With a milestone birthday approaching, I am unsure if I should sit politely until it is over or work on developing a time machine so I can travel to 1582 and convince Pope Gregory XIII to leave a certain date off his new calendar.
Like many people, I don’t love my birthday. It seems indulgent, narcissistic even, having a day that is all about me. Some people take it further, claiming to suffer from “fragapanophobia”: a fear of birthdays. But can you really have a birthday phobia?
Not everyone loves celebrating their birthday.Credit:Stocksy
Dr Melissa Norberg, associate professor at Macquarie University’s Centre for Emotional Health, says she has never heard of anyone experiencing a birthday phobia, noting that perhaps another disorder, such as social anxiety disorder or generalised anxiety disorder, could be a more appropriate diagnosis.
“A phobia is defined by the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition as an intense fear of specific objects or situations,” she explains.
“The fear needs to be unreasonable or excessive and negatively impact one’s life.”
Professor Ottmar Lipp of Curtin University in WA doesn’t dispute that birthday phobias can exist (“you can make up any phobia you want by pairing a Latin or a Greek root for what you want with ‘phobia’”). But he says the fear and anxiety that come with a phobia are not necessarily a bad thing.
“They are danger signals that can motivate us to do things, like run away if it’s appropriate.”
While running away from your birthday is unlikely to be a great strategy (it will just come around next year: damn you, Pope Gregory XIII), Lipp says it is vital to figure out exactly which part of your birthday is causing you stress.
“A birthday reminds us we are getting older, which isn’t something people may necessarily enjoy,” he says. “Our own mortality is something that people can be afraid of. Then there are other aspects, such as parties, where some people are not comfortable.”
While I am not great at my own party, my birthday aversion really is about the age thing. It’s about no longer being able to become a child prodigy (yes, I’ve been down on birthdays for a while), and no longer being able to remark on how “young” your friends are to be getting married or how “old” those people at the party are. It’s about ageing out of however many men’s ranges on a dating app, and being yet another year beyond eating Twisties for dinner (in theory, of course).
For Melissa Norberg, the key to tackling a birthday phobia could be placing yourself in similar circumstances: engaging in social situations, if that is the source of your fear, or even celebrating other occasions if you hate the pressure of having a special day.
“Excessive anxiety not only leads people to avoid situations that the individual believes will cause harm, but it often also leads them to avoid positive, fulfilling activities that help improve their quality of life,” Norberg says.
If a birthday is causing you an inordinate amount of stress, Lipp suggests not celebrating it, or just “enjoying it the way you would like to enjoy it”, be that with family and friends, or even alone. Although, if the fear is really affecting your life, it is probably not something to ignore.
“A trained psychologist or counsellor can certainly help you if you are afraid of getting older and it impairs your life to the extent that you can’t do the things you want to do,” Lipp says. “But, unfortunately, we can’t do anything about the fact you’re getting older.”
Nor should they want to. Ageing is a privilege denied to many, as the saying goes. And we work hard to get there, too. A solid 365 days (366 in some years) of work.
Perhaps when I wake up on my birthday this year I’ll try to remember that I’m not really a year older. Just a day.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and Sunday Age on sale October 14.
Source: Read Full Article