Today is my birthday. And unlike birthdays in the past, I’m choosing to make a big deal of it.
Hear me out.
I’ve historically been the type of person who takes pride in maintaining a “low maintenance” personality. I’ve never craved the limelight and have always felt uncomfortable with a lot of attention. And if loved ones asked me to pick a restaurant to celebrate, I’d cringe inside at the mere thought of being a burden to anyone else.
So when past birthdays rolled around and my husband would ask what I wanted to to, I’d usually follow it up with “I don’t care, whatever you want—it’s just another day.”
That was until I spent my 26th birthday in what I can only describe as a complete mental darkness that forever changed my perspective on life.
I had just been diagnosed with postpartum depression. I was a relatively new mom with an a five-month old baby girl. The depression was at its peak and so was the worst symptom of my mental illness—insomnia.
It wasn’t uncommon for me to go days without so much as a couple hours of sleep. I would lie wide awake at night staring at my sweet, sweet sleeping baby. I was exhausted but completely wired as my mind raced and conjured up terrible, vivid thoughts and worries. I would have panic attacks while everyone else in my house slept, which kept my stomach in a perpetual knot and meant I would spend a good amount of the night in the bathroom. (Probably TMI—but I know many of you out there who have anxiety attacks can relate.)
I was losing weight. My love for food was gone. Everything tasted bland. I had no energy to work out, which is something I loved to do before I got sick. I couldn’t even feel the same bond with my dogs that I felt prior to giving birth. (And anyone who knows me knows how out of character this is.)
I felt completely apathetic towards everything that once brought me joy.
So on my 26th birthday, I did nothing. I ignored it. I couldn’t feel happy even if I wanted to. There was no choice in the matter. PPD robbed me of the ability to shift perspective and choose happiness on far, far too many days.
Luckily, with the help of a therapist and the passing of time, things started to turn around shortly after. Recovery was not, and is not, linear—but my mental health finally began to improve.
So as I write this with a sleeping toddler on my chest, I can’t help but to think of all there is to celebrate, today and every day that I’m able to after that:
My beautiful, healthy, and thriving baby girl.
My intelligent, loving, and funny husband/best friend/father of my child.
My crazy, loyal, and affectionate dogs.
The health of my entire family.
My own health—both physical and mental.
A flexible, growing career that I have built on my own, even when I had to force my grit to overcome my doubt.
The ability to recognize beauty in all things and feel joy.
The growth, strength and perspective I’ve gained from walking through darkness.
And when this sleeping toddler wakes up, her dad and I have plans to take her bowling for the first time, followed by a restaurant of my choice. And I won’t feel a single ounce of guilt over it.
Today, I am healthy and my brain is capable of choosing happy—so I will do just that. And I’ll never take that ability for granted ever again.
Love and awkward hugs,