It was not quite a typical “quarantine birthday” as I was determined to avoid that, despite knowing that it would be different this year due to Covid. I experienced eating in an outdoor igloo for the first time, and my best friend and I made our own fun out of playing We’re Not Really Strangers and doing a photoshoot (with a bit of bubbly involved). The day itself initially felt weird, waking up to the last year of my twenties and doing my best to fight off the anxiety that comes with trying to have reasonable expectations.
My birthday has always meant a lot to me, and up until recently have been uncomfortable with sharing why. Living with a chronic condition, I’ve often gone along to get along for the sake of not being an inconvenience (at best) and not wanting to to bear the frustration of those around me (at worst). That’s only the tip of the iceberg, but it boils down to a birthday being the one day out of the year where I could vocalize what I wanted and how I wanted it. It’s a common attitude there’s some extra emphasis when you have this self-imposed standard to be the easy child. The selfless person. The compassionate one. Whether or not I have been, or if others would see it that way, is another story.
It might have been the pandemic itself, or it might have been the gradual unfolding of 2020. Regardless, the desire to advocate for myself has been steadily growing and getting louder. I’ve alluded to it in previous writings, but learning and putting it into practice truly is a process. Carrying weight that isn’t mine, and taking responsibility when I don’t have to is a trauma response. Deconstructing and choosing differently involves a lot of grace, perseverance, and trying and trying again.
Self-advocacy is a huge step, especially when you’ve spent most of your life asking for assistance of some kind. The need to be helped and the need to be heard can coexist, and should never be transactional. I’ve known this in theory, but overthinking has often gotten the best of me. One of the biggest challenges of this pandemic is having to sit with my feelings, wading through what requires deeper reflection, and what requires letting go of. It’s hard when I’m hurting or frustrated and can’t just go be with people, or seek out adventure on a whim due to the virus.
It’s exhausting to constantly ruminate on what to say, when to say it, and how. And the more I hold back, the more agitated I get. Of course there are times when my opinion isn’t required, and I’m aware of navigating circumstances when I’m overcome with insecurity versus confidence. There should always be a balance of considering viewpoints and feelings with pursuing self-care and things that give you joy.
It’s not about getting what I want every time, but putting something out in the open so that I’m not saturated by anxiety and resentment down the road. Even if a situation pans out differently than I’d like, at least I did my part to the best of my ability. Growing in relationships, whether with people or with God, require getting out of your head and into your heart. A wise friend once told me that rejection is better than inaction, and I haven’t forgotten that since.
There have been various small victories thus far: admitting what works and hasn’t worked when it comes to redecorating my room. Not hesitating to follow up on tentative plans if we’re still trying to figure out details. Being adamant about taking a ride-share to a dinner date because I wanted to feel more independent. Saying “because I want to” without a detailed explanation. As I publish this, I’m about to make the kind of phone call that typically has me crawling in my skin, but I’m not going to get anywhere if I don’t take initiative.
And it’s the small victories that I hope and pray will add up to breakthroughs, both personally and professionally. I’m cautiously optimistic, after having seen how everything can change and priorities can shift so quickly. But the work is still important, and necessary,
Here’s to speaking up, speaking truth, and progressing forward!