Just Another Day

Today is my thirty-first birthday.

I will spend it alone.

I don’t say this to elicit sympathy; simply to highlight an all too common reality for those who are housebound through old age or illness.

The only person I will see today is an agency carer, who won’t know it is my birthday unless I tell them. They will wish me a happy day if I do, but I probably won’t, because a prompted happy birthday is hardly better than no happy birthday at all.

The meal that I eat will be the same as I always eat: the carers’ cooking skills aren’t up to much and they simply don’t have the time, inclination or skill to make something special. In the past I would buy cake or chocolates, but these things are only special with someone to share them with.

Of course my birthday will not pass completely unnoticed: my parents will phone up later, Facebook will remind friends to message me and the postman may bring me a couple of cards. Some housebound people, the elderly in particular, will not even have this much contact.

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. It is the sole means by which I learn of the lives of most friends, but seeing photos of friends on their own special days – birthdays and holidays and nights on the town – makes being alone substantially harder. I see empty spaces in photos where I ought to be and wonder if friends still feel the hole as keenly as I do. I suspect that after all these years they probably don’t. I compare their crowded albums with the emptiness of mine and dream of a day when my own Facebook page will be full of smiling faces too.

I tell myself that today is just another day like any other – wash face, brush teeth, change clothes, eat meals and survive until bedtime – but somehow today the usual pep-talk just doesn’t cut it. I cope from day to day by not dwelling on the life that I’m missing out on, but on days of celebration it is hard not to compare my current life with the lives of other people. Sometimes I worry that I look at the world through rose-tinted glasses and have unrealistic expectations of what a ‘normal’ life would be. It is not the presents and parties that I miss however, but the sight of precious friends with hugs, and smiles.

I am lucky that of twenty-one birthdays and Christmases that have past since the start of my illness, only five of those days have been spent alone. My mum often travels hundreds of miles to make sure that I won’t spend my birthday alone. I am grateful that she is willing to do this but embarrassed and ashamed that (at my lofty age) she should still be having to.

Every year on this day the Mask of Wellness slips for a couple of hours and I can no longer pretend that I am okay with what my life has become. Another birthday means another year lost to this illness, a year spent alone, unable to do things that I once took for granted.

But when I finally stop comparing my life with the life that I wanted, and look back at my darkest times instead I realise how far I’ve come since the days of life-threatening relapse.

Today I will sit out of bed, eat solid food and watch television; things that were impossible dreams just a few years ago. With that in mind, it seems that today I have a lot to be thankful for, as well as the hope of many happy and healthier returns to come.

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30 Responses to Just Another Day

  1. Juliette Wills says:

    Beautifully written. I completely understand the love/hate relationship with Facebook; I feel like I’m in a black and white silent movie while everyone else’s world is in glorious 3D technicolour. It’s come to the point that friends’ smug (and constant) Instagram uploads serve to make me feel even more dreadful and useless than I do already; that constant reminder that your life is one big epic fail while theirs are rich and fulfilled. It actually makes me angry.
    For what it’s worth, I’d like to wish you a happy birthday. As happy as it can be, anyway. Your writing is incredible, and I’m saying that as an author.

    • Thank you so much for your kind compliment. It means a lot coming from a published writer. Someone sent me a link to your Daily Mail article on chronic illness a short while ago and it was interesting to read about your own experiences and how you have dealt with them. Although our diagnoses are very different there was a lot of things I identified with as I’m sure is the case for many conditions.

  2. joynpain2 says:

    I truly know how you feel and I’m sorry. In my case, however, I was not alone but no one even Sid a Happy Birthday except for my boyfriend…and that is all he said. No presents, no cake, no flowers. I truly don’t need all of that, but something small, like a single cupcake or a single rose to show the celebration of my life means something….nothing. Just a simple, “oh yeah, happy birthday”.

    Well, darling I am wishing you a very Happy Birthday and if I were anywhere near where you are, we would celebrate, even if it were sitting still with a single cupcake. I believe that lives should be celebrated, not passed over like an ordinary day. Especially for those of us with chronic illness who all too often question why we’re still here. I truly believe that someone might surprise you especially with you still having a mom.

    Please try to have a good day, but in case nothing extraordinary happens, then you still have a working mind and can imagine how your day would go if it were up to you. Daydream until you reach that happiness that you deserve on this special day!

  3. nicolanoo says:

    Happy birthday, I hope you have a lot of happier and healthier returns to come too. I like the positive attitude that you have and talk about in this post, It makes me smile.

  4. teeks55 says:

    I am wishing you a good day for your birthday. I hope something good happens, something unexpected that will make you smile. xoxoxo Happy Birthday.

  5. This illness is shit, and you have been hit much worse than me so I won’t even attempt to compare us, especially not on your birthday. But I do wish you a good day and hope the sun is shining in the window of your living room, the food you eat is hot, the carer smiles, your seat is comfortable and you smile at yourself, because you are a fighter, a survivor in a world of chaos. As we say in Irish “Lá Breithlá Shona Duit”, Happy birthday. xx

    • Thank you. The sun was shining albeit briefly. The chair became far more comfortable when I removed the remote control I hadn’t spoitted before I sat down. The carer was someone I’ve known for a while: we had a nice chat and she offered to go to the chippy. All’s well with the world.

      • Bunny says:

        Aw, glad you had a nice chat. Sometimes that can make a world of difference, not just for us sickies but for anyone feeling alone, forgotten or just over burdened. Happy Birthday! I love love love your blog. I think it’s very important to be able to express our conflicted and very real feelings and experiences. It will only help ligitimise the suffering of those with CFS/ME and to create more awareness that will hopefully help lead to more funding for research. Keep talking, or more appropriately, keep writing! Again, Happy Birthday!!

  6. I have so much empathy for you. I know how you feel. I won’t diminish your feelings with any platitudes.

    I do want to say that I found a wonderful group on line. I will send you the link when I get home from vacation. It starts out as a class on coping with FM. They explain how pacing can help us and many other things. Then when the class is over, there is what they call an alumni group. This group has saved my life. It is people just like me who are going through what I am. The class is $25, and the group after is free. The site was started by a doctor who has CFS.

    Hang in there.

  7. drgnflie says:

    Totally understand <3. Happy birthday! And never give up.

  8. E. Milo says:

    Happy birthday! Now on my birthdays, I really celebrate: I think, hell yes, I lived another year! I dream of living to a ripe old age, so, every year is another victory. But, I don’t have any celebration other than that anymore. And I miss Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas.. Being ill and having no money and being on restricted diets and not being able to handle company definitly puts a damper on holidays. You are such a wonderful writer and have a warrior’s spirit. I’m happy you were born!!

    • Thank you. I’m glad you find ways to celebrate your own birthdays. I have often found small ways to celebrate other occasions even if it is only sausages and candles on bonfire night or wearing green socks on St Patrick’s day and an England shirt on St George’s day.

  9. Miss P says:

    Happy Birthday for yesterday. x.
    I hope with every birthday you are able to look back on the year before & see an improvement in your health. :O)

  10. dawnhosking says:

    Happy birthday — I empathise. I do. (((hugs)))

  11. Bunny says:

    Ah, yes, the torturous elements of Facebook. I know it all too well. As I came into my 40’s, I found seeing pics of friend’s children utterly painful. At first this reaction shocked me. It was surprising and just gut wrenching to grieve the loss of family I will never have. Never even knew I would feel this way until I read about a high school reunion and I found myself crying as I read about people’s children. It was something I never even had time to think of, having children. I was too busy “working” at surviving, researching, figuring out how to pay bills and trying to get well. I find myself grieving different losses at different times. I think it’s so important to respect our very real losses like you do and also like you said to realize what we do have to celebrate, like a warm bed, a roof overhead, etc.

    I know this isn’t well written but just wanted to join in this relevant conversation. Thank you for sharing your story hon. I know it’s not the same as seeing faces and being with friend, but we are here with you in spirit and we do understand.

    Hugs.

    • Thank you for your contribution. The grief of chronic illness takes many forms and the issue of children is one that affects very many of us. No matter how often people tell me there is still time for me to have family, every year that passes while I am still housebound is a year closer to having to accept that I may never be a mum. Many sufferers who do have children grieve that they cannot be the kind of parents their children need or deserve. I hope you continue to find ways to recognise and accept your loses while finding other things in life to celebrate and cherish.

  12. Claire says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. You have lost so much and it is right to grieve. Well done for your honesty about your sadness, but also about coping and moving past the pain. Happy Birthday.

  13. Curiosity says:

    This sounds so vividly close to my own experience in so many ways. Happy Birthday to you. Thank you for putting my thoughts into words.

  14. Pingback: Moving my shoulders, ever so slightly « Emotional Umbrella

  15. I hope your birthday went as well as it could, I hope you were happy and did something YOU wanted to do — write, read a book, watch a movie –that YOU enjoyed.
    I understand so much of this post, for more reasons than will fit in this comment space.
    But I am wishing you un-prompted birthday happiness, enjoy as much as you can, and know that others are thinking of you and wishing you all the best.

  16. hayley-eszti says:

    I have just clicked on your link thanks to the lovely Elizabeth on Rag and Bone Shop Of The Heart, and I hope we can become blogger friends. I am so sorry you had to spend your Birthday alone. Special occasions are always difficult when you can´t really celebrate but even worse when you are alone. Everything you say I can totally relate to. I deleted my FB about 6 months after I first got ill because I couldn´t take seeing everyone living whilst I was just about existing. It´s a normal reaction I think. Although like you I am ever graeful for what I can do today that I couldn´t a year ago, I still have days when I want more. I hope the year of 31 years proves to be a year of bigger improvements and happiness. Lots of Love to you! Hayley-Eszti

    http://www.hayleyeszti.blogspot.co.uk

    • Thank you so much for your kind wishes. I think the Facebook dilema is one that most people in similar circumstances has to face. I only joined Facebook because it is the easiest way to keep in touch with my brothers, but if it wasn’t for that I think by now I would have had to accept that old friendships were ended and delete my account. I had a quick browse of your blog the other day and look forward to reading more of it in future.

      • E. Milo says:

        Yay, you two! Well met. I almost feel like we all just went for coffee and i got to say, “Sarah meet H-E, H-E Sarah.” 😀 big grin

  17. juliasarahelizabeth says:

    Reblogged this on Julie's Spoonful of Sugar and commented:
    Yes, our birthdays, high days, and holy days are often just another day for us as the auther of this blog so rightly states. I wish i could reach out and hug her. I can’t, but i can share her message.

  18. sarsrose says:

    My heart aches for you, but I will pray that you will sense God’s presence in your life today in a special way. You are not less valuable because you are sick, nor do you have less purpose on this earth. Praying that you will find your purpose within the constraints that you have. Happy Birthday. x

  19. I read this while I was in Hawaii. When I read it, I immediately thought of a group you might want to look into. They have some very affordable classes, three, I think, on living with FM, CFS, etc. I took the first class and it helped me immensely. After the class, there is a free alumni group that has been a huge help to me. If you are interested, you might want to check them out at
    http://www.cfidsselfhelp.org/

  20. Wow. Thanks for this. My birthday is next week. I have a partner, but I met him when I was well. My health issues have caused a huge strain on our relationship. I lost most of my friends after getting sick in 2009. I hide a lot of people in my Facebook feed, because I just get so depressed when I compare myself to them. I’ve made some new chronically ill friends from phone support groups, but I will never meet most of these people because none of us can travel. For me, a lot of the problem is that we all get the message that by a certain age we should have X, Y, and Z, and if we don’t have these things, we feel like failures, even if it’s not our fault. A lot of healthy people I’ve met complain about their lives, but I would trade with them in an instant.

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