real life

'I let a myth ruin several of my birthdays. This year, I lived by a brand new rule.'

This article was originally published in The Lonely Girls Guide newsletter. You can subscribe, right here. 

Right up until 21, I used to love celebrating my birthday. I loved going out with friends, I loved being doted on and I loved growing up. 

Leading up to my 22nd birthday, something felt off. Suddenly, I was listening to friends complain about getting old. No one wanted to turn 22 (besides Taylor Swift) and more importantly, no one seemed to want to celebrate anymore. 

I soon realised that no one cared about my birthday as much as I did. But because I’m a huge fan of being part of cultural shifts, I also decided to do nothing for my birthday.  

I was out having lunch with two friends who had also recently celebrated their birthdays and were sticklers for the "Oh I hate my birthday, I did nothing" rule. Finally, I could join in. When they asked me how I celebrated I said with a proud smile "Oh nothing, I hate celebrating my birthday :)".

When I asked them the question back one of them said, "Oh I did nothing as well, my boyfriend just got me flowers and took me out to lunch".

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(I’m sorry what?).

And then the other one replied, "Same, I didn’t do anything either. My partner just cooked dinner for me and we watched movies on the couch."

Ohhhhhh okay. This makes sense now. 

So the only people who say they hate celebrating their birthday, just have inbuilt people to celebrate them with. Got it. After finding out this annoyingly late news (R.I.P. my 22nd birthday), I knew that I had to be my own person. So I was back on the celebration wagon the next year. 

I had a huge 23rd birthday. I invited everyone I knew, got super drunk at 9.30pm in a bar and then had a two hour anxiety attack in a bathroom cubicle. Not fun. I had to sleep with my mum for three months after that night. I’m not entirely sure what triggered it (we haven’t got to that part in my therapy sessions) but I think I was so desperate to not be lonely that I thought surrounding myself with people would cure it? It didn’t. 

Fast forward to last year. Sorry to say it, but COVID-19 was a saviour (to me and my egotistical needs). I didn’t do anything for my birthday because I literally couldn’t do anything for my birthday. It was the best. 

And then I had another anxiety attack. 

Listen to Emily Vernem on the Undone, Mamamia's podcast for people in their 20s. Post continues below.

After my 24th, I knew I couldn’t keep going like this. I love celebrating my birthday. I love doing whatever I want. I hate getting asked what my plans are. So this year I did something that was very off brand for me. I went away. By myself. Read those last sentences again but in a dramatic way thank you.  

I booked an isolated tiny home in the countryside for two nights and literally did whatever I wanted to do. I cooked, I ate, I read, I wrote (this newsletter actually), I woke up at 6am to watch the sunrise then had a nap at 9am, I set off the smoke alarm (Kylie [owner of the Airbnb] if you’re reading this, I’m sorry), I went on a naked bushwalk (do not recommend), I went skinny dipping (also do not recommend when the temperature is below five degrees), I cut myself a little birthday cake, blew out the candle and didn’t wish for anything. 

I had the best birthday of my life. And then I had dinner with my parents and my best friend (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, the egotistical needs had to be met). 

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Spending my birthday completely alone made me realise that I have to be the person who looks out for me. 

Sure, it helps to have people around you to make you feel great. The cousins who console you in the bathroom cubicle, the friends who never ask what you’re doing for your birthday and instead book you in for a dinner, the parents who make you feel like you’re God’s greatest gift to earth (I think this is an Indian thing, but it’s definitely true), but this iso-trip away made me realise that I’m not living a throwaway life. 

This birthday was the first time I genuinely loved myself and was really excited to celebrate myself. Ageing is just another way to say that you’re learning to live better.

Here’s to 25.

This article was originally published in The Lonely Girls Guide newsletter. You can subscribe, right here.