A Lesson From My 29th Birthday

My birthday has always made me really uncomfortable.

There’s something about the attention that comes with the whole day that makes me wriggle. On top of that, birthdays get built up (whether in my mind or by society or both) to be some big deal so that after the day has come and gone you’re almost left feeling like….

‘Gosh was that it? Was that what I worried about or got excited about or spent all of that money on? THAT’S IT?’

I mean is it just me or does anyone else feel that way? 

Usually this has meant that my birthday includes some amount of tears… I’m either crying as I’m getting dressed because my birthday outfit isn’t what I imagined it to be. Or I’m crying as the whole party is about to get started because I have so much anxiety about whether anyone will actually come and if they do, whether any of them will have a good time. Or I’m crying afterward because it wasn’t as perfect as I thought it was going to be and I put so much effort into planning the day and why do I feel so shit about something that really means so little in the whole scheme of life? 

This is my truth.

And as embarrassing as you might think it is for me to admit that, it feels like a big fucking weight off my shoulders. I can acknowledge it and know at the same time that those tears were not because I was spoiled or entitled or selfish (all of which I have worried I was and felt guilty about for weeks at a time); they were a symptom of my anxiety and depression.

And to finally understand that, feels like a huge win. 

Because now, I can find compassion and grace for myself in situations where I would have previously made everything so much worse by beating myself up for feeling sad on my birthday. 

And yesterday I got to experience just how powerful and transformative that kind of insight can be. 

29 and… pleasantly surprised?

First, let me just say that it was SUCH A GOOD BIRTHDAY.

I felt so loved by my coworkers, friends and family and I believe I am so incredibly blessed to have the people around me that I do. The books I was gifted are the perfect example of how tuned in people close to me are about who I am and where I’m at in life. It genuinely makes me feel so supported and understood. Hell, the whole day yesterday really was evidence of that. 

So, when it came to planning my birthday, I specifically kept it casual. I didn’t want a party. I didn’t want the pressure of having to organise something with friends. I just wanted to go to work, have lunch with my best friend and then a nice dinner with Rory.

At Gloria.

A new restaurant in London that has received rave reviews.

Just Gloria.

For dinner.

Him and me.

Good Italian food. Even better wine.

Gloria.

That’s all I wanted to do. 

And I spent the WHOLE entire day telling every co-worker who would listen that that was my birthday plan.

I couldn’t wait. It had been on my list for ages. I had it all planned out.

Birthday Breakdown

Rory and I arrived at 8:15pm prepared to wait (apparently you can’t make a reservation for two people). I took a quick photo outside before the sun went down and then we popped in to get our name on the list. As it turns out though, not only do they not take reservations for two people, but they also fully book up the waitlist for the evening, so if you don’t drop by at 5:30pm on the night you want to eat there, you’re probably not going to get a table. What. The. ACTUAL FUCK.

This was devastating news to a perfectionist who totally definitely wasn’t making a big deal out of birthday.

I tried to keep a straight face and measured tone.

Oh, I see. But no one told us that when we tried to book, so how should we have known? Are you sure you have no tables for THE REST OF THE NIGHT? ARE YOU SURE? IT’S MY BIRTHDAY…. this is all I wanted to do to celebrate. 

I don’t think she could have cared less. I was entirely deflated and panicked.

Birthday ruined. See… the day was obviously going wayyyyy too well, something like this was always going to happen. That’s what you get for being fucking hopeful.

The whole internal monologue kicked off as Rory and I stood there on the side of Commercial Street trying to figure out how to salvage the situation. I tried calling around to a few places I had heard were good, but everything was distinctly sub par by comparison – I had already decided.

Nope. Doesn’t feel like birthday dinner material that’s for sure.

Rory grabbed my hand and mentioned something about a place in Covent Garden where he had wanted to take me for a few years. I think at that point I was like, hey they’ve got wine who the hell cares now anyway?

He called Clos Maggiore and secured their final table of the evening (meant to be??). At least the wine list looks extensive. It can’t be too bad. 

Growth Moment.

The real miracle was that I didn’t breakdown and let my disappointment at the unexpected change in plans get the better of me. Although I very easily could have.

I didn’t burst into tears, ruin my makeup and emotionally exhaust myself. But I very easily could have.

But I didn’t…

Instead, I let myself be fully immersed in the disappointment of the whole scenario with the understanding that it was a completely rational response given how much I had looked forward to my meal there. And then I was able to pivot and consider the alternatives (even if it was grudgingly), knowing that although they might not be what I had in mind, all of them presented the same opportunity to celebrate with my boyfriend and make the most of the night.

 It probably doesn’t read like much of an accomplishment, but it was monumental for me. And because I was able to accept the change of venue, it meant that we actually ended up at an even nicer restaurant, drinking even better, more expensive wine than we would have at Gloria. And I had amazing freaking night at London’s most romantic restaurant (if you saw my stories you get it). 

It’s these small choices – the ones made in trying moments when the temptation to revert to engrained patterns of thought and behaviour – that reveal our capacity for change and give us the chance to grow. 

My 29th birthday has set the tone for how I hope to approach this next year around the sun. Patience. Breath. Grace. Compassion. Joy. Gratitude.