On the Unique Horror of Birthdays
Updated: May 22, 2018
Let’s get one thing straight. Unless you’re (a) the queen or (b) between the ages of 4 and 10, birthdays are a fucking nightmare.
The day is littered with roving lasers and emotional tripwires designed to trigger the kind of existential meltdown that would’ve made Britney’s 2007 episode seem tame by comparison. Having reflected on the uniquely horrific anxiety they inspire, I think I have worked out why.
Folks - we are lovers of patterns. Of any index or formula that might help us decode the scrambled letters spewing out of life’s great whirring machine.
We comb the world around us for signs that might help decipher what is in store for us, weaving together tenuous threads of coincidence into great tapestries of meaning and order. This has lead to an unfortunate tendency to tether huge significance to randomly allocated moments.
Birthdays are a 24-hour period where every detail is imbued with a paralysing symbolism. Small rejections burn with the humiliation of a thousand suns (“HE DIDN’T REPLY ON MY FKING BIRTHDAY”) and random victories appear to have been handed to us on a sacred scroll from the prophet himself (“TWENTY-FIVE IS GOING TO MY BEST YEAR YET - THIS FREE BAGEL PROVES EVERYTHING!!”)
They trigger a nasty evaluation on the progress of your life - a surprise inspection sprung on you ahead of the dreaded NYE wash-up. Things that hadn’t felt important the day before suddenly fall under the scrutiny - the whole architecture of your life is subconsciously surveyed for structural flaws. Anything that can be measured or bench-marked - job, social life, sex, weight - is subjected to a humiliating audit. It is exhausting and tedious. It’s the emotional tax return of the year.
Once you reach that stage in the day when you’d quite like to go and lie down quietly under a bus go and see a few close friends instead. The kind of friends who will sip beers with you and cheerfully refuse to discuss the whole sorry business of birthdays. Who will busy themselves with the simple task of having a nice time - as though it were just another day.
No one needs birthday shame. It’s a miserable, pointless activity. And what’s more - no one else is judging the trajectory of your life based on how you kept yourself occupied on a random Tuesday in July. Truly - if you spend even one hour of it soaking up the love and affection of your most treasured people, then dammit that’s a birthday well spent.
Written by Jess Bird
Illustrated by Ines Tesiath