Recently, I celebrated my 24th birthday. Well, I guess I should say others celebrated it. It’s been a long time since I’ve actually enjoyed my birthday. Over the last few years, it’s been a painful reminder that with another year passing, I’m still a mess.
365 days go by and I’m no better. My depression hasn’t magically disappeared. My anxiety has worsened. I’m wrestling with urges to self-harm again after being clean for four years. And sometimes I reach for a drink instead of help. Another birthday simply means another year of letting myself and those I love down. But alas, no matter how hard I tried to will it away, the clock continued ticking and my birthday came once again.
It was a day full of people sending love and well wishes, and celebrating me—a concept I struggle to accept since I feel there is nothing to celebrate.
In the days since, I’ve found myself reflecting on my 23rd year. Where it went wrong, but also where it went right? What challenges had I overcome? What steps had I taken to grow and better myself? What memories brought me joy? Who played an important role in my life that year? Through this reflection, I looked forward to the upcoming year. I wondered how I could prevent the dread when my next birthday rolls around, and I realized that I’m going to need to give myself a few things. Belated birthday gifts if you will. Those four gifts are: acceptance, patience, courage, and forgiveness.
I need to accept that I am who I am. I struggle with mental illness. I feel deeply. I wrestle. I cry. I win and I lose. And all of that is OK. I am human. I can quickly accept others and their struggles, so why should I not extend that same acceptance to myself?
Patience is something I quickly run out of. This year I will be patient with myself when I fall down for the hundredth time. Or when unwanted thoughts fill my head and I can’t push them out. I need to be patient when I find myself back in a place I don’t want to be, or simply in moments when I’m tired of working so hard to maintain recovery.
I will give myself the gift of choosing courage every day possible. It takes courage to pick yourself back up. It takes courage to keep moving forward. It takes courage to be vulnerable; to let others in so that they can walk alongside you. Through granting myself courage, I can continue seeking help and healing through friends, mentors, and counseling. It doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t be afraid, it just means that I will move in the direction of my healing despite the fear.
This is a big one for me. I have been covered in shame and guilt for so long because of past choices. This year, I will extend, and accept (with as much grace as I can muster), forgiveness toward myself as a means to unchain myself from all the things that keep pulling me back. Mistakes and regrets are inevitable. Failure to forgive will not help me to move forward, and forward I wish to move.
But ultimately, far above these four things, the best gift I can give myself is love. By loving myself (flaws, impending mistakes, and past mistakes included), I will be allowing myself a shot at all of these gifts I deserve to embrace. And no matter what my depression, anxiety, or past may tell me, I am so very deserving.