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The birthday blues - it's a thing by Michelle Ford

“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” goes the song by Lesley Gore - and, actually, a lot of people do. There’s even a name for it ‘the birthday blues’! And it turns out it’s really quite common!

Anyone who knows me would describe me as smiley and positive, a ‘glass half full’ kind of gal and 364 days of the year I would say that’s true. But this weird thing comes over me towards the 5th of October and I can’t shake it off. I get anxious about my impending birthday. I shrug off pleas from my family ‘what would you like to do on the day’, is there a gift we can get you? With 'oh I don’t need anything, let’s just go for dinner.' After all, I’m not five years old I laugh. If people make a fuss I feel awkward - if they don’t make a fuss, I feel let down. It’s a lose-lose situation!

Birthday blues are a real thing

Milestone birthdays are FAR worse. There seems to be this pressure to hold a big event to celebrate the beginning of new decades when, actually, I’d probably prefer go to the theatre and laugh or cry at some wonderful production.

I woke at 4am this morning. Just couldn’t get back to sleep so decided to get these sentences out of my head, capture my feelings so that I could go back to bed for an hour or so with my brain freshly vacuumed of thoughts and worries. Having been diagnosed with ADHD this month I guess things are making a bit more sense to me. So at 4.15am I consulted Dr Google. Why do I feel so anxious on my birthday? It turns out I’m far from alone!

Please don’t think this is a ‘pity me’ party. I’m more than aware that there are huge things going on in the world and for people personally who may be suffering from debilitating diseases or worries about money. I don’t know what it is really. An ‘upchuck’ of thoughts and feelings that, like so many things, are better written down and removed from my head.

Birthday depression, or birthday blues, refers to that feeling of sadness, anxiety, or apathy that surrounds your birthday. "People who have birthday depression often spend their birthdays with a low sense of energy and feel gloomy, with thoughts that often focus on their past," psychologist Ash King tells Refinery29 in an article written by Alexandra Koster that really summed it up for me.

Of course social media doesn’t help. It intensifies these feelings We tend to see validation by the number of likes or birthday shout outs and measure ourselves short if we don’t meet our ‘number’ expectations. I avoid Facebook on the day, worried no one will remember. How dumb is that, measuring my worth from mentions on social media - but I can’t help myself.

As usual I’m a solution-seeker and I researched what can I do to deal with these feelings, to solve them.

Some birthday depression symptoms can be similar to clinical depression symptoms, whilst others could be related to historic events or ‘life passing you by’, a fear of ageing. They may be caused by trauma in the past or it could be a sign of clinical depression, so watch out for that.

Symptoms of birthday depression may include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

Persistent feelings of sadness

Low self-esteem

A lack of energy or enthusiasm about your birthday

Social withdrawal

Sleep disturbances

Changes in appetite

Obsessing over the past

Emotional volatility

Anxiety or paranoia

Brain fog

Disinterest in birthday celebrations

So here are some ways I found that help:

Wallow in it a bit - not for long but allow yourself to feel these feelings without guilt.

Be kind to yourself and do things that YOU want to do on your birthday - and that could be nothing than a bubble bath, a glass of wine and your favourite movie.

Plan your day, your way. If you want simple, do simple. Book in time with a friend or a mani-pedi.

Prioritise your needs, even in small ways. Choose the food you want to eat for dinner - even if that’s baked beans on toast or a childhood favourite dessert. This is healthy selfishness and it’s good for you to practice self-care!

Open up to your family or friends to let them know you’re not being a moody cow because of them - just explain it’s not your thing. I quite like to celebrate later in the week so there’s a disconnect between the actual date and the ‘celebration’.

But if these birthday blues persist or become extreme, do go and seek support. In the meantime I’m off for a birthday road trip to Annapolis to see a friend. Today is going to be a good day!

Visit our Midlife Library Resources which has a collection of useful links from 3rd party websites and content and more tips for empty nesters.

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