The day after I turned 20, I stopped sleeping. I thought it was the stress of approaching finals, but two weeks into summer, I was still getting only 2 or 3 hours of sleep a night. I told my sister who said, “Well, when did it start?” The day after my birthday. That’s when it clicked. I was so terrified by the fact that I wasn’t a teenager anymore that I stopped sleeping. That was the first time I was struck by birthday anxiety.
21 wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, but still there was anxiety. 22 was depressing because it was the first time I had ever had to go to school on my birthday and that meant I didn’t spend it with family. Now 23 is a few days away and I feel that anxiety once again. I’m quite grateful that I postponed graduation because the combination of the fear of graduation and the anxiety of getting older would surely have led to a nervous breakdown.
What is it about birthdays that makes me crazy? I guess at birthdays the noise of the sands of time passing through the hourglass get a little louder. You realize you’re getting older and that time is moving much too fast. You carry out an assessment of your life and realize you haven’t done half as much as you thought you would have by this time. When I was younger, I had very definite ideas about what I would be like when I turned 23. I thought I would be awesome beyond belief. But I’m not. I’m just stuttering along trying to figure out what I’m going to do next.
When I turned 20, I freaked out. I felt I needed to know exactly what I was going to do for the rest of my life and I could not sleep thinking about all my options and all the opportunities for failure. I was at the end of my first year of college and officially, I was still an undecided major and the uncertainty was driving me crazy. Here’s a little excerpt from my journal just to illustrate.
“I keep wondering whether I’m messing up my life, whether I’m picking the right major, how I’m going to pay for college, how I’m going to get a job in South Africa, how I’ll be able support my parents when they retire and where I want to raise my kids.”
Is it any wonder that I kinda lost it? I was trying to figure out my entire life at 20! I totally overreacted, but looking back I see that good has come out of birthday anxiety (though I still think I need to stop getting so worked up). Maybe I should be grateful for this anxiety. It reminds me that there is no time to waste and that I need to work harder to achieve my dreams. The pressure to do something meaningful leads me to making important changes.
My anxiety at turning 20 ultimately led to me declaring myself an English major, a decision that made me deliriously happy at the time. I could not stop smiling because I was so happy that I was finally doing something that I loved. At 21, I chopped off all my hair which led to my becoming more confident. My biggest fear about cutting my hair was that I wouldn’t be pretty. After I cut my hair, it no longer mattered what others thought about my appearance. I loved the short hair look and I loved how low-maintenance my hair was. When you do things that make you happy, what other people think just doesn’t matter that much. At 22, I decided I was boring. So I introduced some color to my wardrobe and decided to rediscover my curiosity about the world. This led me to creating Curious Chido and this blog has made writing fun again. It’s reminded me why I’m a writer.
So, this year I’m embracing the anxiety. I’m recognizing it as me struggling to get out of a shell that’s grown too small for me. It’s not a fear of aging that makes me anxious when it’s my birthday; it’s a fear of getting to the end of my life and having regrets for not having made the years count.
Please tell me I’m not the only one who acts strange when it’s their birthday! Comment below and let me know how you deal with birthdays. In the meantime, happy birthday to me 🙂