The birthday ennui monster

I’m not good with my birthday.


Other people’s birthdays – absolutely. I am there for all your birthday cake making, present wrapping, champagne/whisky drinking needs. I can sing, dance, and cheer with the best of them.


But my own birthday is none of those things.


My birthday is best spent curled on the couch pretending it doesn’t exist. Last year, I went out for breakfast with friends and danced to Eurovision and the Irish election in my living room. That was the best birthday I’d had in years….


I suffer from birthday ennui.


For some reason, the onset of turning another year older brings out every neuroses I have about what I’ve accomplished. And it’s never ever ever enough.


Of course it’s also not realistic, at all. Neuroses rarely is.


I know this.

Intellectually, I know this.

Emotionally, I wonder why I haven’t found a secure job, bought a little apartment with space for Laks, turned my phd into the pop-soc book idea I have in my head, gone overseas not-for-work, met a wonderful partner, read the pile of books I keep on buying, and learned how to make a proper poached egg.

Before, I also included writing a novella but I finished it earlier this year so now it’s become about editing it, submitting it, trying to get it published.


The point of the Birthday Ennui Monster is that it entirely ignores everything I’ve ever achieved: the things I’ve finished, the words I’ve written, the incredible people and animals in my life, my ability to make a home anywhere in the world, the fact that I’ve had people help me move house for my quadruple chocolate cake because it really is that good.

That’s not the point of the Monster at all.


As much as I fight it and dissect it and rage against it, birthday ennui is grounded in the fact that my life is not traditional – although lord knows what that means anymore. My life does not look like the life many others my age have – that I thought I’d have at this age – that I grew up being told was the life worth having. It looks like my life and I’m immensely proud of it but – sometimes in the middle of the night when it is dark and I realise how far away I am from all the animals and people I love – sometimes I wish it were a little more…certain.

Sometimes I wish there was more opportunity to be still, to think about things and to create, because these get lost in the need to always write applications for new jobs, to move and shift when work requires, to say yes, to keep on churning out whatever deadline is next. In always starting again, I’m not sure I’ve ever had any proper endings.

I’ve been talking to friends about this – how uncertainty leads us into circular conversations we keep on repeating. Our plans for the future have shifted in searches for stability. In the work contracts we hope for: although stability now is found in 2 or 3 year contracts, not a permanent job, that feels like too much a dream. But stability also in who we work with – people who we can trust with drafts of ideas and who will give us time to think something through when there is time available.

It’s this precious thing – time. A privileged thing. And the jobs and people who offer it feel akin to finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.


The Birthday Ennui Monster goes away after a few days – after I’ve worked through the impossibility of achieving everything ever and written lists to help bring focus on the things that are achievable. The Monster brings spotlight to what I want to do in the coming year. These are all good things in the end. I just wish the Birthday Ennui Monster would also think to bring cake.

The days are long but the years are short

I have a string of brown prayer beads I wear on my wrist a lot of days. They were given to me by a Buddhist monk I began chatting with while hopelessly lost wandering about in Montreal.

My ability to get hopelessly lost in any given place really is a spectacular talent.

We talked about Buddhism and the mindfulness in being lost when you allow yourself to just be in the place where you are – as well as directions back to the place I was meant to be.

He gave me the beads as a reminder to be present wherever I am.


And they do give me moments of mindfulness (when I remember to take a second and breathe) – to the point where the string is on its last legs. Poor beads.


Having moments to be mindful this week feel important. So much is going on around me, so much I don’t know, so I’m being mindful about being mindful. I’m trying to focus on the good others are doing, the small good I can help with, and how it can be made better and stronger.


In all of this, I came back reading ‘The Happiness Project’. I read this last year but it resonates differently now, as any book does on a re-reading. And right now this is playing in my head:


‘The days are long but the years are short.’


But I’m wondering how much that statement is privilege though. Not that the writer meant it to be – in her context it made perfect sense. In mine, it is also a relevant mantra, albeit for different reasons.

But I think it’s relevant for me for reasons of privilege.


The luck I’ve had.

The support I’ve had.

The teaching I’ve had.

I know that the days that might feel long now will pass. I’ll have more days that pass by without my thinking deeply about them or whizz by in glorious technicolour.

So many things that have very little to do with me but rather the opportunities that have come my way. I may have had my eyes and heart open to them but there’s been a lot of luck involved.


The more work I do in this field – the older I get – the more I think that our ability to cope with obstacles and challenges that, at times, can feel completely insurmountable isn’t created out of a mystical ether. It’s grounded in our past, impacted by our present, nurtured in our hope for the future. I have a tremendous family, incredible friends, amazing mentors. The mistakes I’ve made, I’ve been able to learn from. I’ve often been given room to pull myself out of darkness, time to heal. Sometimes I’ve had to fight for it. Sometimes it has seemed impossible. But the people I have learned to trust now, I know I can trust with everything.


Not everyone is so lucky. Not everyone is given help when they ask. Not everyone is given the opportunity to talk about their long days. Not everyone’s long days ate treated seriously.

I’ve been really lucky. My long days have still meant short years.


And so the string of brown beads around my wrist keeps me grounded in gratitude for all the good things in my life. All the beautiful people in my life. All my luck.