An 11-year Overdue Happy Birthday

Eleven-year old C.D.! LOOK OVER HERE! It’s me! Or you! Or both!

Yes, I know I have red hair now – weird, huh? Anyway, I wanted to wish you a happy eleventh birthday! Remember all those times in 6th grade when you were all “when I’m twenty two, none of this terrible stuff will matter?” Well, I’m twenty-two now, as it happens. And I’ve been thinking a lot about you.

I know, I know. The plan was for me to forget all about that year. I know. But as it happens, there were changes to the plan.

Trust me, you’ll like the changes. Eventually.

***

Oh, hi, dear Readers! Yes, I’m having a conversation with the eleven-year old version of me. Kinda weird, huh?

So, I should probably explain myself before this conversation gets any weirder. As you’ve probably figured out by now, this blog does not (usually) serve as my online diary. True, I discuss a lot of super-personal things on the blog, but it’s not a personal blog per se – it’s a blog about social justice and geekery and pop culture. And rants. Lots of rants.

All this to war you that this post is – well, it’s very personal. It’s not a post about feminism or pop culture, except inasmuch as it is a post about a self-identified feminist (me).

You see, it’s my birthday. Or it was my birthday a couple of days ago – I’m not publishing the post on the day-of because this year, my birthday was on a weekend, and traffic always goes waaaaay down on the weekends.

And I thought: well, it’s my birthday. I should write a birthday post!

So I started writing a nice, upbeat birthday post where I discussed nice, upbeat things. But then the birthday post warped. I saw the ghost of 11 year old CD popping up between sentences, pulling paragraphs off-topic, making me think about things I didn’t really want to think about. Like the fact that I hate my birthdays.

And the fact that when I was 11, I was convinced that at 22 I would finally be happy enough to forget all about that horrid 6th grade year.

I could have fought the warping, I suppose. But I remembered that 11-year-old me was convinced that 22 year old me would be awesome and happy and confident (so happy, and awesome and confident that she would forget all about that horrid 6th grade year). And I figured I owed that 11 year old something for believing in me so hard.

So this isn’t a nice, upbeat birthday post anymore. It’s the birthday post where I give the ghosts free reign.

[Fair warning: this is the part where it gets sad]

Here’s the thing: I usually try not to think about my birthday. My past few have been pretty terrible, for various reasons – family stuff, depressions, anxiety, a darth vader boyfriend, an abusive roommate. Even this birthday was bad, since on the day-of, I had a big fever and spent most of the day in bed praying for someone to rip my throat out (this wasn’t a suicide thing – my throat was SUPER sore).

I also dread my birthdays because they’re… all about me. I mean, the entire idea of birthdays is that they’re *your* special day, right? And the idea of people congratulating me, or saying happy birthday, or giving me presents – the idea of people paying any kind of extra attention to me – makes me feel selfish.

I dread birthdays because, somewhere deep down in the lizard brain part of my psyche, I believe that I don’t deserve that kind of attention – minor as it is – even for a day. I believe that I’m not good enough.

So I feel like I sham, like I’m somehow tricking people into giving me attention.

Yeah, it’s pretty screwed up.

But at the same time, there’s something reassuring about these emotions, icky as they are. Because the feelings of selfishness and worthlessness I get on my birthday? Are a reminder of the fact that I don’t feel that way ALL THE TIME anymore. Those feelings have – slowly, very slowly – stopped being my daily reality.

The eleven year old version of me just fell over in shock: “Wait, what? You mean it’s actually POSSIBLE to spend entire days without feeling like a horrible person?”

Lilo and Stitch, Stitch fainting GIF

Eleven was a bad year for me. I mean, middle school as a general rule was pretty terrible, but if middle school was purgatory, sixth grade was hell. My family had moved back to France for a year. Which was an… interesting experience.

I was introduced to the joys of public humiliation as an education strategy. I was bullied at school. I learned all about kids following you and calling you mean names. I learned about teachers who said “all Americans” were stupid – in front of the whole class, and knowing I was American.

6th grade was also the last year my parents were together. And it was not a good year. Hell, by that point, I was a law-abiding citizen of the State of Denial, and even I couldn’t deny that things were terrible in my family. Really terrible. Now, I was still a law-abiding citizen of the State of Denial, so I was also convinced that if I were the Perfect Daughter(tm), my parents would be happy together again.

You will be shocked to learn that strategy did not work.

On top of everything else,  I was living in the Metaphorical House that Love Emotional Abuse Built. So I spent a lot of time feeling sad and angry and depressed and anxious about all the horrible things happening in my life… and then, because this is the way the Architecture of the House built by Emotional Abuse works, I would blame myself for feeling sad and angry. I would tell myself that I was a terrible person for feeling sad and angry and depressed. I would do everything I possibly could to hide the fact that I wasn’t perfectly happy all the time.

Haunted House GIF

Here there be monsters. And tacky faux-victorian furniture.

Like I said, not a good year.

It was also that year that I came up with a brilliant coping strategy [note that I am nothing if not brilliant in my coping strategies]. Whenever I felt (understandably) sad/angry/overwhelmed/depressed/anxious about all the horrible things happening to me, I would tell myself to snap out of it by saying: “When I’m twenty two, I will laugh about this. When I’m twenty two, I’ll be so awesome that none of this will matter. “

***

So yeah, 11 year old me. I’m finally twenty two. Very exciting!

And, I mean, clearly I’ve deviated from the plan. Clearly I’m still thinking about 6th grade.

I don’t laugh when I think about our year in 6th grade. I don’t think that what happened to us was insignificant. It did matter. It does matter. Remembering certain events still makes me want to curl up in a closet and cry (the Retainer Incident? UGH).

I know we thought that forgetting all those horrible things would make me happy. I know that was the plan.

But here’s the good news, 11-year-old-me. Every year since… oh, the 12th grade… I’ve become progressively happier. And every year since then, you and I have been on a slow but undeniable upward slope.

Things are getting better.

[Everyone else: OH FINALLY, WE GET TO THE HAPPY PART OF THE BIRTHDAY POST]

And seriously, I realize how exquisitely lucky I am that this is true. But it is a fact, dear 11-year old me, that my life – your life – our life – has been on a slow-but-noticeable upward slope for the past five years.

And before you object, Ms. Middle Schooler, that this year I had the second of my major depressions, so how can I say that things are getting better – notice how much more quickly I recovered this time? Notice the fact that I managed to start ablog while in the worst phase of the depression? And that I still was on deans honor list, and that I got a therapist to finally work with me on my anxiety issues, and that I found a treatment (FINALLY) for my migraines?

Yes, I know, it’s a surprise. We were supposed to forget and get happy. But the thing that let me be happy wasn’t forgetting. It was remembering. And confronting. And thinking about all the horrible things until I understood them well enough to see the structure of the House that Emotional Abuse Built. And when I saw the House that surrounded me, I could kick open a fucking window and BREATHE.

And every year, as I dismantle that house more and more, as I discover the dark things lurking in the hallways and the attics and the basements – as I deal with those terrible tacky furnishings and scary paintings and the giant piles of rotting garbage in the basement – things get better and better.

Seriously, house renovations are the best. Try them.

See, 11-year-old-me? I told you you’d like the changes to the plan. It wasn’t a bad plan, don’t get me wrong – I admire your imaginative coping strategies – but I think this adaptation is even better. I think you’d be pretty happy with where we ended up.

[Hey, I think you'd even like the red hair. Eventually. I know I did!]

And you know what? Happy birthday, eleven-year-old-me. You deserve it. I know, I know, the voices in your head are screaming that You’re Selfish and Terrible and Awful and Stuff for your audacity in Daring To Have A Birthday. But those voices have issues. Don’t listen to them.

Listen to ME.

I realize this is too little, too late, given that you can’t actually HEAR me, but: you were a pretty awesome kid. And you managed to be awesome in spite of the House of Tacky Furnishings and Dark Monsters and Scary Paintings and All That Stuff in the Basement.

So thank you. Because if our life is awesome now, it’s because you were awesome back then.

And thanks for believing in me.

I’ll say it again: Happy birthday, 11-year-old me. You deserve a good one.

***

Oh, also, good bad weird news, faithful readers! The Feminist Batwoman seems to be back. I found this picture on my laptop today. So she’s probably been messing with my files again.

… or maybe she was just trying to wish me happy birthday?

Feminist Batwoman Returns

Happy Birthday. Don’t be a misogynist.

It bears repeating, though:  LIKE I KEEP SAYING, I am definitely not the Feminist Batwoman, and she and I have nothing to do with each other. I am a law-abiding citizen, and the Feminist Batwoman is a vigilante, and if you know who she is, you should definitely Report Her to the Authorities.


2 Comments on “An 11-year Overdue Happy Birthday”

  1. Lacey says:

    Glad you’re able to look back and that you have so much perspective that you can see where you are better :) I’m married to someone who cannot see that clearly yet – he IS better off, certainly better off than a year ago when I had to call the cops from work to stop him from putting a bullet in his brain. I think the main problem with him (and possibly what you have conquered) is that while he remembers things WELL, he doesn’t always remember them in in a way that lets him put things in their places. Me, I forget EVERYTHING. I mean, I barely remember yesterday. 6th grade? I think I spent that in a place with a lot of kids… ? I guess that means I’m always looking forward because I have no CLUE what’s happened before…..

    • C.D. says:

      I’m so sorry you and your husband have to deal with this. But I sympathize – as forward-looking as this post is, I’m still very much in the process of conquering my memories. I think I got lucky for a couple of reasons:
      1) I got diagnosed with depression very early in my life (I mean, comparatively)
      2) I found therapists very quickly.
      4) My therapists were (and are) fantastic
      5) My personality works well with therapy.
      So our current institutional methods of dealing with mental health issues work really well for me. But that’s luck more than it is anything else.


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