I think an often un-talked about part of growing up is the process of figuring out a few definitive statements about yourself that you don’t believe can change. We all have them – a few facts that we keep on file in the back of our heads, markers that tell us who we are and provide answers for the dreaded question ‘Tell me something about yourself!’
‘I never, ever go on roller coasters’, ‘I don’t like fish’, and ‘I love Christmas more than you love Christmas’ are just a few of mine, and until recently ‘I hate Birthday’s’ was almost top of that list.
Up until this year, I’ve never had a birthday that didn’t end in tears. When I was younger, year after year, I would blow out the candles on my cake and immediately burst into sobs of tears. Even at the age of 8 I hated the idea of growing up, every night leading up to the ‘big day’ I would run into my mums bedroom wailing that I wasn’t ready to be older yet and I just wanted to say the way I was now.
As I did, inevitably, get older, my birthday turned into a recurring marker of failure. After leaving school when I was 14, birthday’s became sickening reminders that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, that my life wasn’t going the way it should be going, that I was losing the game. I turned 16 without any GCSE’s. I turned 17 without having had a boyfriend. I turned 18 and had to leave my tiny birthday tea early, in tears, because I felt too anxious with the pressure of everyone looking at me.
This year something changed. On June 21st I turned 20 years old. And as the day approached I found my yearly mounting dread had turned into tentative joy. I couldn’t wait to leave my teenage years behind. I was excited by the thought of entering my 20’s. And slowly, I began to think about what it might be like to actually celebrate my birthday, to commemorate this day, not as a signpost of how badly my life was going, but as a celebration of the fact that things are actually starting to go quite well.
So me and my mum began to plan a party… as I’m still not really a grown up we essentially planned the perfect tea party for a 10 year old. Mini scones, mini sandwiches, lots of bunting and a make your own flower crown table.
As a teenager, I had a habit of wearing tutu’s. Not small, discreet tutu’s, but proper, big, full on, poofy, tutu’s. The sadder, sicker and more confused I felt on the inside, the bigger the tutu’s got, and it finally reached the point where most day’s I would leave the house in a tutu and tiara.
I had this theory – that if I only wore pink, sparkly, magical outfits on the outside – then no one would see how sad and painful I was feeling on the inside. That if my exterior was happy, shiny, fluffy, a characature of a fairy princess – then it wouldn’t matter so much that my interior was rotten and black, full of pain and sadness and hope that was slowly dying.
Over the past year, as things on the inside have begun to heal, the need to dress up to mask the sadness has also ebbed away. And as I’ve started to feel lighter and brighter in my head, I’ve begun to wear more black, no longer gripped by the need to trick everyone into thinking I’m okay – because I actually am okay.
On my birthday – I wore a tutu. Not because I was covering anything up. Not because I was trying to pretend I was happier than I was. But because for the first time in a long time I felt like my exterior and interior were starting to match up. As I stood in my garden, surrounded by all the people I loved most in the world, people who had been there for me in times that were so bad, people who should have ditched me years ago because I was grumpy or weird or never replied to their texts or barely left the house, I felt happy. Really happy. Truly happy. I felt like a big, pink, sparkly, ridiculous tutu. Full of love, genuine love, for the people I was looking at.
For the first time in 20 years, I didn’t cry on my birthday. I didn’t hate the idea of growing up. I didn’t try to pretend that the day wasn’t happening. Instead, I wore a tutu, made a flower crown, ate a mini scone, and felt excited, properly excited about finally growing up.