To Anyone Whose Birthday is a Painful Reminder of Their Illness

You close your eyes the night before with butterflies in your stomach, knowing that when you wake in the morning it will be the day you’ve waited for all year. It’s your birthday. It’s one of the only days that the sound of your alarm clock doesn’t make you cringe and call out for “five more minutes.” You get dressed and put on an outfit that makes you feel good, and are greeted with hugs and kisses from your parents who shower you with messages of happy birthday. Perhaps you’re treated to your favorite breakfast, or look forward to going out to your restaurant of choice for dinner.

You get to school or to work with a smile on your face and your day is filled with hugs and kisses and well wishes. Your phone is constantly going off with text messages, tweets, Instagram posts and phone calls from people reminding you of how loved and appreciated you are. As the day winds down you can’t help but feel a little bit sad that your day is coming to an end, but you gather with friends and family around your favorite flavor of cupcakes or cake and smile as they sing happy birthday to you. You close your eyes and quietly whisper to yourself a wish to be fulfilled in the days to come, and then you blow out your candles making sure to tell no one so it will come true.

When I was 9 I wished for an American Girl doll, when I was 12 I wished for a solo in dance, when I was 14 I wished for my crush to like me back, when I was 18 I wished for an acceptance to my dream university, and now on my 22nd birthday, I wished to be anywhere but here.

Change is inevitable; as we grow so will our opinions and views on life. However, when you’re thrown into the world of living with a chronic illness things change in ways that you wish they didn’t — like my birthday. I truthfully have never been someone who loved attention, I’m an introvert and quite shy by nature, I was the kid that got so embarrassed she would cry when people sang me happy birthday. I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that at 22, there would still be tears as I blew out my candles.

My diseases have changed the way that I perceive many things in my life, and it’s made me realize my values and morals and helped me appreciate the little things. As I grew, my birthday no longer became a day of receiving gifts and attention, but a day to be reminded of how loved and appreciated I am by those in my life and a day to celebrate my growth and progress in the past 365 days. Now, my birthday is a bitter reminder of where I could be and where I am not; where there used to be happiness and celebration is now replaced with emptiness and guilt.

Before I fell asleep I made sure to turn my phone on silent so I would sleep through the phone calls that would come in the morning; the phone calls that never came. I truthfully cried more tears on that day than I have cried in a very, very long time. I received heartfelt messages and gestures from people I love dearly, and people I didn’t realize I meant so much to. But I was met with disappointment when I got shorthanded messages, or no messages at all from people who meant so much to me. I buried my head under my blankets, armed myself with tissues, and tried to sleep the day away so I didn’t have to “feel.” I avoided looking at social media outlets — I felt like a failure.

Here I am at 22 years old, celebrating 8,030 days on this Earth, achieving nothing that I had ever dreamed for myself. I am not in school, studying to be a nurse. I am not a nurse, caring for my patients. I am not working, making a living and broadening my experiences. I am merely existing at this point, and dreaming of where I wanted to be. I tried, I tried so hard to make something of my day that would make me happy but when I realized I couldn’t even form a list of friends I wanted to celebrate with, I simply couldn’t bear it. I desperately wanted to be overwhelmed with school work, or stressed with upcoming midterms. I wanted to feel loved, appreciated, and celebrated by my peers. Instead I mourned and grieved where I was supposed to be, and tried to accept where I was.

That day I wrote myself a letter, a letter that I won’t open until my 23rd birthday in another year. Reminding myself that I create my own timeline, society doesn’t get to do that for me and it doesn’t get to do that for you either. The only thing that stands between me and self-acceptance is society; the pressures of where I should be, who I should be, what I should be doing drown out what my heart is telling me. There is no statute of limitations on our dreams or goals, and our birthdays aren’t symbols of that. Our days are already often filled with self-doubt, pain, depression and frustration, but it took me 22 years to realize there is always something good in those days — even in the ones where I don’t wait to get out of bed.

In my letter I reminded myself that my birthday is not a day to scold myself or grieve for what I could have had, and where I should have been. It’s a day to celebrate my existence, another year that I made it through hardships and obstacles I didn’t think I would make it through. It’s a day to create new goals, and find ways to attain the ones I couldn’t. It’s a day to be grateful that I bet the odds, that I watched 365 sun rises and sun sets. It’s a reminder that next year if I find myself in the same mindset that I immediately switch my mindset to celebration not degradation.

So if you find yourself stumbling upon this article on your birthday or you find yourself feeling as I did on my birthday, then listen up: at the end of the day I’m not doing all that I dreamed of doing at 22, and you may not be doing what you dreamed you would be doing at this age but that does not change how grateful I am to be here, or how grateful I am that you’re here. Here we are, 365 days stronger, 365 days wiser, and 365 victories simply because we got through each day. Even if you don’t believe it, there is someone out there celebrating and appreciating your existence. When we’re standing toe-to-toe with reality, we can do one of two things; we can break and become undone at where we should be, or we can celebrate all the growth that resulted from the hardship we’ve endured all year.

Things have changed as I’ve grown, but one thing that has remained the same is that I am hopeful; hopeful for a better tomorrow, a kinder heart, more love in my life, and attainable ambitions. People may not always understand the way you feel, and may not always say the right things, but I promise you that your existence and growth over this last year is appreciated, it is important, and it is celebrated.

In each day there is something to celebrate; some days it can be as simplistic as getting out of bed but other days it can be a celebration of great magnitude. Birthdays are just that; they are no longer a symbol of where you were versus where you are and wanted to be, but a celebration of your mere existence. I ended my day surrounded by my family, blowing out the candles atop of the cake I couldn’t eat… and although I can’t tell you, I’m confident that you know what I wished for this year.

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