To celebrate my 32nd year of life, I had scheduled an early morning pilates class and later a one hour massage. Fancy, right? In between, I stopped by my favorite coffee shop, and learned a friend had paid for my cappuccino in advance. A-maz-ing. In the afternoon, my coworkers took me out, complete with the afternoon-shift waitresses singing to me while a single candle flickered joyfully in my almond amaretto cake. That evening, Jeff and I slow danced in our kitchen, Claire looking on giggling and rolling her eyes as Jeff tilted me into a dip. The day ended with Colin and Claire's performance of a "Happy Birthday" routine that for whatever reason referenced KFC. Here it is:
If it sounds like a blissful day-- you're right, it was. Perfect, really. But I was surprised.
Don't get me wrong; I suspected I'd garner a few Happy Birthday posts on my facebook wall, but it was my sincere appreciation for each moment that caught me off guard. The gratitude and peace I felt on my birthday was in complete opposition with my thought processes from just three days earlier.
Late Sunday morning, tears stung my face for a full ninety minutes. I clutched my stomach, not out of pain exactly, but because of a sensation I can best describe as a "heavy emptiness." I was mourning my upcoming 32nd birthday, questioning if my post-college life had produced the dreams I aspired for myself a decade earlier. I struggled with guilt too, intellectually seeing the blessings in my life, but emotionally, I was failing to acknowledge them. I was lost and lonely and unable to articulate why.
A few nights earlier, in the midst of insomnia, I searched for other cochlear implant blogs. A common thread weaved from blog to blog in that posts subsided several months post-surgery. In some cases there were quick messages letting readers know there wasn't much to report because "hearing continued to be so amazing!" One woman wrote her final post eight months after surgery, reporting she was stopping her blog because "she heard everything now, regularly having phone calls and enjoying the world around her."
I should have been happy for her, but I wasn't. I stopped reading. I was pissed. I was jealous. I'm ten months into my CI journey... TEN MONTHS. What is wrong with me? Why is it taking so long? What am I doing wrong?
I suspect those buried feelings bubbled to the surface during my Sunday morning crying spell. Jeff told me to take it easy, to lessen my unattainable expectations of myself. It was advice I've been given repeatedly but still struggle to follow. It was MY fault, I told Jeff. I wasn't working hard enough... I wasn't doing enough. I WASN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
On birthdays, some people hope for shiny presents, or maybe cocktail-infused parties surrounded by adoring friends. Spa gift certificates, romantic dinner dates, bed and breakfast stays... these are all indulgent ways I've asked to celebrate my birth in years past.
|Expensive dinner? Check. B&B? Check. Spa visit? Check. My 30th birthday.|
This year, I wanted something I've needed for a long time, something I probably need now more than ever: SELF-COMPASSION.
Think how often we say to birthday boys or girls, "Just RELAX! It's YOUR BIRTHDAY!", or "You shouldn't have to do THAT. It's YOUR BIRTHDAY!"
Birthdays are often seen as "free days," a 24 hour period where we excuse ourselves from dreaded day-to-day tasks, instead focusing on the simple pleasures of feeling special, of feeling loved. At one point on my birthday, I found myself starting a task I had not planned, wondering how I would ever accomplish it, thinking how other parts of my day would be negatively impacted by my incompetence when suddenly my mind screamed at me.
STOP! PAM. JUST. STOP. I listened. I breathed.
I returned to the present moment. I chose to focus on each and every loving sentiment that came my way. I realized the world wouldn't end if I didn't check off my entire to-do list in one day. I realized it was a choice, and an effort, to make room for love, for joy, for PEACE. Sure, it was my birthday, my "free day," but I realized I don't require a calendar to tell me when it is justified to show myself compassion.
Following my birthday massage (another great gift I allowed myself), I caught my 32-year-old reflection in the spa mirror. I looked relaxed, free from worry and expectations. I noticed THIS painted beneath the mirror:
And I listened.