When you suffer from chronic ill-health your birthday can be a terribly hard thing to have to deal with. It's not just the fact that you are another year older and lets face it there is not a lot you can do about that, a birthday is also another reminder of how many years you have been sick for.
After Birthdays I find the New Year difficult for the same reason. It's just another reminder that life as you previously knew it has stopped. You can't keep wishing every New Years Eve that you will get better as each passing year tends to throw even more health challenges you way. It's another marker of the time you have spent in the prison of chronic illness.
Getting older can be a tough enough thing to deal with in this youth obsessed culture of ours without adding in all that chronic ill-health brings to the table.I feel that I lost the years from 2007 until 2011 when I was finally diagnosed, as they were consumed by my quest for answers regarding my health. I have lived in those years, what can only be described as a lifetimes worth of medical nightmares at the hands of those who were supposed to have my health at the heart of everything they did. They are years that I will never get back.
I am angry that I don't have many happy memories from that time. I did not only have to contend with poor treatment by medical professionals, I also had to endure a hostile working environment and being medically retired in my 30's when most people's careers are really starting to take off. Birthdays in that time period are not memorable and I know I faced a deep sense of frustration when that time of year came around.
I will be 41 in a few weeks time and I am already unhappy about it. I enjoyed turning 40, finding increased self-confidence and finding my voice again through this blog. I don't want turning 41 to change any of that. I have told my friends and family that I am skipping all the birthdays between 40 and 50, I shall be 40 each year until I hit the big 5-0.
Mine and my husbands birthdays are on consecutive days. Our joint birthday celebrations are incredibly different now to what they once were. Before I became sick birthdays were all about going out with friends, seeing family and generally consuming a lot of alcohol. Since 2007 they have been subdued affairs. Some of my birthdays have been spent completely alone because my husband was unable to get the time off work. With my friends also working and my family living over an hours drive away it meant my birthday passed in an uneventful and lonely way.
Those birthdays spent entirely alone were some of the most depressing days I have ever faced in the 7 years since I became ill. I had cards and presents from people but to spend your birthday alone is tough. Being chronically sick means you already feel disconnected from the world around you, seeing friends posts on Facebook about the wonderful time they were having on their birthdays only magnified the disconnect. It was no ones fault that those birthdays were spent alone. The world doesn't stop turning just because its your birthday and other people have to work, have families of their own etc.
We grow up expecting the day of your birthday to be some how different and special. Most people spend their birthdays with their loved ones or celebrate with friends. When illness prevents that from happening it magnifies the monotony of dealing with a chronic health condition. If you can't escape it for just one day, it makes the passing of another year so very difficult to deal with.
Those who don't struggle with illness would probably never even think about how emotionally charged birthdays can be. They can provide a great deal of forced reflection especially if the day is spent alone. You can become wrapped up in what life was once like and feel a great deal of negativity towards the future. You can find yourself wondering if you will ever improve or if this is the way every birthday will be spent for the rest of time. With this in mind I was determined last years celebrations had to be the one that ended all the negativity I had been feeling about my birthdays.
Last year's birthday celebrations were a bit manic due to it being my mine and my husbands 40th Birthday. On my birthday we drove to see both our families. An hour in the car will exhaust me for days. I decided that if I was going to pay the consequences of trying to be normal, I would have a bloody good time. I did not factor in the migraine that descended upon me whilst we were en route.
Luckily I was able to carry on with the day that had been months in the planning. Although the migraine affected my vision for around an hour it wasn't particularly painful. All my family got together for a meal in a swanky restaurant. I drank champagne and got tipsy. I had the best birthday of my entire life. I felt like I was completely normal and doing what real people do.
The following day we had a joint birthday party, 10-15 people coming to the house and having a good time. Luckily for me a friend helped with the cooking and my husband (despite it being his birthday) did a lot of cleaning. I had to stay in bed due to the fact I developed ptosis and was at the verge of collapse due to the previous days activities.
The party was an enormous success and we were spoilt by all our friends. Everyone had made a real effort to ensure that they could attend. My husband and I were very grateful for that. It felt like for the first time in a long time we had both had a normal birthday and my illness had not got in the way of us enjoying ourselves.
I paid a high price for being so arrogant in thinking that I could be normal for 48 hours. It sent my health on such a downward spiral that I am only just coming through the other side of it. It is almost 12 months on from those two crazy days and I still look back and smile. They were two of the best days ever. I don't know if chronic illness has made me cherish those kind of days more because I no longer take them for granted or if they were just two amazing days. The reasons why don't matter, they made me feel normal and part of the outside world again despite the consequences.
I understand that I was lucky, many others in the chronic illness community would not be able to manage to celebrate in the way we did. Their health would simply not allow them to. I think however you mark the day it should be wherever possible doing something special even if it is just seeing a friend for 30 minutes. Clawing back a little piece normal life for yourself is important just so that a birthday can feel special again rather than just a depressing marker of another year older and another year still sick.