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Why You Should Love Yourself Loudly Every Birthday if You've Been Suicidal

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Most people associate their birthdays with joy, loved ones, cake and presents, but if you’ve been suicidal, your birthday may take on an extra layer of meaning.  After a period of suicidality or a suicide attempt, your birthday may become a time of reflection and gratitude — a testament to the fact that you’re a survivor.

If you’ve lived through suicidality and celebrate your existence with a big bash or a self-care day every year, you aren’t alone.  As a survivor of suicidality, I “live it up” on my birthday to celebrate surviving the days when I didn’t want to live at all.

I first began experiencing suicidal thoughts when I was 18 years old and first-year college stress took a toll on my mind.  I’d spend days on end wondering if life was worth living and secretly fantasizing about taking my own life.  Sometimes, I was so deep inside my suicidal thoughts that I didn’t know if I’d live another day — and even though I tried willing my suicidality away, the dark thoughts never stopped.  The first time I reached a birthday after months of fighting off suicidal thoughts, I was amazed that I lived to see another year and realized that my life could have easily been cut short before that miraculous day arrived.

My birthday became so much more than just another day — it symbolized my strength, survival and persistence through the hardest days of my life.  Every year I felt tempted to take my own life, I’d celebrate my birthday as deliberately as possible, planning special outings with friends and dressing in my favorite outfits.  After years of battling against my mind, I didn’t care if anyone thought I was self-centered, vain or childish for unapologetically celebrating my birthday — I just wanted to marvel at the fact that I was still living and breathing alongside my family and friends.

Six years after I first began struggling with suicidal thoughts, a series of seemingly insurmountable personal difficulties led me to attempt suicide.  At the time, I genuinely believed that there was no hope for a more fulfilling life, and my decision to take my life sent me into mental health and eating disorder treatment programs.  My suicidal thoughts led me to believe that I would never be able to leave treatment — and that I was better off never celebrating another birthday again.  But after months of progress, setbacks and ever-present suicidality, I fully recognized just how much I’d lived through, and when my birthday rolled around again, I wanted to celebrate more boldly than I ever had before.

As I made an invite list, shipped decorations to my house and let one of my closest friends handle party planning, I felt uneasy — I wouldn’t be celebrating a “milestone birthday” for another year.  I wondered if making a huge deal out of my birthday would make me look full of myself or if my family would even understand why I felt such a need to celebrate this otherwise ordinary birthday like no other.  But the day of the party, my friends were eager to spend the day showering me with love — even though many didn’t know the full extent of my suicidality and time in treatment.  It was then that I realized the truth. Just months before, there was no guarantee I’d even live to see another birthday, so my birthday was deserving of recognition — and my friends knew it too.

It’s been over two years since that terrifying day when I decided life was no longer worth living, but I still struggle with suicidal thoughts — and I still celebrate my birthday joyously and irreverently.  This year will be no exception — I’ll style my hair, do my makeup, put on a fancy dress to go nowhere in particular and spend the day with everyone I love.  And of course, amidst all the cake-eating and quality time with loved ones, I’ll reflect on the days I didn’t know if I could survive and give thanks for my ability to stay through the hardest times.

If you’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts or have survived suicide, it’s OK to unapologetically celebrate your birthday in any way that brings you joy.  You’ve survived suicidality and constantly choose life even when it’s painful, so yes your birthday is a big deal.

Lead image via Getty Images

Originally published: July 13, 2021
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