch and allowed myself to just read. I devoured at least a third of Sick (HarperCollins) in one sitting. In retrospect, my choice of books probably didn't help my mood -- I got immediately sucked into the narrative of her long years battling chronic illness, but it's definitely not a cheery book.
Sick follows the journey of Porochista Khakpour as she struggles through years of mysterious illness before finally being diagnosed with late-stage lyme disease. Khakpour explores her experience as an Iranian-American and how her race and identity affect her interactions with doctors and friends. She tackles so much in this memoir: mental illness, the dismissal of female illness, addiction.
I felt really torn by Sick -- I loved so many things that Khakpour had to say and so many of the pieces of the narrative, but her execution fell pretty flat for me. I understand that she battled this illness for a long time and that her journey toward a diagnosis took years, but I think the immense span of time and the large number of people (boyfriends, doctors, etc) she includes weakened the power of the story. Because the memoir covers such a huge span of time (essentially the author's whole life), huge chunks are written as summaries. I never really felt like I got to know any of the secondary characters, which really bummed me out. I can't help but think that focussing on a smaller portion of the story (while including pieces of her history with illness in other ways) may have helped me engage with the story more.
Anyway. After I left the coffee shop, I decided to go buy myself some ice cream. Because birthdays are just an excuse for ice cream and alcohol. I recently moved into an apartment in midtown and one of the best things about where I live is that I am ten minutes away from a Jeni's. Which is heaven. And also incredibly dangerous to my wallet. Oh well. The wildberry lavender is worth it.
I kept realizing that this year was the first birthday that I really had friends to gather around and celebrate the day with me. We didn't do much, just met at the pub we frequent way too much and got drinks and food and sat around and laughed and talked. But it kept hitting me: I have friends. And that's new for me. Last year, I worked a closing shift and then went to the same pub with my two co-workers that happened to be getting off at the same time (one of which was my boyfriend). The year before wasn't much different. It's only been in the last few months that I've really started socializing more, turning acquaintances into the kind of friends that you want to drink with on your birthday. Which is a sign that, even though I still have really bad weeks, I've started to figure out how to manage my depression. I've stopped isolating as much.