Opinion

“My birthday plans have been cancelled overnight, and now I really am done with 2020”

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Megan Murray
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With a month-long lockdown starting on Thursday, thousands of occasions and celebrations will be cancelled. Writer Megan Murray explores why this birthday meant so much and what to do in you’re feeling disappointed and frustrated, too. 

As 2020 goes, my birthday plans are pretty small fry. 

The pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of weddings and holidays, mass unemployment, and countless business closures. Most tragic, though, is the fact that Covid-19 has resulted in the deaths of well over 45,000 people in the UK alone.

So, in one of the worst years my generation has ever seen, cancelling a weekend away for my birthday really isn’t the most important thing going on in the world. At all. And yet, somehow, this small disappointment feels like a deafening blow.

We’ve all been isolated from friends, family and colleagues over the last eight months. For me, this has been difficult because my office has been closed for most of the year and I live outside the city so I have been stuck at home alone all day and too far away to meet friends after work. 

As someone who hasn’t previously struggled with their mental health, I’ve found myself dealing with long periods of low mood which has been destabilising at times.

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And so, frivolous as it may be, I was pinning a lot of hopes on going away for my birthday. I had spent a chunk of my savings on a fancy hotel for the weekend to share with my favourite people, booking it back in the summer to secure the perfect location. 

This was going to be the highlight of my year. Something to look forward to and remember, which is why I had decided to splash out on somewhere I had always dreamed of staying. After a year of doing nothing, it felt like a big deal.

Last weekend, however, the government announced that we will be going into a full, nationwide lockdown on Thursday for a month, running from 5 November to 2 December. From the worrying headlines reporting that winter is expected to far exceed the predicted “worst-case scenario” for Covid-19 cases, I knew that restrictions would need to be tightened, but I genuinely didn’t expect this to last for weeks.

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Even though I agree we should do whatever it takes to protect as many people’s health as possible, I was shocked and upset. I immediately worried about what another month inside away from the support of friends and family would do to my mindset. The vanishing excitement for my birthday and instant replacement of disappointment didn’t help either.

I tried to look on the bright side, though, and reasoned that I was lucky it wasn’t my 30th, which is next year. Unfortunately however, Stylist’s freelance commissioning editor Katy Harrington is missing out on a milestone birthday this year – her 40th. 

Her plan? Freeze time and simply refuse to accept that her birthday has happened until she can celebrate properly. She says: “I usually hate my birthday. I love other people’s but I find mine stressful and emotional. 

“This isn’t about getting older, though. In fact, for anyone who is wondering, getting older is the best thing ever. I can’t recommend it highly enough. However, the admin of planning a birthday party puts me right off, so I don’t tend to celebrate it.

“But I felt very differently about my 40th. Firstly because I’m proud – as someone who was binge drinking, chain-smoking, hard-partying 20-30 something-year-old – to have made it this far.

“Also, I doubt I’ll ever get married, the idea doesn’t really hold much meaning for me, so I wanted to go all out for 40 – rent a room somewhere and invite the ghosts of my life past, present and future to drink and dance to the music I like such as Hot Chocolate, Diana Ross, and The Four Tops. I would maybe even make an over emotive speech at midnight. Also, I wanted a dress, a really good dress.”

There'll be no parties for those born in November this year.

Harrington continues: “That plan is obviously on hold, and while it hurts a bit, my other just-turned-40 friend and I have hatched a nice little plan. For one, we have decided we are not 40 until we have a party so I’m staying 39 for a while longer. 

“Secondly, we will do all of the above, together, with some of our savings behind the bar to thank everyone for coming. It might be spring next year by the time it happens, but it will happen.

“The thought of friends, family and colleagues on the dance floor at stupid AM dancing to all the songs no one ever lets me play at their parties is such a happy thought. It gives me hope and instead of being sad I’ll turn 40 in lockdown alone I’m trying to keep it in my head as something to hope for.”

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If you’re in the same boat, it’s absolutely OK to feel upset, frustrated, disappointed and darn right pissed off that something you’ve been looking forward to has been cancelled without warning and in a way that you can’t control.

As coaching psychologist Megan Kennedy-Woodard explains to Stylist.co.uk, this is a normal response considering how helpless we’re all feeling in the face of the pandemic. “Covid-19 exposes us to the underlining and perpetual feeling of fear. Now fear doesn’t always look like fear. We aren’t necessarily hiding under our bed.

“We may be feeling impatient, angry, depressed, but for many, during this time the fear of the virus is matched with the fear of what we cannot control. Planning a party may have felt like a great antidote to this, and with the coming of a second lockdown cancelling your party feels like an even bigger blow and that is hard,” she says.

Kennedy-Woodard explains that those who have birthdays in November and have planned something special for it will have associated this with a sense of control. 

That, in a time when the goalposts are constantly moving this was a time loaded with hope and expectation that this will be something good, planned and fearless.

“With the announcement of the second lockdown and the cancelling of our plans we again have that fear, but also disappointment, loneliness, financial loss and the weight of the unknown of how long it will go on. These feelings are totally allowed! It is important to remember that it is okay to feel a little doom fatigued and disappointed,” she continues.

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Kennedy-Woodard is adamant that we take the pressure off ourselves to feel guilty. “I always say ‘acknowledge feelings’ to my clients, but quickly suggest they release guilt. Beating yourself up will do no one any good. Yes, there are those that have it worse right now but feeling bad about feeling bad isn’t going to rid the world of Covid-19 or make your day better,” she says.

Now, says Kennedy-Woodard, is the time to get creative and make the best possible version of your birthday under the new circumstances. As well as planing some of the activities that are possible from home or your local surroundings, she also recommends challenging negative thought processes in time for your special day.

Self-indulge

“Enjoy the hour of exercise you are allowed. Go for a walk and challenge yourself to find 10 things that spark peace, beauty, joy, humour or love. This can ignite a positive confirmation bias cycle. Essentially, we look for what we want to: when we look for the good in the world, we remember it is there.”

Baking a cake? That's one thing we CAN do.

Connect

“Move the party online or if you cannot possibly stomach another zoom call, pick up the phone and have a chat. Could you connect with yourself? Make a list about the positives that have come from this year and your hopes for next year.”

Give yourself presence not presents

“Plan ahead and schedule for nice moments throughout your day- cook a meal you love, have a bath, read a book or watch your favourite film.”

Give back

“If you want to just cancel the day, rather than climbing into bed, give back. When we turn the focus from ourselves to something that is important to us we can create generosity and our purpose expands. Ask friends to donate to a cause you are passionate about or get involved with your community. I would recommend trying the UN Online Volunteering which is fantastic, you will have at least one skill they need.”

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Remind yourself that one-day things will be OK

“Remember, two occurrences alone cannot signify a pattern. The fact that we are about to embark on a second lockdown doesn’t mean they will continue indefinitely. We will probably have to make long term behavioural changes but we will not always be in quarantine. Notice and challenge any negative thinking. Remind yourselves of fun memories past, enjoy this birthday to the best of your ability and look forward to better times.”

Be kind to yourself

“This is a time for us all to practice self-compassion and allow for the feelings to be. 2020 is definitely allowed to be the year of ‘it was supposed to be my party and I will cry if I want to.’ You can nod to the feelings, but you do not have to bow to them.”

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.