Why Do I Feel Depressed After My Birthday & Holidays?

Why do I feel DEPRESSED after my BIRTHDAY & HOLIDAYS? // jessconnell.com

Since October is my birthday month, let’s talk about birthday depression. Last year, I (seriously) typed in, “why am I sad even though it’s my birthday?” to Google.

Yup, I typed in that phrase.

It wasn’t much help, except to say, apparently, this is a thing. Some people get sad, instead of happy, on their birthdays.

There are a variety of reasons why. Here are some:

  • disappointment over the new # of years
  • disappointment over how little has changed in the past year
  • disappointment about how the celebration/gifts turned out
  • disappointment at how uncelebrated one feels on the supposed “best day” of the year
  • feelings of sadness about loss of relationships or difficulties faced in the previous year
  • a new awareness of the ever-closer time of death
  • feelings of relational insignificance (no one to celebrate with, no one to notice, no one who cares– this could be real, as in a widow who feels like she genuinely doesn’t have a significant other to celebrate with, or imagined, as in a person devaluing the relationships they do have and reducing them to “no one” who cares.)

Soon, I’ll be 37. Thirty-seven. Farther from teenagedom than I’ve ever been. Closer to 40.

{Well, guess what, everyone reading this who is younger than 40 is a year closer to 40 than you were last year at this time, and everyone reading this who is older than 40 is a year older than you were a year ago. As a wise young friend of mine hashtagged, #welcometoreality.}

So for me, it’s not about the age. At least, I don’t think it is. Actually, I mourned the passing of my youth on my 20th birthday. Folded up in fetal position on a bench on campus, I seriously cried over the awareness that my teen years were now past. I don’t think– my husband can correct me if I’m lying here– but I don’t think I’ve cried on a birthday since then…

Sometimes I get a little shocked by the increased number of lines around my eyes. And my 12-year-old told me that though I don’t yet have the gray “crown of glory” the Bible talks about, I do have a “sliver of glory.” 😉

He’s totally right. I’ve got wisps of gray and white showing up, and they aren’t going anywhere.

So aging could be one part of the puzzle.

photo-1464347744102-11db6282f854

LOOKING AT MY HEART & EXPECTATIONS

But for me it was way more convicting when I began looking at my heart and asking:

What was it I was wanting?, and

What was it I was expecting?

What did I want? Some of the competing desires of my heart were:

  • I (apparently) wanted people to be able to read my mind. I gave vague answers about presents I’d enjoy, or things I’d like to do, but then get to the actual day and realize– I have expectations that I didn’t know I had.  
  • I wanted to feel special. Gonna be honest here. I was disappointed by a (kids’) card. I shouldn’t have been. No card (from a child) is going to have a lengthy, well-considered poetic expression of the sacrifices and joys of having the mother they do. (And if you’ve gotten that card, I don’t want to hear about it right at this moment.) :)
  • I wanted ONLY meaningful, heartfelt expressions, and no routine/trite ones. (Hello, Facebook, I’m looking at you.) This reminds me of the editorial I wrote in college decrying how horrible routine “how are you?/fine”s are. My gut instinct is to buck any and all “routinized” social interactions. But, then, I call to mind my English professor’s rebuke that came in the following week’s editorial: routinized social interactions pave the way for growth and deepening  of relationships that happens in the moments around and after those routine interactions. I need to get over it. Routine Facebook “happy birthday”s still count. The fact that they’re not ultra-personal and deeply considered doesn’t take away from the basic fact that they’re kindly meant.  And as long as Facebook exists, there’ll be simple 2-word “happy birthday”s expressed.
  • I wanted a little bit of a “break” from normal.

By talking  about it with Doug, and digging deeper into the truth about this day, I was able to move past the depressed feelings… kind of. Here’s how that looked:

  1. Kept digging to discover what it was I was really seeking.
  2. Reminded myself of the truth. (God loves me with an everlasting love. He’s allowed me to live these many years! Ebenezer– He’s brought us this far! My husband loves me. My child who made what I deemed a “lame” card did so with love and affection.) I really need to lighten up. It was a good birthday.
  3. Chose to be thankful for the parts I could be thankful for. 

 

I’m writing this a little in advance of this coming birthday, so maybe, just maybe, I’ll be better equipped to fight my selfward responses this year.

 

IN THE COMMENTS: If you’ve experienced these feelings, after birthdays or holidays, what does that look like for you and HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH IT?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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8 Responses

  1. Candice says:

    Jess, looks like we have the same birthday month! However, this year I’ll be 40! Like you, I mourned the passing of my youth earlier–on my 26th birthday, actually. I’m glad you wrote this; I have to guard against disappointment at times, too. Those expectations are the source of so much struggle: whether about birthdays, homeschooling results, marriage….! I’m glad you’re back. I listened to your podcast yesterday when I was in the shower. :) enjoyed it and look forward to the next one.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Yes! Expectations set us up for success or failure in so many areas.

      Doug & I used to call ourselves “pessimistic realists” (esp. in regard to overseas life) and I do think it helped us take on a mostly laid-back and welcoming attitude toward whatever challenges came as we navigated overseas life…

      but I can forget to do that in day-to-day life. For me, often, the bigger challenges/difficulties are easier to face than the smaller, more daily ones.

  2. That was me this year (funny enough I turned 37 as well this year)! It was such a disappointing birthday. Our anniversary is about 2 weeks before my birthday and my mom had volunteered to spend the night at our house with our 4 boys (under the age of 5, including one that was about 7 weeks old at the time) so that we could do the whole dinner/movie/hotel/sleep in thing. GLORIOUS! Yes! Yes! Yes!

    And then…we thought we had bedbugs because I kept getting these bites on me. I had been the only one sleeping on the couch for significant periods of time (hello newborn with middle-of-the-night feedings). No way am I going to invite someone else to come stay IN MY BED when I thought I had bedbugs! So we had to cancel it.

    My husband and I don’t exchange gifts for birthdays, so nothing there. Nothing from my boys (with the oldest being 4 and all). We had already celebrated with my family a couple of weeks earlier when my siblings were in town.

    So my day came and went just like any other day. Disappointing.

    But I learned much about myself that day. My rule to not exchange gifts between my husband and I might not really be the best idea if it’s code for “its okay to not acknowledge/celebrate/appreciate each other”. I should tell my husband that I’d like him to hang our family “Happy Birthday” banner over the fireplace like I do for everyone else. If I have to, bake my own cake and buy my own ice cream. I’m in charge of menu planning – why not make MY favorite meal like I do for others when it’s their birthday?

    Lessons learned!

    • Oh yeah — turns out it wasn’t bedbugs, but oak mite bites. Why only me?!? Who knows. But it kept my itchy, miserable and disappointed for a couple of weeks as we figured it all out.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Oh man! I hear you.

      Starting to realize…
      if I *want* this, I need to *SAY* so
      …is such a humbling thing.

      because like you, I tend to think, OH WELL, we don’t have to do x/y/z… but it ends up leading to disappointment.

      And I’m glad it wasn’t bedbugs, but how disappointing to have your plans cancelled! I’ve definitely had birthdays like that, “well, now it’s come and gone and it didn’t feel any different from any other day”… NOT fun when we want to feel special/celebrated.

      This year I’ve (somewhere… if I only I could remember where I put it/wrote it) brainstormed a list of–

      “what ACTUALLY feels like a gift to me?”

      Having a night to go to dinner, even if it’s just by myself… but moreso, with Doug… feels special. Having a gift card to our local coffee shop that I can use at my leisure, on something I really really want, feels special. Having a crisp journal (spiral bound!) to open when I have a new commitment/idea/season in my bible studying… that feels special.

      Now I’m really wondering where I put that list, LOL. I need to hunt around. Cause my kids are old enough that they *ask*… and I want to be able to give them ideas.

      But yes, I’ve had those pass-without-any-difference birthdays, and… it can be such a bummer.

  3. Jesse says:

    Well it’s nice to know I’m not alone! I think you pretty much hit all the main points except for one. I mourn my birthday because of childhood pain. I even mourn my children’s bdays sometimes! I grew up in a big family with a great Mom but a mentally ill father. I really don’t think we were ever forgotten but so many things were out of whack that I still tend to feel like a lost little girl instead of a God confident well loved wife and Mama! I’ve been working on these feelings but the first thing is to acknowledge they are real! I spent many years faking a “normal” life just to realize most people had deep hurts just as I did. So in March of 2017 when I turn 33 ? I will reread this article and pray for a better day. Thanks Jess

  4. Shannon says:

    Thx Jess for posting my 40th birthday is Friday & I have so not been looking forward to it.. When I turned 30, I felt like it was the end.. But with your insight & no expectations looking forward to celebrating!!!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Interesting… I think one other piece of the puzzle could be rightly communicating the expectations I have. For example, this year, because I knew the kids were going to ask, I DID go ahead and share some ideas for gifts, rather than just saying, “I don’t know; I’ll love whatever you do, baby.” (etc)

      The other thing is (like Jayme mentioned above), if I really have an expectation, I might even be willing to do it myself. Not in a huffy grumpy way but in an attitude of “if cheesecake is really important to me, I’ll buy a frozen one and have it on hand in case another opportunity to eat cheesecake doesn’t materialize.” sort of way.

      Or if I want to have the birthday banner hung up, to ask the kids to do it the day before… etc.

      But I do think freeing myself from needing certain THINGS in order to FEEL like it’s actually been a celebration is a freeing thing. I have less than 2 weeks until my birthday. Let’s all report back and see how we do. :)

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