I turned 38 a few days ago. My daughter told me to be careful not to trip as I went over the hill. The problem with raising children when you are a naturally sarcastic, snarky person is that they tend to turn out the same way.
The last few years, as my birthday rolled around, I found myself cranky, frustrated, and easily irritated. The fact that another year had passed, and I was still here, still stuck in my unending darkness, still angry at my body for its failings, still feeling alone and ashamed of my illness, made my birthday not a day to celebrate – but a marker of the years of my life that I was missing out on. I should be happy and healthy and enjoying these days with my husband/family/friends. . . and instead I was sad, and worried, and uncomfortable in my own skin. And just stuck.
Even when the illness is “good”, even when I’m “better” – the turning of the page on another year lived left me sad and frustrated thinking of all the years wasted; worrying that the years to come would also be disjointed and broken. I would spend a few days wallowing in my sadness, and then set about making the equivalent of a New Year’s Resolution. A New Julia Resolution. This year I would do better. I would be optimistic and upbeat, I would prioritize my self-care, I would find time for Jesus, I would be a patient and fun-loving mother. I would get involved with a charity and volunteer my time. I would lose 10 lbs and get my hair colored. I would schedule dates with my husband and time for my children. I would get that tattoo.
I resolved to do them all each and every year, so that when my NEXT birthday rolled around, I would look back and think of what a wonderful year it had been, how happy I was to have lived it, how vibrant and ALIVE I felt.
I’ve never actually managed to do them. And the next year was never much different. The busy reality of life, the anxieties of my heart, the darkness of my mind, the exhaustion of my body – all worked to keep me dreading that next milestone reminder of another year gone.
And then. This year happened.
I would like to tell you that after making all those New Julia Resolutions, that I kept them and THAT was the golden ticket. But I didn’t, not really. I did find time to go the gym a bit more often, and we’ve joined a small group that means I’m getting a little more Jesus time in my life. But, I’m still impatient and tired with my kids, I still haven’t lost 10 lbs or gotten a tattoo, and I’m still in dire need of a haircut.
But some other things have definitely changed. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, but I really don’t think so. I’ve noticed that I’m doing a few things a little differently and I really hope its sticking.
- I’m talking about my mental health. There is love in the sharing, but there is also healing in the openness. It hasn’t magically made my issues disappear but talking openly is lessening the stigma and helping me find purpose in my story. It is an easier burden to bear when I have a tribe of people helping me shoulder it.
- I’m talking about love a lot more freely. And giving love a lot more freely. Saying “I love you” to people I’m not related to has always felt weird to me. But then my best friend moved ridiculously far away, and telling her I love her as she left felt slightly empty and too-late. I realized I needed more people in my life to love – to give it out and to let them know. So now. . .if we’ve known each other more than a month or so (maybe even less, it depends on the day), and I feel like it, it’s very likely I’m going to just tell you that I love you. And sometimes it still feels a little weird – but the weirdest thing by far – is that I actually do. I love you. The new friends at small group, the old friends with a group text that is hilariously embarrassing, the friends I see only rarely, the friends I never see, the friends I’ve made online through the blog, the friends I’ve made at the gym while occasionally trying not to cry through a workout. . .I love you. Just as you are. Broken and weird and quirky and busy and impatient and depressed and anxious and questioning Jesus and not believing in Jesus and left leaning and right leaning and hangry and hilarious and beautiful. I love you. And then, in throwing love out like candy at a parade, I’ve found that I love myself a little easier. It just got all mixed up in the thought and the action and even though I’m broken and weird and quirky and busy and impatient (oh my gosh y’all – so impatient), I’m loving me a little better. And I’m recognizing that in loving others, and loving myself, I’m catching a tiny glimpse of Jesus and how He might love me.
- I’m not giving up on hope. It’s still hard some days. I’m not going to pretend that it I’m running around with joy and happiness on tap. But I’m not giving up. The proof of the existence of a slightly better day, either recently or in my memory, gives me hope that even better days could be ahead. Hope for my own health, both mental and physical; hope that I am lovable and worthy, born in my love for others; hope that by speaking out I’m making a difference to someone somewhere. I’m not giving up on hope. I’m holding onto it as my lifeline and carrying it with me everywhere I go.
And so, when my birthday rolled around this year, my husband bought me flowers, my son made me toast and brought it to me in bed – haphazardly spread with globs of cream cheese, my daughters sat with me and snuggled and said I love you, and everyone sang Happy Birthday over a store bought cake, and I danced and goofed off while they sang. And then it hit me.
I was happy.
It was a Happy Birthday.
The last 12 months were not perfect or rosy, but I was happy to have lived them. To have shared them with my people. To have grown and changed and loved and hoped and shared.
Here’s to many more.
Happy Birthday to me.