On the evening before my twentieth birthday, I cried myself to sleep. I woke up, held myself together for less than an hour, and then cried on and off for the entire day. What was wrong, you ask? What happened? What could I have possibly wanted more?
The truth is, birthdays are hard. Birthdays can be hard for all of us, but birthdays are especially difficult when you are struggling with chronic suicidal ideation. I never thought that I’d make it to sixteen. I never thought I’d make it to eighteen. And now I’ve hit twenty and I’m no longer a teenager and I have to face the reality that we are all familiar with: we all have to grow up. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that for a very long time I lived my life with the absolute mentality that I wasn’t going to be around for much longer. I never pictured myself hitting these ages. And now I have and it’s a bit overwhelming realising that because I believed in these thoughts so absolutely, I am totally unprepared for life Being Alive.
My teenage years, the years in which most people my age were learning essential life experience and were also making some of the best memories of their life, were spent being miserable and ill. There was no light. For many years, there were no good times. Life was grey and I was lonely, and I was just waiting and waiting. I was struggling with myself, struggling with the people around me, and then struggling with services. It took a long time and a lot of effort for me to realise that actually, there is more to life, and that I did want to get better. And here I am now.
For my twentieth birthday, I went out with my friends. I had invited 35 of my friends. Most of them said that they could come, but on the actual night it ended up being me plus 11 friends. Which in all fairness, was a nice number. Even though in reality it was perfectly reasonable that most of my friends were unable to come (most of my friends are either a) mentally unstable themselves, b) not local to me, or c) have responsibilities such as work. Or a combination of the three) it was hard to get it out of my head that Nobody wants to celebrate your birthday because nobody likes you and your birthday is not worth celebrating! I’d like to think that wasn’t true.
And the friends that did manage to come were amazing. A friend that I have been pen palling with for many years came all the way from Southend to stay with me. We clicked instantly as ‘in real life’ friends and it was amazing. My closest friends were there. Friends from inpatient who I have stayed in touch with were there. We laughed and we danced and we all drank a bit too much, and before you know it was 2am and I was happy but tired and heading to Subway with the thought of a Veggie Delite melting through my drunk brain.
This was on the Friday. My actual birthday was yesterday (Sunday). I woke up early and opened my presents and cards with my family, just like I have always done. The only exception to waking up at home on my birthday was when I was inpatient in 2016. So it was nice. And I was really grateful for all the kind and thoughtful presents, cards, and notes I received.
During the day of my birthday I did some coursework. I sorted out my presents and cards and made a note of who I needed to thank for what. Various family members rang me. My phone was beeping non-stop with messages from friends and family. It was overwhelming, but nice. I felt really guilty for all the nice things that I was receiving, but I tried to put that to the back of my mind.
But I couldn’t stop crying. All day. It just felt like one of those days, one of those days I haven’t had in a long time, where I felt in complete despair. I cried on the sofa and I cried in my room and I cried when we got in the car to go out for a meal. We didn’t end up going out for a meal because I couldn’t face it (restaurants are anxiety provoking even at the best of times), so we ate our dinner at home and I cried when the cake came out, so we put it away again.
Life gets a bit too much sometimes. Yesterday was one of those days. But no matter how sh*tty I was feeling in those moments, those feelings were perfectly valid. Mental illness doesn’t take a break just because it’s a holiday or a special occasion or a birthday. It really is okay not to be okay, full stop.
Today I’ve woken up feeling a lot brighter. With deadlines looming and my care coordinator having taken some time off, my mental health is particularly vulnerable at the moment, but that doesn’t erase all the progress that I’ve made so far. Although it doesn’t feel like it, each year of my life since I was 18 has been bigger and better than the last. I can’t wait to see what twenty will bring. And I’m willing to fight harder than ever through it all.