I turned thirty-five today.
Just to paint a clear picture of the excitement: A random show is playing on Hulu, I don’t even know the title. My 4-year-old daughter is fully dressed in a bright red jogging suit and bright pink light-up shoes, trying to work the TV remote while dripping pickle juice all over the carpet. It’s a quarter ‘til midnight
Maybe I should be putting my restless Energizer bunny to bed for the thirty-ninth time, out getting drinks with friends, or pretending to hate a casual family dinner, but I’m not. To tell you the truth, I didn’t even get out of my pajamas. My birthday is the one day a year, no matter what, I feel suicidal.
I watch my friends with envy as they celebrate their birthdays and moan and groan about getting older. That part has never bothered me. I get tripped up by abandonment, insecure attachments, broken homes, missing family, and mental health. I get distracted by watching the hours fade away on the one day I should hear from my family. I get choked up by checking my phone and the mail, by checking painful doors and expecting lost love to be there.
I might be middle-aged, but I am still a little girl waiting to be surprised, waiting for her wish to come true when she blows out the candles, and crying herself to sleep at night. But I’m not writing this for me. I’m writing to the person who knows how the lies of worthlessness feel. To the person who can’t stand being told they are never alone because every time they hear it, they’re surrounded by empty rooms and silence.
I’m writing to you. Maybe it’s not your birthday. Maybe there is another day of the year you always struggle to get through. Maybe you’re happy one minute and the next minute, you’re hopeless. Maybe you struggle with thoughts of suicide every day, you feel like your life doesn’t matter and nobody cares every day! Maybe suicide haunts you. Me too.
When you can’t celebrate your life because you are distracted by thoughts of your death, it matters. Because even if you get a million Facebook comments or tweets from random strangers, when you’re disconnected from friends and family, when the love you want to be there is missing, the only person really left to celebrate your existence is you. And if you haven’t found a reason, if darkness is screaming like a monster after five shots of vodka at a nightmare Sweet Sixteen party, no matter how many candles are lit, you fly blind.
Hopelessness and worthlessness become all you can taste. All you can hear. You play Russian Roulette year after year as they duel with your will to survive. Here is my biggest piece of advice: Prepare. Buy a new outfit. Find a reason to leave the house. Alone or with someone else, it doesn’t matter.
If you don’t make it, if you can’t open the door, dress up anyway. Get out of bed anyway. Text a friend. Answer all the Facebook posts on your timeline. Don’t have any? Announce it! That’s right. Seek love out! Celebrate yourself! Even if you’re struggling to understand why you’re alive. Fight. Have your favorite meal. Have a drink of your favorite wine. (Mine’s whiskey.) Do something you’ve been meaning to do.
Protect your heart. I’ve spent a lot of birthdays wanting to die. Enough to know a lot of other people out there have, too. And I want you to know, as my birthday ends, I am celebrating each of you!
Love doesn’t always come knocking the way that it should. And sometimes, when it does, things like depression, PTSD, and social anxiety, get in the way of us answering the door. That is exactly what lifelines are for! Build them. If you do not have them, seek them out. Build them.
Love will come. In the meantime, my wish for you is to taste the frosting. Have a cake made just for you. Keep choosing life!
If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, or text ‘HOME’ to the Crisis Text Line, 741-741.