I am beginning to understand more and more that this is where I come to make sense of things. As a journalist and author of many years, I’ve always written because it has been my profession. I have written on everything from interior design and Christmas observances to interior products, accommodation venues, weddings celebrations, jewellery and fashion, recreational four-wheel driving, retailing and endless marketing and promotional campaigns. I’ve been the overseeing managing editor on productions dealing with subjects as diverse as project and kit homes, garden design, fishing and boating, bargain shopping, restaurants and schools, local government instrumentalities, international and period home design and architecture, farming and grazing and so much more. I’ve used words to present, explain and promote myriad things across myriad subjects and within myriad worlds.
But as the years pass I find that sitting here writing has taken on a more personal and deeper meaning for me as I bring a jumbled head and a confused heart to this place and allow the words that fall onto the page to take shape and help me unravel, sort and make sense of the issues at hand. Without being able to put down feelings and emotions in words and follow the process of initial statement through the wrangling of responses and the expression of reaction, rationalising and debating as I go, I simply don’t know how I would ever make rhyme or reason of existence and all that goes on within life in this fast-changing turbulent world.
And so, with a great deal of unease I come to put into words the contradictions and unsettled emotions I have been harbouring over the past week or so on the subject of birthdays. Specifically, my own recent birthday and all the apprehensions and sense of disturbance that it has caused within me.
If seems that the majority are always eager to observe and celebrate … but not me. I know it’s ridiculous, I know it’s indulgent, I know it’s even irrational, but I dodge and weave to avoid the fuss. And then when the closest of friends and family acknowledge my wishes and let the day ride – with just a quick and polite online message or phone call – I am devastated. Don’t they care? Am I not loved? I mean, what is this all about?
I’ve been searching within myself to make some sense of the whole distorted dichotomy of emotions and I’ve come up with this …
Due to the horrors of childhood and the violence and abuse suffered at the hands of a violent alcoholic father, I spent the first two decades of my life here on earth being belittled, publically and privately ridiculed, undermined in terms of anything like self-confidence or inner-belief and overtly told I was ‘nothing, have nothing and will amount to nothing’. I was repeatedly told by my father that everything I owned belonged to him, right down to the teddy bear given to me by my grandparents. He was a very disturbed and cruel man and it has taken me the better part of my life since to understand and truly forgive him.
But the undermining of my self worth was successfully achieved in those first 20 years, especially whilst I was a growing child and in early teenagerhood. Thus I rationalised somewhere deep down inside that birthdays were something for other people to celebrate, but not for me. There was no reason anyone would want to celebrate my birth and ongoing existence.
As an adult I look back on those times and always feel a sense of loss … loss of the happiness and innocence I never had, a loss of childhood, a loss of years. Thus the annual acknowledgement of the passing of another year in adulthood – when so many early days seemed so painful and successfully blocked from consciousness – is something that I never relish with any sense of anticipation (more like dread) and joy!
This all makes me realise just how complicated the human mind and heart is, and how contradictory too! After all, growing up, I had the same violent and abusive experiences around Christmas time, and yet in adulthood I have re-claimed it for the wonderful, celebratory, joyful and sharing season that it is, and relish the idea of its observation. So why not birthdays? I have come to rationalise that the reason lies in the fact that Christmas is all about being with others and the observation of the holy birth and the giving of gifts to others. Birthdays are all about having the attention and focus turned inward, and this is not something that I am comfortable in doing. Better to lavish it all on others as I have never felt worthy of the alternative of accepting it myself.
And yes I have had years of counselling and support to get me where I am today. But the big stumbling block is always birthdays and the acknowledgment of the passing of another year. I have this internal process or checklist that I go through of ‘what have I done this past year, what have I achieved, whose lives have I touch and helped, what purpose has my existence served’. And I’m ruthless and brutal in the assessment.
Thus, as the acknowledgement of my day of birth came around this month, I really struggled with the whole concept, perhaps more so that ever before. No longer running and operating my store to which people could come to experience and share; no longer writing my national magazine in which so many found inspiration and consolation, I have wondered in recent times what I am here for?
I am not one to self perpetuate. But I also concede that I had run myself ragged doing the aforementioned over two decades and, seriously injuring myself as a consequence, I now need time to regroup, refocus, revive and potentially reinvent. Not sure what this last one entails and that’s possibly the main issue here. Where am I heading; what’s next? Thus celebrating a birthday and the passing of time was nothing I really wanted to do this year as I have been feeling that I am presently treading water as time (and life) seems to be on hold.
And yet, despite all this, somewhere deep inside me I secretly wanted all my beloved friends and family to gather around and celebrate our union together – despite the fact that I had urged them not to! How contradictory and confusing is that? No fuss. Yes, please make a fuss. No, no … no fuss, I insist. Sometimes I ‘do’ my own head in, so how can others work out how to react?
On the actual day of my birthday I confess that I was abundantly blessed by two beautiful souls who have, in recent years – especially since my accident – proved to be invaluable in my life and have become what I proudly refer to as ‘family’ … freely chosen and greatly cherished. Together we ventured out to a civilised lunch, antiquing and then back to Wroxton for ‘kaffee und kuchen‘. I was humbled by the fact that they would want to give up their day for me, and secretly unworthy all the while. And secretly, I really wanted other special ones to be part of it all as well, despite stating the opposite. Prior to the day, I celebrated in company with two other cherished souls whose birthdays are three days apart from my own, and the weekend after my beloved brother and his wife, the grandmother and a pair of other good friends took me out for a Saturday lunch and this was special too. And there were dozens and dozens of messages and texts and cards … and I felt unworthy.
I so wanted to celebrate the love of friends, but just couldn’t seem to get my head around the fact that they were all coming together to acknowledge and celebrate me. I mean, how confused, contradictory and complicated can one person be?
Despite my very best efforts of ‘kicking myself in my own butt‘ I had really dragged myself towards the day. And then on the birthday morn when I was greeted with so many salutations and messages of love from dear ones close and far away, I faced it all with a sense of despondent resignation that ‘it’s here, I’m another year older, oh joy!’
This was all until I had one major wake-up call that really rocked me to the core and put everything in perspective.
As I was just about to turn off the computer and head to get dressed for lunch, a message popped up from an old work colleague. In it she apologised to all her family and friends for the cancellation of her own birthday celebrations that coming weekend as she was simply not up to it. Despite all the arrangements being made, she felt she could not face it as she had just been diagnosed with brain cancer! I was overwhelmed and shocked. The darling girl is still so young and such a beautiful soul. I could not believe it. It was the thing that really made me put things into perspective in a big way. Here I was feeling sad and sorry for myself over the past, the present and unexpected life changes. And there was my dear friend facing the battle of her life. How could I wallow when all I could do was pray for her to win!
So that’s the tale of the passing of my birthday this year. I learnt many a lesson from the day and have a renewed gratitude for all that I have and all who are around me who are part of my life. Indeed I am truly blessed and, despite the fact that I acknowledge that, from time to time, I will still need to continue to give myself a ‘reality check’ and a bit of self ‘butt kicking’, I have indeed come a long way and there is indeed a journey yet still to be travelled … as I live another year.
I pray that, in some small way, these birthday revelations will help others who battle the same issues and struggles as we each learn to open our hearts to the ones around us who do truly care for us, and that we will find ourselves truly worthy of the same.
Until next time,