and my birthday sucks

I’ve been reading about the pain that comes from insufficient mothering. And I’ve been reading about therapeutic approaches to support clients with this experience.

It’s an issue that has come up in therapy for me sometimes. It still hurts that my mother isn’t particularly interested in me, doesn’t want to know me well, chose my stepfather over me and my siblings, even when she saw how cold and even cruel he could be to us. The salience of this issue ebbs and flows for me. My mom lives far away, and a lot of the time I’m used to not having her in my life. Other times I notice the absence more acutely. Or I reach out again, and I end up disappointed. Occasionally we have a warm phone conversation and I sort of believe her when she says at the end of the phone call that she loves me.

So part of what I value in therapy is attunement – the sense that E understands what I’m saying, that she really sees me and understands those needs. Yes, of course, ultimately I have to be the Good Mother to myself, but E models it and shows me how to do it and teaches me that it’s important in the context of our therapeutic relationship.

Except when it doesn’t work like that, when she doesn’t get it.

Monday in therapy I talk about how much I hate my birthday. I dread it, every year. It’s never a good day. I’ll spare you the whole long list of things, but a lot of bad things have happened on my birthday, both in my personal life and in the world. It’s just a cursed day.

So I talk about this, and I say I don’t know what to do about the day, because I dread it. And much as I’d like to be nice to myself about it, I don’t have much faith it will work out. E tells me to take it as an opportunity to do something for me. But really, what would that be? It doesn’t work to invite friends over. Everyone is busy with the holidays. I like doing things outdoors, but it’s a miserable, wet, cold time of year. This year, as it happens, we actually have snow, and the roads are a mess and the city is pretty much shut down, because we don’t have the infrastructure to clean the roads. But even when it’s not like this, it’s just unpleasant and grey and dark.

This probably sounds childish. It is, maybe, I don’t know. I’m not really pouting because poor me, I have a lousy birthday. I am trying to say, how do I make it a day that is not depressing. And I don’t feel like E got it either. It sounds too trivial, maybe.

And I feel embarrassed to have brought it up. It kind of reminds me of when I was married to Miguel. He was ideologically opposed to birthdays. They weren’t a big deal when he was growing up, and he said they were just one more example of American consumerism and fascination with celebrating ourselves all the time. I shouldn’t want to celebrate. I shouldn’t expect a gift–how materialist was I, after all? How selfish! How immature!

Ugh I still feel shame around this. And it gives me another reason to hate my birthday. Maybe I have internalized some Miguel’s rhetoric around birthdays. They are stupid; I shouldn’t expect anything of them.

Anyway. So my birthday arrives, and we have a lot of snow and unusually cold weather. It doesn’t work to go out to dinner with my husband as planned. But I do have a nice cake my son ordered for me; that was sweet. In the afternoon, I accidentally catch my computer with my foot and kick it over and kill it. Even my technical genius husband can’t revive the poor thing. I’ll need a new motherboard at least.

In the evening, I text E and say, well, it’s not like the year a car drove into our house on my birthday (2013), for example, but it still kind of sucks. And she texts back, Stuff goes wrong sometimes, and you just have to deal with it.

And that response leaves me–I don’t know, disappointed? And confused. Here’s what goes on in my head:  1) E is saying, it’s no big deal, so don’t fuss about it; 2) which is actually correct; 3) but means she doesn’t a) care or b) even realize that there are a lot of emotional layers attached to my birthday including that 4) birthdays are supposedly about celebrating people’s existence except 5) mine is always inconvenient and uncomfortable and cold and a bit of a burden; 5) rather like I have felt many times in my life and 6) I just asked for her help in dealing with this but 7) she didn’t hear me or didn’t get it so 8) I feel dismissed by the person who is helping get over the feeling of being dismissed/a burden/not seen by my mother.

I don’t want to flip out about this and spend a week or two in emotional knots. But it’s a tender spot, a bruise that just got bumped again. I want to be nice to myself about it. I want to avoid criticizing myself for even caring at all, for not having given up entirely on the idea of my birthday feeling special. I want to take E’s comment as a sign she was distracted, maybe busy dealing with the bad weather herself. I don’t want to assume it means she thinks I’m being a baby about it all. I don’t want to obsess about how she doesn’t understand me, or worse, that she does understand me but judges what she sees. I don’t need to make those fears into weapons against myself. I don’t to rush to the conclusion that no one can be attuned to me because there is a flaw in me that sets me outside the category of people who deserve deep connection. 

But it’s hard to know what to do instead. I mean that. I am not asking you all to wish me happy birthday or tell me that E is a good therapist but just didn’t text the right message to me this evening. (I know that.) I am sincerely wondering how I can let go of this birthday curse. Or let go of the birthday idea altogether; is that the solution perhaps?

Anyway, now I don’t have to resolve anything another 364 days. That’s a relief, at least.

 

 

 

29 thoughts on “and my birthday sucks

  1. E doesn’t get it does she. Please disregard this comment if it’s off track too. But I sense something in what you’ve written and feel compelled to respond to you. My words are intended for kindness and support.

    Can I suggest that we get back to basics here… first up: you absolutely have a right to feel what you feel. Cut out the “it sound’s trivial” stuff: it’s important to you and you alone. It’s your feelings.

    Now: what to do about it… trouble is we always think we have to “DO” something about the way we feel… and most often this “Doing” is designed to chime with others’ expectations.
    So, if I may, I’d like to make a suggestion:
    Don’t deal with it. Just sit with your Birthday and all the meanings Birthday has for you. Sit with yourself and make a deep connection — with yourself. Your Birthday. (Please try to remember that you are uniquely you and from the day you were born you have become a uniquely creative, interesting, warm, intelligent, generous and funny person.) However, sit with your Birthday in all its tormenting agony. Sit with the emotions and then, when you want to run and hide from them, and distract yourself with all manner of busy-ness, just tell yourself that you’ve been sitting on your bruise a little too long. Tell yourself “It’s not surprising I feel this way.” Give yourself permission to Feel your Feelings.

    And when you’re ready you’ll know what to do about it.

    Take care now

    Liked by 4 people

    • Hi Serena, thank you. You are right. At the very least, I can let go of the embarrassment and shame for even wanting a nice birthday, for wanting the feeling of being seen and loved for who I am. It’s okay to whatever I feel. I do believe that. Thank you for reminding me.

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  2. It seems you have a lot of baggage with your birthday — what with bad things happening on it and issues with your mother. We can’t help what we feel unless we hear the words behind it. Perhaps you could journal and find out what you are saying to yourself. Just like people can feel the lacks in their life at the holidays, you feel it acutely on your birthday. Hope this makes you feel understood.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It helped to read the “just like people can feel the lacks in their life at the holidays…” I tend to do better with other holidays because I can think about other people and not myself, but I absolutely recognize that others can suffer a lot during the holidays. So when you said that, it helped to normalize it for me. This is not an uncommon reaction to a day that in our culture symbolize something about family relationships, which can be painful for someone who doesn’t have the relationships she wishes for. It makes me feel less like a fretful child. I appreciate that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So many painful associations around your birthday, Q. I can hear your desire to not have it be so painful. And how long it has felt this way. Holidays, including birthdays, are a time where we are taught we are supposed to “celebrate” and “feel happy” and joyous and connected to others. It makes total sense to me, that a holiday (your birthday), would trigger off very painful feelings of disconnection and not being attended to or cared for or seen or protected in by your mother. And father. And ex-husband. Important people in your life and history.
    I’m wondering if, as you continue to heal your hurts through self-compassion and kindness and validation, and can start to feel more internal connection and acceptance, the soreness around your birthday will lessen a bit. I have found that this year, the holiday season isn’t as painful as it has been in the past. And I can’t help but think that is because I am supporting myself more, being here for myself more, so those external messages and occasions don’t weight so heavily on my heart.
    Not sure if any of this makes sense or resonates, but your post inspired these thoughts.
    Sending lots of care and support, and happy birthday : )

    Liked by 2 people

    • Similar to what I just wrote to Getting Real w PTSD (above), it was very helpful to have you put it in the context of wanting a joyous connection that isn’t there.

      Yes, in the long run, the solution lies in the support I can provide for myself (and all the parts of myself). It does resonate, what you said; it absolutely does.

      Liked by 2 people

      • And that answer, that in the long run, the solution is in the support you provide yourself – what a shitty kind of answer and reality, isn’t it? I know that it makes sense (which is why I wrote it), but fuck, I wish that wasn’t the answer sometimes. Sometimes I really wish there was that person who could swallow up all of your wounds and bruises in the softest yet firmest hug possible. That doesn’t let go until you’re good and ready to be released.

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  4. I have no helpful ideas or thoughts….I am the same with every celebration. My kids birthdays, Thanksgiving, my husbands birthdays, and my own birthday and mothers day. Ugh, it stinks how much it stresses me out. I’d rather just forget it all. But I know that is not a healthy nor productive response. I need more healing in this journey to be able to focus on the “celebration” part of a celebration.

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  5. Birthdays can be hard. I get very intense and dysregulated around mine. Similar to what Rachel said above, I think it involves a craving for connection and the idea that birthdays are “supposed to be” happy and why don’t I feel this way? Other people look connected and happy – what’s wrong with me? I’m bad. My thought process goes along those lines.

    Your feelings are so understandable and you are absolutely entitled to have mixed feelings about your birthday and to feel disappointed with E’s response. And birthdays tend to dredge up all the times people (like your ex) who belittled how you feel and didn’t properly care about you. And those are painful memories.

    Happy birthday, Q. You are a lovely, compassionate and caring person and I’m so glad that you’re on WP and that you blog about your experiences. I’m sorry that you’re in pain and feeling down.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad now that I posted about this, because these responses people are writing are very helpful. And yours are too. It’s amazing how good it is to hear something like, “your feelings are understandable.” I so deeply internalized the message that I wasn’t supposed to feel the way I did, but rather the way others wanted me to. And I was good at reading what others wanted and providing it! So it’s still an adjustment to notice what I feel and allow it.

      Although the birthday was disappointing, I am doing okay. My determination to be nice to myself, to accept where I am and not beat myself up about it, that has really helped me be bothered but not overwhelmed by the birthday experience. I consider that progress.

      Thank you for your very kind message.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Every year, the week before my birthday I get anxiety. I don’t look forward to it. This year I tried to trick my brain into thinking it was just another day. That worked for a day! I feel your pain over it.
    I have also been talking about abandonment from my mother in therapy. My therapist actually came over and just touched my arm as she is a mother and said everyone needs love sent from a mother. It made me cry as I realized the loss from not having that. Sending understanding love your way!

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    • The absence of unconditional love from a mother is such a deep wound. I’m not surprised it made you cry to have that love and affection from your therapist.

      What’s beautiful though is the way you are able to give your love whole-heartedly to your daughter. She’s very lucky to have you.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said Q, I agree with all these other wise commenters. But you are valuable and you do deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated for making it another year in this crazy world of ours. You are unique and special, because you’re you! So Happy Birthday xx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I know you didn’t want to seem like you were looking for birthday wishes, but I want to wish you a very happy birthday. You are so special. You are kind, caring, lovable, and worth so much. I am sorry the day turned out to be sucky. And I am sorry E didn’t get it. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I hate birthdays, too.
    Not to shift the focus onto myself, but in case you want an empathetic post, here’s my birthday post from this past year. https://bloominglilyblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/30/this-takes-the-cake/
    I also echo what the others have said. I’m sorry that E didn’t respond in an attuned way (and I’ll validate that she didn’t, though I do think she cares about you – it still hurts to get an un-attuned response).
    I’m thankful for your birthday, though, in that it means you’re here with us, such a special and irreplaceable part of our community.
    Sending love! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sending me to this post. I am so sorry that your family didn’t see you and attend to you and stop others from harassing you. And I’m appalled they would eat your cake without you. Incredible! And cold-hearted! Please don’t give any more energy to the “what’s my problem; it’s not like I was abused” idea. I have read in a number of places that emotional abuse and neglect is the most damaging. I think the kind of experiences you describe absolutely qualify.

      Birthdays are incredibly hard, as you wrote both because others expect you to act happy, regardless of how you feel, and also because we feel we are supposed to be happy, regardless of reality. It’s been a real challenge for me this week, too.

      In 2017, we should devise a strategy to take excellent care of ourselves on our birthdays.

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  10. Ha d you ever considered picking a new birthday? I did just that. I made it my half birthday and now I surround myself with love and happiness and being outdoors on that day.

    Who says you’re stuck with the birthday you were given? Simply an idea. I got tired of people associating my birthday with death of loved ones, so I changed it and started asking those closest to me to celebrate the new birthday instead.

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  11. First of all I’d like to say that your ex-husband is wrong. “he said they were just one more example of American consumerism and fascination with celebrating ourselves all the time.” No, these have ancient, ancient roots in Babylonian religion. With that said, what I think I hear you saying is that there’s a day of the year that seems to affirm a negative and that you’ve not been able to remove the negative message to that day. As such, each year you feel the same abandonment, the same feeling of worthlessness or not being special enough to have people recognize the day, or remember it for that matter. I hear there’s a huge mark on that day and its difficult to get around it.

    I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses now, so I don’t celebrate holidays, including birthday’s. For 21 years though, I celebrated the day I took my life back from my mother. I celebrated, on my own, the every February 2nd and meditated on what it meant to take my freedom that cold night at 10:30 pm when I literally walked out of the house with the clothes on my back. That day couldn’t be soiled by anyone, not a single person. I may have been born August 28th but I began to live February 2nd of 1992.

    I’m very sorry for this struggle. I don’t think you’re making too much of it and I don’t think you’ve having a pity party.

    Faith

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  12. Pingback: The Lithium Only Makes It Worse | la quemada

  13. La Quemada….
    I am a therapist and also have very similar life experiences to those you describe experiencing yourself. I have just been writing about attunement on my own blog, and was interested to read your experience of it within therapy. You may find some of what i am writing helpful…I am also thinking if you have come across mis-attunement which is also important in therapy. Its painful when we feel our therapist does not “get” us, but it can help to experience a degree of rupture if it can be well repaired and we get back to good relating. This can help enormously with our “real world” relating, where it is rare to feel perfectly attuned to anyone all the time! I send you hope for your healing journey. Joy

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