• Mike Douglas

The Birthday Struggle

I've survived another birthday, I'm a year older... time was I didn't see this coming.


I'm starting off by saying I am ok now, but there are some trigger warnings for depression and suicidal thinking in this post.



Earlier this week I survived another birthday. No big celebrations here, but a quiet acceptance that life is ok.


I have talked, written and spoken about how I find Christmas a hard time of year because of all the expected happiness, pressure and focus on family. It is only in the last couple of days I have realised I may have kept my birthday struggles to myself.

I have been able to do this without too much thinking, so it has evoked less stress and worry in the past. There isn't a big lead up (like at Christmas), and I can basically ignore my birthday until the day.

I have spent many of my birthday's in the last 10 years either on my own or at/ focusing on work. Usually I can watch the semi finals or finals of Wimbledon, that's quite a nice solo activity. Then maybe focus my energy on a 3 hour period having dinner and trying to be ok. I think the times this may have worked best are the years when this (birthday dinners) has happened on days near my birthday, rather than the actual day. Maybe because there's some emotional distance from the day itself..?



While there's a few (maybe many) reasons why I struggle on my birthday, I would say the bigger part is in relation to my depression and previous suicidal thoughts. Being honest... I didn't expect to make it to 34. I think this really kicked in in the last 2 years, where I thought; wow, being here... this is unexpected.


I know I will likely always be susceptible to negative thinking, to depression and to dark thoughts. I guess the difference is that I now feel better equipped and educated on what I am experiencing and how to survive those moments.

As my 'recovery' continues I am also finding that these moments happen less often and while they still hit me, they don't hit as hard. I am still learning that sometimes I feel like I have to justify my actions to others, and that I need to distance myself from those conversations, because they only cause friction and disagreements.

Learning some people don't get it, and knowing it's not my job/ responsibility to tell them everything. But also knowing on some occasions I have chosen not to share, so they aren't going to get it. This years birthday obviously comes with the added restrictions around covid and different interpretations of what is safe and acceptable. I have friends that have had to isolate (not just shield) and friends that have not been able to attend funerals. We are now planning a wedding (yayyyyyyy!!!) with the hope there's enough safety to have the day we are hoping for. But with the knowledge that some friends have had to postpone their weddings for 1-2 years, or who have held their weddings with just 5 people attending. So yer, it's playing on my mind. But no more than it should.


Covid is like another bag being added to birthday Buckaroo, and I'm just getting by. I looked a bit shaky, but was managing ok. Then, I felt a lot of pressure to see people, do things. I tried to manage these by offering/ blocking time and stating how I'd be happy to do this. But that only led to disagreements, and that was it. This Buckaroo bucked.

I think for me it's that reminder that we will not all agree on certain things, and while we could/should look out for each other, there also needs to be respect for our own experience, requests and needs. I stand by, it's important to put yourself first when trying to look after and manage your mental health.



Anyway...


This birthday comes at a time with a lot happening/ in process and in a range of different areas.


Home: I am coming up to one full year living together with Laura, and in the nicest way, it feels longer. I love that we have and continue to make our own home. I never thought I be here.


Projects: I have personal projects that are taking a fair bit of time at the moment, but I'm seeing the impact and it's ace to see that happen.

I am gradually handing over or building up support for these projects, as they have grown to a stage where they need more time and focus that I can give them.

It is super hard to let people in and open up control to others, but it is for the best and will help the projects evolve.


Work: Work is going well, a few changes with the working environment (obviously), but it's going well and I'm excited to see where we are in say a years time.


Wedding: We are planning a wedding! See the ending to home and times that by 100!

Our wedding plans have involved so many different thoughts and discussions, but that really is for another time.


Medication: This should probably be a separate post too, but it's more linked to this birthday.

I saw a GP way back in October/ November time, and woosh, that was a crap experience. But, at that time I had decided I wanted to try coming off my medication. Fast forward to the first week or so of lockdown (March, I think) and this seemed like a good time to trial a reduced medication intake and potentially see if I can manage without my medication. I had spoken to a few people, read around my specific medication, checked side effects and used the information I'd received from the GP in October/ November. So I felt very informed, but didn't know how I/ my body and mind would react to the change/ withdrawal.

The lockdown meant I had the protection of home and opportunity for privacy if I needed it during the day. I wasn't about to need to cry, rush to the toilet or anything else while in a meeting I couldn't leave or while working in front of someone. Lockdown really seemed like a good opportunity to trial my withdrawal.

Over the last two and a half months I have gradually reduced my intake, and am now in the first week of taking no medication. So far this has been an ok experience, mainly just resulting in additional tiredness and some concentration issue in the first couple weeks of a lowering the dosage the first time. I am still monitoring myself, and know that I may need to start taking the medication again in the future. While I will be sad if that happens, I am ok with it. But yer, likely in another post I will discuss this more.



So yes, this birthday has been one to survive for a few different reasons; it's been about trying to manage a lot of different things that are going on and keeping my thoughts and emotions in check.

It's also been about trying to ignore other people's judgements of how and why I am taking certain actions. I have failed at this, but it's a learning process.

While I don't want to tell some people (anyone other than Laura) everything, I still haven't found that balance between telling them nothing and struggling with not meeting their expectations, or telling them something.

But no one is perfect, and there's a whole other year till I have to do this again.


To finish on a positive, a huge thank you to super special Laura who managed to restrain her excitement for my birthday (no balloons or big banners). Once I finished work at 5.30pm, I muted my phone and turned off emails, we played boules in the garden, ordered takeaway and watched Shazam (Laura didn't like it, she said Marvel is better). It was lovely and low key.


Without the pressure of it being 'birthday day', I already feel a bit better. I have watched and read my online birthday messages and video (thanks Paul, hahaha).

As these positive messages build and hopefully as new positive happy moments fill memories; my approach/ reaction to my birthday may change in a few years time, who knows. Until then I am grateful for my friends who have sent positive happy messages and accepted my desire to do it distanced and very very low key this year. Here's to watching Wimbledon next year.


Or I may spent it working with Marmalade again, who knows...



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