mafañagu. birthday. kaadlawan.

I tend to speak very lightly about my own childhood. I’ve covered that I had a fairly typical toxic Filipino family growing up, one that never made me feel safe being my total self around them. I stopped talking, took every word spoken to me with a grain of salt and was left largely alone except for the mean things I heard about me through the grapevine. 

But there was one thing I always had: my birthday. Birthdays were sacred in my family. It was the one day out of the year that every adult in the family forced every other kid to be nice to you. The birthday kid couldn’t cry, couldn’t be mad, needed to be treated with the most respect. For someone like me, I reveled in the one day a year I didn’t need to be as guarded. 

As a child I was hypersensitive with my emotions, a result of my anxiety growing up. In moments of anything other than complete relaxation, I cried as a stress response. I was often referred to as a “crybaby” (which I still cringe when I hear now). But on my birthday people were always more forgiving. If someone was being mean and I started to cry,  eyes weren’t automatically rolling thinking “oh gosh here she goes again” but rather it was “okay this is her day, don’t make her cry”. I later learned as I grew up, not as many people had this same reverence for birthdays and wouldn’t treat me any differently on that day.

One particular birthday in my early adulthood had me in tears. From the ages of 17 to 22, I was traumatized by alcoholism. I don’t drink but someone I loved became alcoholic and being around alcohol was really stressful at me. On one birthday, a few friends pushed to ring it in at at the beach bar – I wanted to be at the beach, they wanted to be at a bar. I wasn’t going to drink. I didn’t want ANYONE to drink. And the fact that someone was insisting to celebrate ME in a way that made me uncomfortable was upsetting. I was pissed and I cried. On the way home, I expressed that I was upset and I remember the words “it’s just a birthday, you should be lucky to be able to celebrate it” ringing through my ears.

I hated how much the person who said it trivialized something so important to me. I knew I was fortunate. A birthday in any manner can be a luxury but I don’t play olympics with other people’s traumas. So I was pretty upset that this person, whom I trusted, would say that while I’m expressing how hurt I am. 

Maybe it is trivial but celebrating my own birthday has been so important to me. I call it “National Ruzelle Day” and plan a whole thing for it. Especially with my ongoing battles with depression, it’s important for me to celebrate myself on the day of my birth and take time to appreciate who I am and who I have become and what I have done. It’s encouraging. And of course I take time to thank God with all my heart that He has allowed me another beautiful year of life.

Now that I’m a mother, I don’t want it to become to a place where my child, like me, birthdays are a way to cope with how badly you feel about yourself. I want my child to think that their day of birth is special because they were blessed with another year. That it doesn’t have to be parties or people bowing to your whim or luxurious presents. That another year is just another blessing and time for opportunities.

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