Saturday was my 21st birthday. I’ve been asked about my expected first hangover at least 5 times… But I’m not hungover. I still haven’t had a single drink. Well, if I am hungover, it’s the classic anxiety hangover that most of us know so well.
For the past few weeks, I’ve bounced back and forth between excitement and dread for the upcoming day. I made plans, I cancelled plans, I got excited, I cried, I told everyone it was my birthday, then I even wished it wouldn’t happen.
Looking back, I realize that this is something I go through every year. It’s a sick kid thing, I’ve come to know. Kids like me fight so hard to get to the next birthday. To survive just one more year and hope for less pain and healing in the process. It’s meant to be a celebration of the victory of survival for us. It’s a day to prove our clueless doctors and their uneducated prognosis wrong.
Despite all that, it’s still a day of disappointment for a lot of us. We can’t celebrate in the ways that we want. Pain holds us back. Anxiety paralyzes us. Unexpected tremors or infections don’t get put on hold for a birthday. Everything can still go wrong.
I spent my day busy but pretty depressed, to be honest. Meeting my favorite friend for coffee turned into an internal war with myself because I was consumed in sensory overload and complete panic, but I couldn’t show it. I became trapped in myself and shut down to the outside world. I lost my “out loud” words for a solid 4 hours and had to sleep it off.
I cancelled my roomie hibachi celebration at least twice in the span of 6 hours. The thought of being in public again was too much for me. We decided to go in the end, and even had to switch tables because I couldn’t tolerate the sound in the room. My friends kept saying “you’re safe with us” but my mind told me to run.
An older friend that I trust a lot offered to take me out for my first drink. I wanted so badly to go and be a typical 21 year old, but instead I got in bed and cried. She showed up at my door and laid there with me.
As difficult as this day turned out to be, I kept coming back to the same lyric from JJ Heller’s newest single Braver Still:
“Its ok to grieve a life that could not be.”
This is what chronic illness really looks like.