22 May The good, the bad and the sunken place: A short personal essay on the curse of bad birthdays.
I wanted to have a good birthday this year.
I wanted it so badly I worried I was worrying too much about it, and that caused me to worry even more. As today approached, I eventually, I slipped into a limbo of repressed memories from being lonely in the past on my so-called “special day”, fragmented with feelings of abandonment; all mentally overwhelming and playing in loops in my head, like a really bland American hood drama where the only person you’re rooting for dies. Quite pointlessly too. ugh.
(Oh, plus my phone is broken and I am recovering from a pretty random fever that began over the weekend too. fml).
Is my head in the way?
Cos my heart can explain
For the unimaginative skeptical, charlatan, a birthday is just another 24-hour clock, and for a while i convinced myself that was who I was. In fact, of all my anxieties, birthdays heighten the worst of them: that every moment is fleeting, and the past and present merely compass our lives to a bleak unknown future.
It’s weird you know. You’d think such a thought would widen your perspective and give you a lighter grip on the grander scheme of things. After all, the thought of not having to worry about the inevitability of tomorrow is comforting in itself.
But the real reason I couldn’t have ever revelled in that comfort, is because I have been angry. Angry at aging; angry at not being old enough; angry at not doing enough; angry that, to top all of this internal dissatisfaction with my life, I had to celebrate being alive, under the pressure of everyone asking me:
‘So what are we doing for your birthday?’,
‘Nothing’, I always say.
I want to trace this anger for birthdays to that year, my dad woke up me up by gleefully cussing me out, because I didn’t remind him it was my birthday (I still don’t get this either, African parenting is wild). Or perhaps to that year I blacked out at a club with people I barely knew. In retrospect, that should have been a good birthday actually (cos I tried cocaine for the first time at some point that night), but I spent the whole night silently angry because I’d actually showed up to collect money I was owed. I did get paid sha, but much of that went into paying for insanely expensive shots, and I barely had enough left to get home.
In the count of bad birthdays, last year’s was a show fireworks. After months of drawn out unresolved motions, my relationship at the time came to an abrupt end, my best mate moved out of the country, and by the evening of that day, I was practically homeless.
But beyond rewriting the narrative for what looks like a birthday curse this year, I really wanted to have a good one for different reasons. In the past I used to have a birthday ritual, where I’d turn off my phone, and literally cease to exist for the next 48 hours. I know now, that it was counter-intuitive, but until now, there was no talking me out of it.
As a child, who’d moved about a lot while growing up, being the outsider was an almost natural repose. After getting bullied a few times, I worked up a solid adaptation mechanism, by simply understanding that the easiest way for the new kid in class to shoot up the social ladder is to be aloof. The older boys may not take a liking to you, but the girls —intoxicated by the potential for intrigue — would fuck with you from sunset to mars, and that’s really all you need.
Only problem was, my ability to stay obnoxiously uninterested was a by product of multilayered identity, mental and emotional conflicts within myself. I never saw this as a problem, even as I was racking up recurring issues with many people and ending up in the black-books of many others. I never thought myself to be in the wrong on any count, but the older I got, the more I noticed strengthening the basis of my relationships was just as paramount to sustaining them. Yet I only grew more suspicious of people instead and built higher walls to keep everyone out. Gradually, I began to alienate myself from everyone, including people that genuinely cared about me. I used to think being by myself on my birthdays was an eccentric thing to do, but really, it’s just one of many habitual self-sabotaging I have been doing all my life to reinforce the idea I was better off insulating myself from the expectation of acceptance.
Because, what if nobody actually loves me? Better not to find out right?
But that didn’t stop me from feeling wretchedly miserable on the inside. In fact, year-in-year-out, it catalysed, my “sunkenness” into the “sunken place”, starting in the summer, and continuing on, all the way through the rest of the year (don’t even get me started on Decembers).
“Come dey feel like say nobody fit to help me
Like say I dey shout but nobody hear me
Until finally nothing come dey fear me”
— Burna Boy
Sadness is so comforting, because it’s familiar. Familiar and inevitable in the same way parents can be, even though some of them also doubled as our first bullies and manipulators. These days, the task has been quieting down the noise in my head, so when the storm comes — which it always does — I am not so imbalanced at my core that I lose sight of everything. They call this process “letting go”, I am told, and trust me it’s not as easy as it sounds when real life scenarios are sometimes exaggerated in your mind. But to truly enjoy peace, i’m learning everyday, that you have to create it for yourself, with your hands, against all odds.
I’m in love again. I have friends that care about me (including those fuckers I spent my check clubbing with a few years ago), I have a healthy career and occasionally when all is quiet, I silently acknowledge the happiness in the corner of my heart, (silently oh, so I don’t jinx it). I won’t say I’ve completely fortified myself against the sunken place now, but that downward spiral feels a lot like a water slide these days; first comes the uncontrollable free fall into the abyss, then a few moments of wading through the waters trying to find my bearing until I have to get the fuck out of there.
Happy fucking birthday to me abeg.