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Why Birthdays Are Hard for Me as Someone With Mental Illness

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Birthdays are hard. I try to will myself to smile and laugh authentically, but they feel fake more often than not. Birthdays just don’t feel worth any celebration lately. Instead, guilt consumes any sliver of happiness I can muster. The decorations, singing and warm wishes come from sweet sincerities — yet they feel like absolute mockery to the depths of despair I call my mind.

But wait… isn’t life worth celebrating? Isn’t it a privilege to have another year of adventures, experiences and wisdom? Yes. And yes. Of course. I don’t deny this. Rather, I recognize I am blessed beyond comprehension to be alive each new morning. Despite all of the suicidal  thoughts and manic-depressive behaviors, I am still here. I’m alive and I’m grateful for that every day.

But I also constantly battle shame for struggling in the manner I do. My brain loves to scream its lies in attempts to muffle the whispers of truth I know at the core of my being. This guilt and those lies overwhelm me every birthday. And this is why: I’ve fought away passive suicidal thoughts almost every day for years — but, active ones still plague me every once in awhile too. I’ve self-harmed. That presented the possibility of infection, severe sickness and even death. Those didn’t happen. Thank God. But, they could have. I feel guilty that I have had a great life so far, I adore my friends and family and I would never intentionally hurt them — yet, I subconsciously consider taking my own life more than I care to discuss. I don’t know why my brain is afflicted with such a weight. I love my life. I consciously fight for it. Every life has value. My brain just doesn’t seem to agree with me all the time.

So when everyone sings happy birthday cheerfully, my brain simultaneously releases its arsenal onto my soul. It reminds me of every close call. Every sleepless night. Every cry for help. Every desperate prayer. It reminds me that even though I am alive, I have brought some people through hell and back to stay that way. My brain holds me accountable. It tells me I’m a liability. A burden. All of this is untrue. I know that. Thankfully, I know that. However, in these moments, what is true can be overwhelmed by what I feel.

Every birthday I fight to enjoy it. I fight to accept the positivity and warmth extended to me. I fight for that gratitude muffled by rapid thoughts. I fight to remember all of the great times masked by the terrible. I fight to remember that not many kids even make it to 22. How blessed I am.

I know I’m not the only one who feels too much on their special day. Too much pain and not enough celebration. Just remember this: your feelings are real and they are powerful, but they are not forever and do not deplete hope. Focus on the whispers behind the screams. Focus on that light — no matter how small — in the midst of darkness. Focus on hope. There is always hope. Allow my transparency to serve as such. You are not alone. You are loved. Your life is worth celebrating. Your day is worth celebrating. Try your best and fight for this day — it’s your day. You are alive. I am grateful you are. I’m sure others are too. Happy birthday! May there be many more.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via juliannafunk.

Originally published: August 10, 2017
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