I remember the first time someone accused me of being fretful. It was at a journalism conference in college. I was heading up a committee and my co-leader and I were working late into the night trying to finish some bureaucratic task. I chafed at being told to stop fretting, that everything would be fine. Such a musty, Victorian word, I thought. I wasn’t a handwringing worrier, was I?
Oh, how times have changed.
Yesterday was my birthday. I spent more or less the whole day fretting, as I do every year. I tried to remember a birthday that didn’t involve crying and I realized I’d probably have to go back to my early teen years. As an adult, birthdays have been, as a rule, depressing and unmemorable and it’s not for the reasons you’d think. I don’t particularly care about presents or acknowledgements, or people making a big fuss. A surprise party would likely give me a panic attack. Nope, it’s that my brain fixates on November 22 as the date on which I should take an annual inventory of my life in the most unflinching manner possible. Every year, I come up short. There is no list of achievements, accomplishments or milestones that will satisfy my mind. Some years, I fixate on career success, others, it’s character flaws. This year, it was gnawing loneliness. I feel it acutely and I feel like I can’t get away from it and I certainly haven’t put a dent in it from last year.
Every Nov 22, I vow not to arrive at the next one in the same condition. And while I do make progress on some fronts (have my own company, don’t live with my parents), it never feels like enough and my brain never quite lets me forget what I haven’t accomplished in the last 12 months. It’s not self-pity, it’s self-recrimination. So, now, when the day rolls around, I simply brace myself to be soaked by a steady drizzle of mental discomfort. I try to be gracious about birthday well wishes, but there’s no polite way to tell people you’re trying to ignore the day without sounding as if you’re nursing a high-maintenance martyr complex. Oh, plans? Does sitting in the tub thinking about how I suck at life count? Because it’s kind of an annual tradition. Yes, going out for drinks and cake DOES sound better. Maybe next year.
It’s an unseemly practice that I just can’t seem to shake. Another year older and deeper in fret.