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Mental Health

I’m Turning 21 Next Week. Why Do Birthdays Make Me Happy and Sad?

I’m currently writing this article on November 9, 2021. This means that tomorrow I will officially be 21 years old. That itself is totally frightening. I mean, not only am I going to be 21, but I am a senior in college. I am not totally sure how this day has snuck up so fast on me.

It feels like only yesterday that I was learning how to tie my shoes from my next-door neighbor, eagerly making a long list for Santa, petrified before the first day of middle school, going to my senior prom, and even starting college here at UMass Amherst. And now, to be honest, I have never felt so old and overwhelmed in my life. Now, despite this birthday being labeled as probably one of my most exciting days, there is no doubt that I will shed some tears tomorrow. 

I don’t know if it’s only me and I am completely insane or if there is someone else out there that can relate to what I’m feeling, but I’m pretty certain that almost every year since I turned around 16 or 17 I have cried on my birthday. I know, it sounds crazy. I was never really fully able to pinpoint a reason why I cry every year, but I think it came to the realization that growing up kind of just sucks. It’s exciting, of course, to celebrate your birthday and be surrounded by your family, friends, and loved ones. But then somehow, there is a point in the day when the silence can creep in. It’s sudden and without warning really and all of a sudden you are sitting there thinking about what you would give to be turning 5 again.

When I was 5, I didn’t know half of the real world. I didn’t know real sadness, pain, anger, guilt, resentment, heartbrokenness, and even grief. All those scary things that a child is naive to become real each year you get older. It used to frustrate me every year when I would start to feel a little glum and I just tried to tell myself to have fun and live in the moment. But, I guess I have always been one of those people that saw each year as a ticking clock and every addition just meant more responsibilities. It meant becoming an adult, moving out, moving away, feeling lonely, providing for yourself, and dealing with the everyday worries of adulthood. It also meant that I could never rewind that clock and go back to when I was a kid, when the world didn’t seem as scary and vast. 

I feel slightly different this year though. I think this year gave me the insight I needed to understand and recognize my sad and happy feelings every birthday. I know that I will still feel a little sad, but I realized that there is grace in getting older. There is an appreciation and admiration that comes with adding a year.

I have learned that every birthday that passes should be gifted with gratitude and love. All of those terrifying things I mentioned earlier that no one felt at 5, well, as sad as they truly are, they are needed to be felt in order to appreciate and recognize true happiness. I am grateful to be on Earth another year. I have another chance at becoming a better version of myself. I will achieve my goals and experience beautiful things in the process. Not everyone makes it to 21. So, appreciate every year you get older and do the best you can to make the most of that year. But don’t be fooled, it is still okay to get a little sad on your birthday night. 

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Katie Hagearty

U Mass Amherst '22

Katie Hagearty is a senior at UMass Amherst with a major in communication disorders and minors in education and psychology. She hopes to become a speech pathologist one day and work with children. Katie has a passion and love for fashion, beauty, current events, and writing. She is eager to be involved in the Her Campus chapter at Umass as an outlet to write and reach others with her words and creativity.
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