Birthdays can't always be great. Statistically speaking, there's bound to be a dud in there once in a while. You'll eat too much cake and make yourself sick, or you'll drop your cake on the floor and be forced to bring gumdrops to share with your classmates instead (sadly this has actually happened to me). Or you'll turn 32 and be having a really hard day on the actual anniversary of your birth, hard enough that you'll cancel happy hour drinks with your friends because you're just not feeling happy.
But you get some distance from it, and you can see it as a statistical error and move forward.
This weekend I attended a spoken word event that I enjoyed very much, and the essay that was read that made me tear up was one that involved a birthday. The woman who wrote it spoke about being grateful on her 56th birthday.
And as my image of her in the auditorium grew blurry I thought, Bailey Kathleen, you are going to do your best not to waste another chance to celebrate the fact that you've had another year of life's gifts because when you're still here you celebrate that.
I happened to be sitting next to the essayist's brother in the audience, so I squeezed his arm when his sister finished her performance and told him how good she was, and made a pact with myself that I'll do better.
As you may know, I usually write an annual birthday blog post, but this past May 23rd I skipped it. I just couldn't muster the finger strength to type something hopeful that day. That sucks, but that's the truth.
Consider these my gumdrops, since my cake got dropped this year.
1. Drink some water, and go for a walk.
Age old advice, and I think I subconsciously stole this from Anne Lamott, my queen. Water gets your insides moving and walking gets your outsides moving, both of which seem to get your head moving, out of its detrimental ruts. So when you're feeling negative, try these simple, free actions just to get you started toward something else. Don't worry about what that something else will be. Just focus on the glass of water, the 10 minute walk, first.
2. Write a note to someone (or send flowers, if you're rich)
I recommend using a card or postcard, so you don't feel obligated to write a novel. Limit your canvas. You don't have to say anything grand; tell someone what you had for lunch, that you saw her new haircut on Facebook and you love it. People always appreciate mail and I can basically promise that you'll feel good after spending five minutes writing a quick note to someone you care about.
3. Write a gratitude list
I'll be telling you to do this until I'm 95 years old. Write down 10 things that are good in your day. "They had 2% milk out at the condiment station at Starbucks this morning, which I prefer to half and half." "I Skyped with my nephew today." "I organized my closet by color and it looks fun." There is research proving that this lifts your mood, so if you don't want to listen to me, then listen to the facts. Try it, you'll like it.
4. Say you're sorry
This one's hard. Really hard for me. But if you feel like you owe someone an apology, go out on that frightening limb and do it. Embrace the fear and freedom, the inner adult and child, the loosening of a grip, opening up to let something else in. Make room.
5. Break the silence
There are a few ways to do this. If things are simply too quiet, turn on some tunes. If a relationship is strained, reach out. Or if you simply haven't seen someone in ages, schedule a coffee date. Easy peasy.
6. Change your activity
If you're like me, it's easy to get stuck in a mood, in a thought, in a place of mental muck. So, as this whole post is aimed at, change it up. Even if you're doing something you love, try not to do it for hours on end. Because eventually it will become tiresome, and you'll start to think you don't like it anymore, when in reality you just need to get a drink of water, go for a walk, sort the mail, turn on some Motown. If you're enjoying yourself, by all means live in the moment, but try to keep things fluid.
7. Take a shower/Groom
Push back your cuticles. Wash your face. Floss your teeth. Particularly when I need to get pumped for a social event, I find that a little bit of tending to the finer details helps revive me tenfold. And when I really need a jumpstart/to put my game face on, I go for the big guns: mascara and lipstick. Not because wearing makeup makes me a better version of myself, but because it makes it harder for me to lie back down in bed and spend the evening alone. When I'm in a uniform of blush and eyeliner, I feel more ready to communicate with people, and for me, that's life.
8. Say something honest
Whatever it is, say it (though do avoid being mean, please). Offer a compliment. Tell someone you're feeling blue, and that you don't know why exactly. Tell someone you're feeling extra confident today, even if it's for no good reason. Let your therapist know you're nervous about today's session. Say to your friends, "Actually, I don't really want the garlic fries, can we get the regular?" Being honest is always a good place to start, because holding truth under the surface feels crummy.
9. Read to someone, even if it's yourself
Kids are an excellent audience, because they're quick to giggle, plus their books are usually funnier than the ones meant for us adults. But also ask a grown up friend if you can read to them. They might look at you sideways, but then they might acquiesce to your request. I think being read to is something we never outgrow. There's something so soothing, so powerful, in words meeting the air. I read aloud to myself yesterday, and it made the content of the book more emotional than it would have been if I were to instead be silent. Plus I didn't want my space to be completely quiet, so problem solved.
10. Find live music
Why live? Because it gets you out of the house, for one. Gets you around people, for two. And for three, there's a very specific power in live music. A disc spinning in our car (yes, some of us still use CDs) can heal, absolutely, but in the way words being read aloud from a book can give them sudden, new might, such is the same when a voice pipes through a microphone and is born out of an amp -- mysterious changes happen in the people who hear it. Their bodies lean and sway with a ballad, dance with a jam, let go when a musician's heart breaks open on stage. There is tremendous community, peace, and happiness at a concert (and no, I don't use recreational drugs, if you're wondering) that I'll never quite be able to explain, something that I wish more people sought after because it has certainly helped make my life all the better and I know it could do the same for so many more out there.
11. Use your voice
I recently read a memoir about a singer I love. Not only did it blow me out of the water, but I found myself getting jealous of musicians as I turned the pages. Don't get me wrong, by and large I love being a writer and feel called to sit in front of a computer screen and connect with the home row keys on a serious level. But I wanted to be able to go that step further and use my literal, actual voice to get a greater emotional release from my work and my art. So one day I decided to go ahead and do it. I wrote a poem and went to an open mic and read it out loud to a room of strangers and friends. I was in the midst of a tough season and I needed to remind myself that I had a voice. So, I did what I needed to do.
For you, this might look like going to karaoke night, or confessing a crush to your best friend, or maybe just admitting in your journal that you hate staying out past 10. Just don't forget that you have a voice. Please. It's important.
12. Visit a cashier
In other bossy words: Do. Not. Isolate!!!
I have a rule about getting out of the house every day, which goes along with my rule about changing up my activities every few hours -- so that I don't get stuck in a sour mood because I didn't let my brain air out to do its calisthenics. Even so, there are days where I just don't feel like doing a whole lot. But even on the days that I'm really bumming, if I go to the grocery store and buy a toothbrush, those 30 seconds of interacting with the clerk who scans my Ralphs rewards card helps; the simple kindness, a quiet smile. Yes, try and get out and walk around and see the roses, but try and interact with a human if you can. We were made for community. We just were, no way around it.
13. Add color
Color!!! I love color!!! I'm so drawn to it it's ridiculous. Buy the bright watermelon instead of the drab banana. Wear your neon green sports bra to the gym. Paint your toes with dollar store coral polish. Fluff regal, eggplant sheets over your bed and pretend your crown is being polished by the king. Don't settle for black and white; they make life's edges too sharp, and we all need a little cushion.
14. Tidy up
If you're not great at this, don't worry, I'm not scoldin', because I'm the worst about cleaning my space. But it's sooooooo helpful. Getting yourself moving, seeing your environment more at ease and open, and knowing that you had a part in it -- these are all great things for boosting your mood. And it feels so good to literally make your bed and then lie in it, and look around at the books all in line on the shelf, the piles on the desk less askew.
15. Show up
To work, to your lunch date, to church, to the baby shower. Just get there. After feeling gipped on my birthday this year, I was really nervous to go to another woman's birthday party the following month. I thought I might see her surrounded by so many friends and crumple with jealousy. So I turned on some good music, texted my honest feelings to friends who I feel safe with, wrote a kind note to the birthday girl, and got myself gussied up for the soiree. By the time I got in my Uber, I was genuinely jibber jabbering with my driver, excited to go celebrate the beautiful girl who deserved to have all the friends show up for her party. The idea of showing up can seem frightening, but I think staying home can more times than not ultimately make us feel worse.
16. Order a pizza
This life tactic has always worked wonders for me, even after I've begun to doubt its ability to be effective over time. Basically anything with a strong background in tomato and cheese, such as spaghetti with a heap of parmesan on top ("It's like you're seven," says Alex), really helps me, consistently. Find the flavor combo that best works for you, and go after it. In times of crisis, don't worry so much about getting your greens. Worry about balming your heart (and reviving it with a little salt).
17. Name your fear
You don't have to tackle it. Just get it out there. Tell a friend. A counselor. Your journal. You'll realize half your work is already done once you've spoken the Big Bad Words aloud to the universe.
18. Phone a friend
We've got friends for a reason, am I right or am I right? They love you, you love them, (please sing this to the tune of the Barney song), so pick up the phone and for crying out loud already dial your friendssssss! I know sometimes you don't want to be the mess calling with your sob story, but just do it. Seriously, your friends love you and they want you to call. They'd want you to answer if it were them in pain, and you'd want them to call you if they were unhappy, instead of holding back.
19. Find a voice that sounds like your own, and dance in the harmony
No, I'm not talking about a love connection. Although I am, sort of, just of the literary variety. Once you find your Anne Lamott, or Donald Miller, or Marisa de los Santos or whoever else speaks this human experience through a lens that seems like your exact prescription, down to the astigmatism and cat-eye frames you love from Warby Parker, then go ahead: unabashedly gobble up all their words, digest them and go back for seconds. It's such. a huge. huge. HUGE. gift in this world to find writers who speak directly to our hearts and our heads, so if you find solace in burying your nose in their entire repertoire, by all means go for it. Doctor's orders.
20. Engage your body
Like saying sorry (and forgiving), I'm not great at this. I've always been more of a thinker than a doer. But whether I'm bending down to pick up clothes off the floor, spritzing some Windex on the bathroom mirror, or (imagine!) participating in an athletic activity, I can't help but feel a teeny weeny bit -- or a lot -- better than when I started.
21. Call your parents
If you have no other motivation to do this, do it for them. They always want to hear from you. Plus I find that even when I think I have nothing to say to my parents, I usually find something to discuss. These people diapered me and paid for my college, not to mention love the heck out of me with all my quirks and moods, so when I need a boost in feeling loved and cared for, calling Mommy and Daddy is usually a great idea.
22. Put something on the calendar
Now, equally helpful in reducing stress can be to take something off the calendar, but when you're feeling down in the dumps, schedule something! A cheap concert, a movie date, spaghetti night with a couple from the synagogue. When the immediate future is just a vague blob, it feels like just that: a blob. Make things less blobby and give yourself something finite to look forward to.
Like many of the items on this list, this one's hard...at first. And I will make the disclaimer that music is still allowed if you should decide to take a break from media. But I find it surprisingly refreshing -- and not that terrifying! -- to set a timer on my phone for an hour, text my boyfriend to tell him I'm going off the grid, and tuck it in my desk drawer. Then I clean, talk to the roomies, sort papers, smooch on Max, etc. Truly, by the time the timer goes off, I'm usually game for more time unplugged, rather than staring at the clock willing the hour to be over.
I highly recommend the Headspace and Calm apps for your smartphone, both of which have several free meditation sessions, or you can upgrade for a cost. You can listen to stories to help you fall asleep, or simply sit through a 10 minute guided talk that helps you focus on your breathing. It goes quickly, and it really helps filter out the rest of the world. Wildly helpful and worth a try.
25. Talk to the Big Guy
Surprisingly, with all my Jesus talk and whatnot, I don't do a lot of this. But when I'm feeling reeeeally tenuous, I call out. I usually don't say much. Something along the lines of, "You know what's up. Help. I'm not sure what to do. Send your angels to protect me. Bring peace to this impossible blender of a mind I have that seems to be stuck on frappe. Love, Me."
And that's it. Then I sigh, and go back to overthinking, but try my very bestest to think a little less hard. I pull into a gas station and get Cool Ranch Doritos and a Diet Coke and maybe a giant bottle of chilled water, too. I phone a friend, and I usually try to quit driving around and instead point the car home. I do some grooming, turn on familiar television that's sensitive to the dramatic among us, something like Felicity, something that's quiet but not too sad and that will make me laugh some, too.
And almost always, after an hour or so, I find that He's heard me.
26. ACCEPT! the FACT! that it's NEVER TOO LATE!
The fact that milk expiration dates are really more of a give-or-take suggestion is proof of this (otherwise why would we smell it?). My grandmother receiving her college diploma at the age of 80 is proof. This belated birthday blog post is proof. Grace is proof. Need more proof? Oh, I'll prove it.
27. Pet something soft
Always a good suggestion, especially if this something purrs. But we all know I'm horribly biased in this area of the animal kingdom. What? Isn't there research that if more of your senses are engaged (a mysterious rumbling emitting from an animal's core that you can feel and hear...?), then something is better for you? Hmmmmmm?
28. Talk to someone who's young
They have it more figured out than we think. Give them credit, and be open to how they might help and teach you.
29. Talk to someone who's old
Because Lord knows they've learned some things and have good things to say about hope and life and things moving on. So go knock on a door and invited yourself in. Make a fresh pot of coffee and have a listen.
30. Rustle your pom pons
Be a cheerleader! Fake it 'til you make it! Rah rah rah! Do this for yourself and do this for others. Even if you feel like you-know-what, look at it this way: it can't hurt to try and cheer yourself up. Moreover, when others are trying to cheer you up, recognize that they're making the effort, and that means they care about you and that means a lot. Count the blessing and wave those spirit fingers high!
31. Participate in retail therapy (the library counts as a store)
Try not to go nuts, because overspending makes us all feel worse, but it's really OK to up and go to Target once in a while. Really. Get yourself a Starbucks before you grab your red cart. Take your time. Stroll. Buying yourself a little something you don't need can go a long way on a hard day.
32. Shamelessly ask for love
You might be laughing, but I mean this with all my heart. A friend of mine did this the other day and I'm so proud of her and happy she did. She asked for words of encouragement when she needed them and I was more than happy to swoop in and supply some. This past Sunday, as Alex and I parked the car at a friend's apartment, we got out of the Corolla and I said, "Can I have a hug?" "Of course," he replied, "You can always have hugs." He held my delicate self close, and then I was stronger and more ready to enter into life.
Whether you need a prayer, a nice word said about you, to sleep over because you're afraid to be alone, or anything else -- ASK. Because you're worth it, baby. You deserve to be loved, and to have your tanks filled, now and tomorrow.
See Y'all in 10 months for the next birthday post.
The Birthday Girl