I turned thirty last week, and I did everything I could to try and erase my birthday from my life.
Last year, I remember celebrating with a group of my new friends from ulpan, my Hebrew school, at one of my favorite restaurants in Haifa. The group of us, of which my wife and I were the only native English speakers, enjoyed ourselves over amazing salads, grilled meats, and tasty beverages. I remember them all giving me a present, something I never expected from this group of people that I had only known for a couple of months. The only thing that united us was our shared identity as new immigrants, finding support in one another what we missed from our respective countries of origin. It was a beautiful thing, this little group of ours struggling in English and Hebrew, but loving every moment of the camaraderie.
This year was completely different.
I haven’t had the best couple of months. In the span of three months, I’ve been through a worldwide pandemic, I’ve moved cities and lost my support network (or whatever I had of one), I got fired from my job, my trip back to America was cancelled, been in actual self-quarantine, and my mental health has been the worst its been in a very long time. To be a new immigrant in a country, without any family, and in a new city where the normal welcoming committee is scared to even have you in their home is incredibly isolating and emotionally crippling . I went from speaking with coworkers, neighbours, and friends every day to staying in my home for days on end, either out of fear or by government mandate.
Which brought me all to last week. I’ve been dreading this birthday for months, pretty much since we moved here to Netanya. This year, my Hebrew (according to the lunar/solar-based Jewish calendar) and my English (Gregorian-based) birthdays were back-to-back. I knew that it would be a lonely couple of days. I knew that it was going to be another reminder of how unreal these times are.
Mostly, I knew it was going to be a reminder of how much I feel like I’ve fallen short of where I thought I would be. It was going to be a 48-hour testament to my failings and disappointments.
I thought that by now that I would have a normal career, now I’m unemployed again for the umpteenth time in my life. I thought I would have a home and all the trappings of a professional life, instead I feel guilty about buying anything over $20 for myself. I thought that I would be a father, able to hold a child in my arms; but it seems that G-d has decided not to grant me that yet. I thought I would be emotionally-stable and happy, and now I just see that kind of mental well-being as the ill-informed dreams of a pre-diagnosis self; I don’t truly believe that I’ll do more than survive. I can’t imagine what thriving would even look like now. I still struggle with daily tasks, I still have difficulty maintaining a relationship, I still struggle constantly trying out how to move forward from here.
So I hid every bit of information that I could, secreted away the evidence of my birth on social media. I hid it on facebook (surprisingly got wishes on linkedin because of course I forgot about linkedin), ignored all of the notifications, and told my wife that I didn’t want gifts or a party. I didn’t want to be reminded of my perceived shortcomings and I didn’t feel like I had done anything to deserve a gift.
So, when the big day came, I still ended up getting a few birthday wishes, and for those I was genuinely grateful. There were still a few friends and family members that remembered without a notification in their feeds, and even my wife’s grandparents called me to wish me a happy birthday. Maybe I would have gotten some kind of fleeting joy from a sudden deluge of wishes, but I’m glad that I didn’t. Not because I think that any of there messages or posts would have been lip-service or meaningless, but because I knew that I would have only just obsessed the entire thing had I spent 24 hours counting the number of people that remembered. G-d knows that I would never remember without something external, so I would never blame anyone that didn’t know or remember.
I ended up spending the day with my wife doing one of the few things I still find some joy in: cooking for people whose company I enjoy. I grilled up some chicken and sausages and we had a nice Shabbat with some of the only family we have in this country. We played games the next day, and it was the first time I enjoyed myself in a very long time. I still hold onto that day a week later.
So, I don’t know what to do now. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and I am still in survival mode. I may not be the man I thought I was going to be at 30, but I still got some things right. I somehow managed to keep hold of my spouse, I live in the country of my dreams, and I made it through today. I spent so much of my life thinking that I had to constantly be productive, that my worth was directly tied to my work and my status, and that I had to always be changing the world. I still think that deep-down, but I’m at least starting to work on the idea that I deserve to be happy and loved not because I do X or because I am Y, but that I deserve those things simply because I am me. It’s a struggle to change your entire way of looking at life, and having bipolar disorder doesn’t make it any easier, but I know that life has to be more than just goals. As sad as it seems, sometimes I know that a win for me is just getting out of bed, or going to bed, or daring to think that I deserve to see tomorrow. I don’t have to be ok all of the time, and I often need help, but I have to just tell myself that I am worth it.
I may have cancelled my birthday, but I don’t want to cancel life. No matter how hard it is, and I know this may sound pathetic, but I will keep on fighting the urge that makes me just want to give it all up and go back to living a life where I was shocked to reach another birthday. I don’t know what my next birthday will be like, and whether I’ll want to celebrate it; but I know, or at least I hope, that I will spend the time until that day living and not looking to cancel the next day.
If I’ve made it thirty years in the kind of life I’ve lived, what’s a few months of horror in the grand scheme of things? I’m not going to to let a bunch of meaningless disappointments keep me down for too long.
I fought too damn hard to get to 30 to let one day do me in.