Suddenly Facebook events become a rite of passage for validation. Sentimental baby pictures taped up on lampposts are a necessity and ideally you have your own hash-tag. Because of this I am nervous. I am neurotic. I am 100% sure that everybody hates me and I am going to spend my birthday in another family's caravan, resented and alone. People like drinking, but I don't drink. Queers are supposed to be able to smoke weed and drink gin, but I have found myself deeply & unfashionably sober since the age of 21 (and constantly excluded for it). We're supposed to spend our birthdays being showered with gifts by our (presumably wealthy) families. But that's not really how stuff goes for me either. If nothing else we're supposed accept this yearly occurrence with grace and dignity. But I seem to be stuck with grace and dignity's working class cousins- money problems and anxiety. The resonating pressure of those two words 'supposed to' means that by early September I am a mess.I have only ever had one friend who seems to have the organisational skill and reckless determination to tackle me and my birthday phobia, who has listened to me cry from bed after being let down by friends, who has rang me up every year since I was 17 and said ‘So what are we doing for your birthday?', who made sure I was never forgotten never invisible on my birthday (it’s you, Lucy, in case you’re wondering) and whilst I truly love her for it, those aren’t very good odds are they? One person out of hundreds?
Don’t get me wrong when I say me and birthdays don’t get on. I mean there are good elements of all the birthdays listed below (I mean, who wants to speak to humans anyway, goats are way cooler) and I have had good birthdays. When I was little, birthdays were magical. I got to dress up in a BIG POOFY DRESS and wear a ribbon on my head. I got shiny toys and I got to see family. But most of all, the loving attention that was laid upon me made me feel replenished, special and capable. People being happy that you were born is like, a pretty nice indicator.But when you're not living the dream life (not even on instagram), when 'Suddenly I see' by KT Turnstall doesn't play as you walk down the street, when maybe not everyone is overly excited about the fact that you still exist, where does that attention come from?
I am a common, fat, womanish person with holes in my shoes and no postgraduate degree who doesn't take sh*t from people. Societal norms dictate that I am not first in line for loving attention. So what do I do? Well here comes the super cheesy idea- maybe I give myself that attention? (Not in that way, although maybe, I mean, self-love right?) Maybe you could give it to yourself too? After all, for those of us who are pushed out of spaces, spoken over in our social groups and sidelined at work is there really any other option?
Here is my action plan
1. Take it from Akua Naru “self love is the very first romance”
Everyday I am trying my best to remind myself that I am in a life long relationship with myself and that I am a gift that only improves with age. Every year I know more, try new things, meet new people, and achieve new things. Even if it’s getting out of bed, making it to work, writing this blog post. I am reminding myself that the aging process is not negative and that I am a worthy person all year round.
2. Forgiveness is a virtue
Forgiving myself for being imperfect in a world that demands an oppressive standard, forgiving myself for not doing enough work or forgetting to pick up milk. I am doing my best to look upon myself with forgiving eyes because like it or not, I am stuck with myself for the long haul. Forgiveness is difficult when you have no money and limited prospects. Forgiveness is difficult when you are unhappy with your place in the queerosphere, the workplace, the family and society. Forgiveness is a process, and it will probably take me the rest of my life, but guilt will ruin the rest of my life & I know which I'd rather be working towards.
3. Enjoying the ride
Everything I achieved I achieved in this body with this brain. When I am distracted by negative and toxic messages about my self worth I am being drained of my energy. Energy to be an attentive partner, energy to be a supportive colleague, energy to organise politically, energy to confront the trauma in my past. I have started looking at baby photos. I have started making lists of my adventures. I have started spending time with the old friends who I can laugh with at shared memories. But most of all I have started have started celebrating my life in its current state, no apologies. Being at war with myself is not sustainable. If I am working towards living & forgiving (as in points one and two) then this point to say that I must also work towards surviving and thriving.
|Me (far right) running whilst fat|
This year I am my own birthday present. I am ensuring that I lavish myself with loving attention, that I feel replenished. This year I am fat, and worthy. Disabled and capable. Anxious and loud. Sober and entertaining. Ugly and beautiful. Serious and hilarious. Working class and yes, probably a little bit more intelligent than you.This year I am imperfect, my own little state of anarchy. It's not all planned out. I'm not looking forward to a holiday or a promotion, and it's highly likely that I'm not going to be 'achieving' things in the way that I'm 'supposed to'. But I'll make do with what I've got and what I've got has a lot of potential. This year I am wearing a BIG POOFY DRESS and a ribbon in my hair. And even if I spend the day on my own, or don't hear from family, or things don't go to plan, this day doesn't define me. It's not a test, not another chance to flaunt my social capital. It's enough to just get a year older and still be alive. I am taking responsibility for myself and that is scary, yeah. But god, the odds of getting through the month are so much better when I’m not at war with the person in the mirror.
*Self Pitying List 1. There was the year when I spent my birthday on a family trip in Wales with some family members, wandering lonely and only comforted by the presence of goats, stranded with a little family I wasn’t really a part of (seriously you wanna see the pictures from the disposable camera taken on that holiday, a picture of me with a dog, a picture of some rabbits, a picture of a pony, some more rabbits, the cloudy Welsh sky, a goat, two goats, three goats). 2. There was the year I spent my birthday in bed crying after being let down by a friend. 3. There was the year a parent forgot how old I was. 4. There was the year a family member forced me to have a ‘tea party’ against my will & when they then proceeded to get drunk and to flail around the house to a soundtrack of Bob Marley and my father saying (louder than he thought) ‘doesn’t she (me) have any friends?’. 5. There was the year I became '& co' at a joint party. 6. There was the year my foster mother forced me to spend my birthday watching her cry in a KFC car park, and gave me a box of chocolates & and old bottle of perfume in the gift bag I gave her some Mother’s Day presents in. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about the money or the gifts, but she got a bloody grant on my birthday. 7. There was the year all my ‘friends’ at my primary school didn’t come to my birthday sleepover because I was the fat kid with a single mum and we lived in a council house. 8. There was the year when I had the flu & a family member organised a meal in the local Italian restaurant & shouted at me for not dressing up enough so I spent the day half crying. 9. There was the year when I threw myself a party, had a panic attack and thought I was dying. 10. There was the several years I lost out to aggressive, careless, cruel or controlling partners, illness, self loathing. 11. There was the many years where my birthday was just a way to keep the electricity meter going, just a token from people who offered no further support during the rest of the year.