What It’s Like to Be 33 in This Age of Anxiety
There is no blueprint for what happens next when a Black, goal-oriented, Type A, self-injuring, bulimic turns one year older
I have a confession: I hate my birthday.
This year, July slid past me with the efficacy of a pickpocket: after it was long gone, I realized that something precious was taken from me. When the month of August arrived, I could feel the dread literally choking me, and I had a hard time eating — the hunger distracts me from my feelings and I thought that all of my years of therapy would somehow insulate me from this outsized feeling of self-loathing. The anxiety that comes with my actual birthday is enough to send me spiraling and in the week leading up to the big day, the tension is so high that I randomly start sobbing.
“What is the point of celebrating the struggle,” I say as a scroll through my Instagram feed, scanning through polished, filtered versions of someone else’s reality. I understand that some of this photography is a fantasy, but I can’t stop myself from looking.
I have no problem telling my actual age, although I know that is a ruler that people often use to measure my worth.
I guard the date the way Rumpelstiltskin concealed his name. People who would say we have been friends for nearly a decade don’t know the date, because the only thing worse then forced acknowledgement is the potential, or the feeling, of being forgotten. “Fuck off, Facebook,” I mutter under my breath when it prompts me to change the audience able to see my birth date from “only me” to “friends,” and later asks me if I want to ask for donations to the charity of my choice in lieu of gifts. Now along with feeling like the Grinch, the platform makes me feel like a miser.
It has pretty much always been this way — the trepidation, the buildup, the disappointment, and the shame. As a child, my birthday arrived during a busy time. Wedged between the end of harvest, and tax-free weekend, but right before the start of school, everybody was short on time and worried about money. In my twenties, I used to spend the day in bed, comforter over my head, dreading the…