It feels weird to be 34.
Granted, I've only been 34 for about ten days or so, but who's counting?
I think feel like my age is separate from the life I'm living. I'm doing things now that I have the privilege to watch my younger friends do - like self actualization nonsense - that we should have all done in our early 20s. I think the only difference between them and me is my overwhelming and persistent sense of a looming existential crisis.
It's just shy of embarrassing to be passing the ketchup and then realize that the world is going to end, you all will die, you might be the only voice of reason, and everything could be meaningless. Oh also, can I have the salt?
Other than that, this birthday was amazing and weird and sad and cathartic and joyous. It was exactly what a birthday should be.
I woke up on my birthday to the sound of rain, which, if you know me, is the closest thing to heaven I can think of. That, and the sound of crickets. Oh and Celine Dion singing "God Bless America."
I took my time getting out of bed, which is par for the course on any Tuesday anyway, but eventually mustered the strength to put my little face on and head out for the day.
The best thing had happened. My car was covered - stem to stern - in streamers, bows, banners, balloons, and every possible other birthday related paraphernalia you can buy at the dollar store. This was the best surprise I could have ever wished for.
See, the thing is, I don't *do* surprises. Hear me: I hate surprises. I mean it. I have a visceral reaction. Like, I will cry unhappy tears instantly, no matter how kind the thought. It's very odd.
But that morning, when I saw my car, I knew it was one of four people...and I knew from the depths of my soul that these were the four people that I trust enough to hold my hatred of a surprise in their hands and to celebrate me just enough in a way that would make me feel valued and loved and heard. As the story unfolded, it turned out to be my sister and her best friend of about a thousand years, Molly. These two dummies know what they're doing when it comes to a 5:30am ninja birthday car attack.
I loved every second of it, and as long as the two perfectly placed tiny stick-on bows will stay on my license plate, I'll leave them on.
I took some pictures, then shoved everything in my trunk because I wanted an iced decaf latte from Starbucks (#TreatYoSelf).
My birthday was really shaping up to meet the expectations we all put on birthdays. I got some early morning birthday videos, I got some awesome texts. I even got a coupon from Old Navy. I knew it was gonna be a good day.
So, look it. We all have many parts to our lives, and it's sort of rare that we are the same person all day in every setting, right? This describes me at my big-girl-job. What would normally be the kind(ish), engaging, humorous person you've come to know in moi, becomes a cold, distant, seemingly unfriendly mess who intentionally wears noise-canceling earbuds all day in the office.
I'm not exactly the president of the employee engagement committee. I am, what many would call, aggressively private at work. I don't do happy hour. I don't do the office parties. I don't make small talk in the elevator. And I have exactly 2.5 friends in my 8am to 5pm life.
Yeah, I know. I don't really know why either. These aren't my people, I guess. And I have a fairly large corporate America shaped chip on my shoulder about the place.
Imagine the movie "Office Space"...I'm a combination of Michael Bolton and Milton. You wouldn't believe me if I told you how many staplers I have.
So anyway, it won't be surprising to learn that I didn't want my birthday put up on the little bulletin board outside the lunch room I never go in. I just want to do my job and go home. And sometimes (read: literally every day) take a nap at lunch.
By the semi-ridiculously strong tone I'm taking about my lack of interaction in the office, you'll understand my....umm...disfavor(?) to walk in to work to find my entire work area had been covered tip to taint in birthday crap.
And I mean crap. The 3'x5' banner that ejaculated "HAPPY BIRTHDAYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!" could be seen from space; the balloons that were tied to my chair (oh my God someone touched my chair); the princess themed birthday wand, sash, and matching tiara....I was, in a word, horrified.
And because of my award winning personality in the office, my birthday was a big attraction. An obnoxious amount of people wanted to know if I'd crack a smile at the shenanigans. Would the proverbial Tiny Tims that decorated my day get the Scrooge in me to soften?
Several pictures of me scowling in a tiara didn't quench the now whet appetite, so that turned into an email to come visit my desk for my birthday. When that didn't work, several folks resorted yelling "HAPPY BIRTHDAY ERICA!!!" as they walked by laughing. Apparently my wincing and burying my face into my computer is funny.
There's something about trying to embarrass the cranky old broad in the office that is just hysterical, isn't there?
The poor folks at work that did all this didn't know. How could they? The woman to whom I'm closest with at work has actually become a good friend, and she really thought this would make my day special. Through all of it, I'm very thankful that someone thought of me at all.
But what they couldn't see were the tears I choked back all day. The anxiety welling in my throat was so overwhelming I couldn't drink my latte. We all know how anxiety can make us feel nauseous. Every time someone came to take a picture of me looking so annoyed, I would pick up the phone and turn my head so I could blink away tears. Every person who yelled my name made my heart jump a little more and made my forehead sweat with the fear that I'd have a panic attack.
And here's the thing: I hear myself here.
This is so dumb. What a problem to have. Hashtag: sooo belov'ed. #blessed.
There's a reason I wanted to talk about my First World Problem of the week: I'm not alone in this. This isn't dumb at all. I felt this. It sucked. I cried. I also moved on. It's sort of what I do now. But not all of us have built the reserves to allow themselves to feel this crap, and that means they can never move on. Bummer.
I have my reasons for hating surprises and the like, and they are my reasons, thank you very much. Just know that surprise parties, getting sung to in a restaurant, April fools day...they just simply don't happen in my life any more. I refuse to allow myself to be hurt and humiliated.... again.
There's a distinct feeling engrained deep inside of me, one I can't shake, that everyone wants to make a fool out of me. It's probably the second most vulnerable place in my cold, black heart.
My brain cannot link this together with someone caring to make my day more than ordinary. And that's all this was. These fools at work just wanted to crack the code that is my blank face.
That is exactly what it is that hurts: no one cared enough to ask what would make my day special.
That feeling of scarcity in this context - the feeling that you are not enough to someone to inspire them to care on the one day it should matter the most - feels very real.
Not one person asked me what would make me feel cared for on my birthday.
Actually, that's not true. One person asked. She always asks. And my sister and our friend knew because they know me like....well....a sister, and knew the exact difference between a pleasant surprise and humiliation. All of my family and friends came through that day the way we should all hope, and that's the part that matters here.
Right at the turning point of the day, when I wasn't sure whether I should be mad at the world for daring to wish me a happy birthday, or mad at myself for being such a dainty and delicate flower, I picked up my phone and reached out. I called Kelli Walker (of Anxiety Coaching fame) ((listen to our podcast on iTunes: Not Another Anxiety Show)), and she gave me exactly what I needed....permission.
You get to feel the things you're feeling. Sometimes it's not optimal, and sometimes you don't understand why you're crying over someone tying balloons on your office chair, but there you are, and there you'll stay unless you get it out of your head to someone you trust.
Then I texted two friends and said something like, "I don't get it, but here's what happened...I need from you: to know I'm loved, and to have a chill night."
And I got it.
I have exactly two flaws. This weird reaction to all things surprise is one of them; the freckle in my left eye is the other. One of them may make me money someday. I'm banking on the freckle.
But the thing I know now, that I didn't know before, is that I'm not just loved despite this weird reaction...I can be loved because of it.
I talk about this strange stuff because it's not strange at all. Sometimes the most beautiful of celebrations can feel like a double edged sword. That's ok. We all have a thing that brings us to insta-tears, and I don't feel bad in the least about mine.
What are yours? Did you just have a happy reunion with someone you love, and you find yourself oddly detached and depressed? Did you just get an iced coffee and it's a little too cold? Ok, that one is actually kind of dumb. Find Jesus and get yourself together.
I don't feel bad about my "thing" for a second. This crap makes me awesomely complex. It also gives me opportunities to ask my people for the things I need. The more I get real with them and ask them for support, the closer we get. It's weird how being a normal human being and depending on people makes you stronger and more resilient with every passing day. Humph.
I had a great birthday. I really did. I had a great dinner with pretty much anyone I've ever known, everyone was too generous, and I got the best gift of all gifts...a beautiful handwritten note. You know how I feel about words. I even had "Happy Birthday" sung to me in Spanish (hashtag: don't say Nacho).
The thing I didn't mention before was that the woman at work who I'm friends with made me strawberry short cake, which she made just for me, and we ate it together while we laughed about something silly. She likes to make me laugh, and loves that no one else at work knows that I have a soft side.
I'll never admit it to those jerkfaces. NEVER!