Why Are 30th and 40th Birthday Cards So Depressing?

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-sad-girl-birthday-cake-image22152115Today is an anniversary date for me. Six years ago, at the age of 24, I was diagnosed with the neuromuscular autoimmune disease, Myasthenia Gravis (MG). I had drooping eyelids, loss of balance (falling down frequently), loss of feeling in my arms and legs, dysphasia (difficulty swallowing), and difficulty speaking coherently, among other symptoms. After a harrowing two weeks in the hospital, the doctor gave me a 50/50 chance of living on October 24, 2008.  This year, I turned thirty.  With five illnesses, turning thirty is nothing short of a miracle. Recently, I struggled to find my friend Adam a birthday card  because all the cards at the store were depressing. The universal theme was: life sucks and then you die.  I noticed that all of the 40th birthday cards had a similar theme: it’s all downhill from here. Several of my friends and Fashionably ill readers have a life expectancy of thirty due to illnesses like muscular dystrophy. In certain parts of the world, the average life expectancy is forty due to the HIV/AIDS crisis. I get heartbreaking messages from parents whose teenage children are fighting to stay alive. My question is: Why do some healthy people loathe birthdays so much?  (Note: I said some—not all.)

Why Does Society Treat Birthdays Like a Burden?

No really. Why? Is it regrets? Sick people have regrets too. And some of us don’t have the luxury of time or resources (like energy and not being in pain 24/7) to fix those mistakes. Is it getting wrinkles and losing hair? Many sick people also experience changes in their appearance due to illness itself, treatments like chemo, and medications ranging from Prednisone to antidepressants. Living with chronic illness feels like we’re losing control—whether the disease is visible or invisible, the pain is physical or mental—many people often have our plans constantly interrupted, sometimes on a daily basis. As I said in my last post, I’m finally getting my life back on track after a five-year MG detour. As I wrote about previously (5 Reasons People Abandon A Sick Friend), sick people’s social lives are often disrupted.

I lost a friend with bipolar disorder (an illness I have) to suicide twelve years ago; she was seventeen.  Why does society treat another year of life like a burden, when so many of us are fighting to stay alive?  I’m not trying to preach here; I’m just genuinely confused. I would understand the gloomy greeting cards if I were buying or a “sorry that tornado swept your house away” card. I know people with diseases like lupus, fibromyalgia, primary immune deficiency syndrome (PIDS), and cancer that complain less than some of my healthy friends.

When The Planner Becomes Ill

Before I got MG, I was the planner. I threw fabulous parties. I used to host sock-hops and cook six-course meals for friends. It’s hard when the planner becomes ill; the interpersonal dynamics are reversed. This year I didn’t do much for my thirtieth birthday because I just didn’t have the energy to plan anything. I kept telling my mom that all I really wanted was a New Kids on the Block birthday cake; I’ve seen some really creative NKOTB cakes online like this one. Apparently, she didn’t hear me. Last week, my friend Barbi gave me the best surprise of my life.  unnamed-1She got me concert tickets, and I got to meet New Kid on the Block, Jordan Knight after the show! I’ve only loved him since 1989. That night, fellow NKOTB fans kept asking me if it was my birthday. It wasn’t but it was like celebrating my birthday six months late or Christmas coming three months early. Barbi’s compassion and generosity blessed me. Her boyfriend, Jeff, and a mutual friend, Ellen, helped execute this surprise. Yes, being sick sucks and things often don’t turn out the way we planned. But sometimes, when we least expect it, special happens.

–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno

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JessicaGimeno

Hi, I have five illnesses--bipolar disorder, myasthenia gravis (neuromuscular autoimmune disease), polycystic ovarian syndrome, asthma, and psoriasis. Most of the organs in my body are affected. I'm dedicated to being a stylist for sick women. As someone who has experienced changes in my appearance due to my 12 meds (including Prednisone), I know how hard it can be when your face and body change overnight. (In fact, because of treatment, between 2008 to 2010, I went from a size 0 to a size 10. While I lost the weight, there are permanent changes in my face and body, which I've grown to appreciate.) My blog will also help women deal with other issues like surviving chronic pain and fatigue. Healthy people can also use this blog as a window into what life with illness is like. Let this website be a place where we can draw strength from each other despite our illnesses and find solutions to our everyday challenges!

6 thoughts on “Why Are 30th and 40th Birthday Cards So Depressing?

  • October 8, 2014 at 9:43 pm
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    Unappreciative and youth obsessed culture? My cousins death at 31 from cancer gave me a new appreciation for aging and taking every year as a blessing. I personally have enjoyed the 30s more than I did the 20s and I hear a lot of people saying that. Its crazy to think that people would create depressing cards for persons who are just 30 and 40 years old. It may be worst in some countries. I remember rolling my eyes as my British friends I met online were depressed because they’d turned like 25.

    Reply
    • October 8, 2014 at 9:57 pm
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      Hey Allen! Nice to see your comments on my blog. You’re right; we do have a youth-obssessed culture! I’m sorry to hear about your cousin, but losing a loved one at a young age can really change one’s perspective on life. We should have more happy cards–someone suggested 90210-themed 30th bday cards! I would love that..or NKOTB themed cards, obviously. In first-world countries, we take so much for granted that developing countries wish they had–vaccines, clean water, and life itself. Glad to hear about your perspective.

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      • October 10, 2014 at 4:40 pm
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        Thanks for commenting back! Thanks for starting this site. Thanks for providing relevant information for people with illness and information on how to treat those with illnesses. Yes it does change your perspective, she did not get to have the years that I have had. What would she have done with this time. It also makes you think to make the most of today, as my mom says tomorrow isn’t promised. 90210 was one of the shows I really liked growing up. You’d better start the Super Happy cards business or I will :p!

        Reply
  • October 10, 2014 at 9:15 pm
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    Hi, I am 37 and suffer with bipolar and my only friend as of right now is my mother. I to know how it feels to have EVERY friend dessert you once being diagnosed. I’m sorry your going through what you are going through and bipolar does not even compare… but please believe me when I say I just hate this feeling of like a Flipping wierdo when I’m not!!!!

    Reply
    • October 10, 2014 at 9:18 pm
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      Hey Billie! I’m sorry to hear what you’ve been through. though some friends have left, many have stayed. That’s part of why I started this blog and our Facebook page so people can build each other up: https://www.facebook.com/fashionablyill Thanks for being brave in sharing part of your story. I’m sure you’re not a weirdo. I’m going to post a new article in like 15 minutes–my next blog post is about bipolar disorder and my last depressive episode. Hope you like it, Jessica

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    • October 11, 2014 at 12:55 am
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      Hello Billie, thanks for sharing your story. I’m no expert but reading what you said it sounds like the issue was with them and not with you. Nobody asks to be bi polar. My aunt is bi polar and I find those people that can’t grasp and acclimate themselves to that notion to be the weird ones. Its great that you have a friend mom. Have you ever considered a support group?

      Reply

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