Unhappy birthday to me

The 24 yearly hours marking the date when I was born are a torment to me. I get an uncontrollable sorrow, a desire to be away from everything and everyone. I do not answer phones, and whatever attempts a smiling are clearly seen as an effort. It is not ridiculous to say that I am slightly moody. I have my tempers but what happens on the 31 March defies any kind of rationality. I have been lectured, analysed, tried to be talked out of it. Yet, anxiety soars. The worst is the cake and the song. They are triggers in my eyes, giving me a loud GO for sobbing.


Ritual image, a few years ago. Photo courtesy of Neil Scott

Yet, I do try to exorcise this feeling as much as possible. In January/February, I make my master students organise a birthday party for me a their project management training brief. A surprise party is my biggest fear. I have had gatherings, of course, but these were safely outside of the dreaded date and controlled to the last detail. I do tell myself, towards the end of March, that this year will be different, that things are better than ever, that it is only a day like any other. Yet, the repressed, in the form of a compulsion to repeat, returns.

The best description of what overcomes is grief, mourning. What I feel is peculiarly similar to loosing someone, to arriving at the understanding that we are not going to see them ever, ever, ever again, no matter how much we try or want. Let us see where this takes me by looking at the source of mourning.


Photo courtesy of Neil Scott

The first point of call could be a lost year, another one. But this does not ring true. I look much younger than I am, pathetically so. I still get asked for ID regularly (and not only in the US) and my facial features have caused me some troubles in terms of authority at work. I have never considered getting old. It is a thought that rarely occurs to me consciously and in relation to myself.

Is it a trauma, then? A childhood trauma related to a birthday? Admittedly, I never liked the damned day. my mother was horrified of inviting many children home for a party so I had to put up with the next door neighbour, who was born the same date as me, and her 3 brothers. They were neighbours, not friends, or crushes, or cool people. Every year we would rotate the place of the party: our house, their house. The same building. And then there was the year when we were going to celebrate with Gran and everybody departed, inadvertently leaving me locked at home. A party without me. These trifles, however, are like those in any child’s history, I presume. They are not hidden, or repressed. I vividly remember and the provoke the same amount of cringing as of laughter.

Again, I am not getting anywhere, although this may be the key. Fréderic Declercq’s paper at the 2007 APCS conference, argued that the difference between anxiety and fear is the fact that fear has a known cause whereas anxiety does not. He made us look at examples within Freud’s Little Hans and it was quite humourous to see that his Lacanian approach provoked both anxiety and fear in the audience. Fear is understandable, anxiety is irrational, as the cause is not known. It always takes one by surprise and attempts at dealing with it are easily overcome by the overwhelming feeling. It is not impossible to find a cause for it, though, ir to construct it in order to work though the feeling but it will require many hours on the couch, as the knot is tangled. Very tangled. Today, more than ever, I miss Dr Sh—.