I think one of the most optimal moments during one’s lifetime for truly feeling sorry for oneself must be upon reaching the 39th birthday. First, it’s that number 39 - not big enough to announce a big party or anything – yet somehow big enough to make you feel really down. Your 39th birthday is basically a reminder that if there was somewhere or someone you wanted to be by the time you are 40 – it’s probably not going to happen now.
Yesterday was my 39th birthday. On the eve of my birthday, I was watching my favourite comedian, Stewart Lee, on Netflix. For years now, my husband and I have been trying to get tickets to see Stewart Lee perform live in London – but like so many things, it just hasn’t happened. As if by divine intervention, the comedy routine that I randomly selected to watch on the eve of my insignificant and most likely unmemorable birthday, was the one he did about being a 45-year-old vasectomised, functioning alcoholic, father of two. A man who dreams of being forgotten alone in a hospital corridor for a while longer, so that no one can wake him up to have an argument with him.
As funny as it is to watch, it is somehow difficult to fully get on board with this extreme form of self-pity. Stewart Lee is my favourite comedian, not just because he makes me laugh, but because he hates a lot of the same stuff that I also hate (for instance the Top Gear presenters, certain members of the Conservative Party and dog poo). It got me thinking, why is it that sometimes it’s easier to get behind someone hating others, but not someone hating themselves? And, is self-pity ever okay?
Growing up we are taught that self-pity is not just bad, it is a mortal sin. It is a crippling, pointless feeling that you should always resist – because it is ultimately incredibly selfish. You should always remember that there are people out there with real problems– and one day, that could be you. So you should fight the urge to feel sorry for yourself. Or at least save it for the day you will have some of these real problems too. Should always try focussing on all the good things in your life and be grateful for them.
True. But then growing up, we also look forward to our birthdays - then gradually less so. Until eventually it can become a day that you truly wish did not exist.
Did you know that you are statistically more likely to die on your birthday? Research has shown that you are more likely to have an accident or commit suicide. So you could argue that feeling sorry for yourself on your birthday is not only bad and selfish – it can be dangerous.
But here is a different perspective: could allowing self-pity (just momentarily) be good for your psyche, so long as you establish clear boundaries? I see this consistent with other simple tips towards having a happy and healthy lifestyle. For example, if you really feel like eating a Mars bar, go ahead, just don’t have one the next day. You should get to do what you want on your birthday. And if you choose to feel sorry for yourself, you should do just that. Just try not to do it on any of the other days in the year.
So I gave it a really good go yesterday. Rather than fighting the birthday blues, I gave in to viewing everything through the melancholy stained lenses of self-pity. The day started promisingly. I had a sore throat and a headache.
Nothing, of course, is better at fueling birthday self-pity than all your friends and family forgetting your birthday. Facebook, in addition to its various other crimes, tries to deprive us from our right to a good honest birthday blues. It does this by announcing to pretty much everyone you know that it is your birthday today – so that even people that you barely know would post cheerful greetings in your timeline. Well, you can get ahead of facebook in this game by changing your settings to hide your date of birth. So of course I’ve done just that.
It works like a charm every year. Pretty much no one remembered my birthday yesterday (okay, my mom did). I could assume that people forgetting my birthday is due to people becoming reliant on facebook to provide them with these birthday reminders? But I could also choose to assume that it was because most of my friends and family simply don’t care about me anymore. Or perhaps I had offended them all in some way that I am too stupid to even understand? Yea let’s go with the last two, I decided.
If any of those people read my blog (which they probably won’t) then they can all be reminded of what bad, bad people they all are (…but just in case you do read this, I am obviously joking here!)
My husband made me breakfast. I could have just thought: “what a lovely gesture”. Or I could focus on the fact that he had made my eggs “the Heston Blumenthal style”. Just to clarify, some of us like soft-boiled eggs, not me, but I have no judgement if you do. But the way Mr Blumenthal (OBE) advises people to boil eggs should, quite frankly, make whoever gave him the Michelin stars feel ashamed of themselves. This technique results in the eggshell getting stuck onto the egg white in a way that makes it impossible to remove the shell. So first you are forced to peel of the healthiest part of the egg and throw it away with the shell, while the whole time feeling nervous about the hot, soft egg yolk exploding on your hand. What’s truly unforgivable, is that the little bit of egg white you are left with, is also soft.
Almost certainly my husband would have forgotten my birthday too, but I have learned to remind him, because you cannot have enough space for proper self-pity unless someone helps you with the kids for at least part of the day. So after convincing myself that there is no one left in this world who cares about me, I went back to bed exaggerating my cold symptoms. I allowed myself to feel really sorry for myself, to the point that I was absolutely disgusted with myself.
But would I still recommend this to others from time to time? Absolutely. Today I feel positively rejuvenated.
Self-pity is a terrible, destructive force if you allow it to take over. It can totally destroy you and make the life of everyone around you unbearable. But we are all capable of it. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, it’s part of being human. So the way I deal with it, is by acknowledging its presence and inviting it for a brief visit, just for one day every year. If for no other reason, then to remind me, why I should try to avoid this feeling as much as possible for the rest of the year.
Perhaps trained psychologists would disagree with my approach. But I think all advice, no matter how educated, is best treated with some caution if it goes against whatever works in your own experience. After all, in my personal experience, you cannot even trust the best chef in England to advise you on how to boil an egg.