When A Birthday Becomes A Goal (Later, A Milestone)

By Gabrielle Pedrosa

This year, an eye-opening experience happened to me.

This story is very personal. It’s one of those ones you talk about vaguely, almost citing a quote you have memorized, and despite it being emotional, deep, and a barring representation of the last few years of my life, people brush it off, lost in the false sense of comfort that can easily be transmitted by a soothing smile of mine and a fake-genuine eye squint. This year, an eye-opening experience happened to me, and I finally feel as if this cycle of my life has come to an end — at least for now — and, with this, came the need to share if only for other people’s entertainment but hoping for a more meaningful impact.

My mom loves throwing parties. She is an artist with an incredible eye for aesthetics and zero fear for trying new things. Naturally, birthdays were the perfect excuse for her to throw the biggest, most beautiful and exciting parties her guests had ever seen. Everyone loved her for this, waiting patiently for the next event she would host. 

This being, on my birthdays, it was obvious that a party would occur. I recall being happy that everyone was having a good time and making lots of new friends, but feeling miserable deep down. Seeing as I would always change into a more comfortable outfit after roaming around for a couple of hours in a dress, it became a habit of mine to take about half an hour longer than I should to complete this task so I could cry and let it all out before regaining enough confidence to go back outside. “Stop being dramatic! You should be grateful” is all I would ever hear. When I was about eight, my therapist came to name this feeling of mine as “social phobia”, and my family was content enough with this explanation for the following years.

Thousands of people would come to my parties — not for me, of course, but for the fun, and I always thought that was how birthday parties were supposed to be. I was raised to believe that my birthday was a day to celebrate the people around me: to offer them nice dinners, give them good entertainment and take away their worries because they were good enough to accept me into their lives, it was never about me. I never questioned this, because I felt good making it about other people. I never quite felt deserving of being in the spotlight anyway. 

When I reached age 12 though, this became a big conflict. I had just switched schools for the first time ever and, as it turned out, I didn’t really enjoy the company of my friends from the last school anymore, which left me with about two friends I trusted and a small class of people who sympathized with me, but didn’t really know me at all.

I needed people to respect and look up to me. I had set that standard early in my childhood for myself, and intended to continue achieving it. But only inviting people I didn’t know for my birthday felt like admitting I had no one else to call, which in my mind would mean, to my new classmates, that no one liked me in my old school. This added up with the notion that I had no one to celebrate because no one in this new class wanted me in their lives (or so I thought) and made me come to the conclusion that I was not worthy of celebrating my birthday anymore. So I stopped.

This took a big toll on my self-esteem and, seeing other people being highly praised on social media for their birthdays when I never was (granted, I never took pictures with people), I felt small and humiliated. As if I was a figure so unworthy of praise that it would be humiliating for the people around me to declare publicly that they were associated with me. Of course there were other aspects that contributed to me having this mentality — me entering puberty being a key factor here — but not feeling like the day I was born in was a good day made me start considering what life would be like without me.

After spending my next two birthdays crying, I became tired and decided to skip my birthday one year. I told no one about it, in hopes that they would forget, and they (mostly) did, even the ones close to me. This made me incredibly sad because, even if I thought this is what I wanted, at the time, I now see that I was looking for the validation of my biggest fear — that no one really cared about me. Deep down, I think I just wanted someone to be grateful for my existence. Looking back, I’m sure several people were, but my self-doubt consumed me whole, making me see the glass completely empty, when in reality, if I just added a tad bit of food coloring, I’d be able to see the water that was there the whole time.

At some point, it became clear to me that I wasn’t crying on my birthday because I was anti-social, but because my self-esteem was completely shattered. At this point, though, it was too late. Feelings of hopelessness and the pressure of trying to be enough to meet my own standards weighed me down too much, making it hard for me to fix it alone. I felt completely isolated. After I turned 15, especially so in my 16th year of life, my birthdays became a goal in my parents’ eyes. They’ve never said this explicitly to me, but we have had enough conversations about this for me to confidently assume that they were scared I wouldn’t make it. Or that I would, and I would feel even worse and spiral into a bad route. So they were especially cautious when I turned 16. I genuinely thought that year would be my last. I was in my fourth school in three years and everything was working out well, yet I felt like no matter the circumstance, it wasn’t about the world — the problem was me, and that didn’t have a fix. Right?

Well, sure, I still think that way sometimes but, according to a professional, this is factually wrong. We can always improve and be better versions of ourselves, but we can’t, in fact, do this when we have an imbalance in our bodies. So I took medication to fix this because, yes, the problem was in me, just was not me, which meant it did have a solution — and an easy one at that. After an intense year of therapy and taking medication correctly, I finally celebrated my 17 years of age this month, and it felt good.

I allowed myself to open up to people and invite a couple of friends to go celebrate with me on a trip. And they complied. Every step of the way, I did my best for them to feel their best, and in return they showed their care and respect towards me. I had my low moments, but they were there for me, sometimes alongside me, and we pulled each other out of it with jokes, smiles, and words of affection. My birthday this year wasn’t about them, nor was it about me. It was about us, celebrating life as a whole, together and feeding from our connection as human beings who are here to help each other grow. I guess this birthday was not only a goal I helped my parents meet, showing them that there’s nothing to worry about anymore, but a milestone for me, too.

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