Happy birthdays + the best gift ever

Sweetest birthday ever, my godparents, me, Sasha, SARK, John, Viola, Matt took this photo which is why he’s not pictured!

There should be a word for the very specific pleasure that comes from being a room with so many people you love. The pleasure of collecting your peeps, from disparate parts of your life, and putting them in a room together to love each other up.

This was just part of the deep joy that was my birthday this year.

I spent the afternoon wandering through downtown San Francisco, popping in and out of stores and taking in all of the action that is a Friday evening downtown. I bought myself an awesome new jacket and a fancy pair of boots. My godparents met me and we strolled around looking at the ice skating ring that just popped up in Union Square, the enormous Christmas tree, and the huge photo of Brad Pitt on the side of Macy’s. I felt like a country girl in the big city. Everything looked so exciting!

I think it’s taken me 41 years to figure out what kind of celebration suits me best. Is it a party? Is it quiet? Is it raucous and loud? Big or small? Night or is it day?

This year I nailed it.

It was hosted by my dear friend Viola in San Francisco who is an incredible cook. We had beef bourguignon, cauliflower mash, and a simple salad perfectly dressed. The cake was itself a masterpiece– made from hazelnut flour, chestnut flour, olive oil, honey, cardamom and orange peel. Served with fresh whipped cream. Divine.

And the best part? We told stories all night long. I heard the stories of how each of the people in my life met their partners, how each of us became friends… It was like a round robin of stories, one after the other, a spontaneous celebration of love and connection. Viola also told an unforgettable story about her time in Antarctica. (She and her husband go each year and study penguins) She described the extraordinary quiet there, so quiet that you can hear whales breathing in the distance, miles away.

The best part

The best part though? Was having an experience of how loved and adored I am. This is something that I know intellectually, something that I could say in words. Yeah, yeah. I know I am loved… But to feel it? To be deeply present to my own goodness? is something else.

Is it the meds?

I’ll admit. I have been wondering this lately. Any feeling of well-being, of joy, of calm is followed up by a question: Is that the Zoloft kicking in?

I keep waiting for something extraordinary to happen. For the medicine to kick in so I will know if it’s working or not. But after six weeks I am seeing that it’s more subtle than that. What I’m seeing is that when I am in survival mode (anxious, worried, can’t breathe, panicky) there is no room for love. There is no room for gratitude. There is no room to do anything but check the next thing off the list, get through the day, feel relieved when everyone falls asleep, and get back to the desk in the morning to do it all over again.

There was no room for joy.

And maybe that’s what the medicine (and the exercise, no sugar, good food, space from the computer, etc.) has given me. Some room. Some distance from the circumstances in my life that feel hard. A break from the vigilant state I’ve been in for years.

I was trying to describe this to a friend the other day. “I don’t know,” I said. “I feel like I am saying I love you more to the people in my life and I actually mean it! Not that I didn’t before, but they were more like words, like a refrain. Now I feel like I am saying it in slow motion, like the words are suspended in the air. I am feeling into it like I’ve never experienced before. It is the most extraordinary thing.”

And that, my friends, has been the best birthday gift yet.

27 Comments

  1. Posted November 14, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Just yes. Exactly. You have some room to feel all the beauty now, to know it is possible. To dive into being loved deeply. Yes.

  2. Posted November 14, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Happy Birthday to you:) I will have a slice of cake in your honour later and I am glad that the joy is coming back into your life in this way. The noticing and the loving. It’s what this stint of ours in these shoes on this planet is all about. Noticing and loving.

  3. Shawna Greenway
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    I just love this post!! I am so, so happy that you’re doing so much better. Happy birthday! We miss you guys!

  4. Posted November 14, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    I love you. I mean it. xo Thank you for this gift, your soulful storytelling.

  5. Moyra
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    It’s not the drugs. You mean it. It is real. Hving said that drugs can sometimes unlock us a little but to say what we really mean. Either way you may as well enjoy. Sometimes we need a kick to get us over something and into what matters. Love the sound of yr cake. Am trying to do no sugar and no carbs this week and I made it through the day but caved in at garlic bread and having to wait just a bit too long for dinner

  6. emily b
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    love. this. happy birthday!

  7. Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes I feel like we are on parallel journeys. Your post about that first insomnia/panic attack came around the same time that I had my first horrible panic/insomnia (also while out of town). And just in the past few weeks, in the midst of a crisis, I have tried medication for the first time. During all these years, your blog has been a place of inspiration and hope for me. So many of your posts mirror the issues I struggle with in my own life. And I will never forget your post about the labyrinth. Happy birthday to a person who loves you from afar.

  8. Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    Happy belated birthday Andrea!
    This is a beautiful post and a fantastic tribute to the people you love in your life.

    I don’t want to get all creepy-pants but I love you too. You are one of my all time favorite numero uno bloggers.

    Thanks for sharing all that you do.
    Rock on — 40 is the new 29!!
    love,
    tj

  9. Megan
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    This is a fabulous post. And you hit the nail on the head: Sometimes psychotropic meds simply take the edge off and give you the space to be you. That’s what they did for me, and I see them doing it every single day with the kids I work with who have mental health and behavioral challenges. Stick with it! The closer you get back to the “you” end of the spectrum, the easier it will be to stay “you”. And then you might be able to ditch the meds and have confidence that you’re more rooted in your you-ness.

  10. Posted November 15, 2012 at 1:28 am | Permalink

    Happy Birthday I am so incredibly happy of you to experience this joy. I never realized the clarity of joy that being on Lexapro (similar to Zoloft) allowed me until I was not longer on it. I came off it with Doctor’s help, worked my way through it, and spent over a year frustrated that I was not feeling ME again when I was off of it. It took me another 6 months of accepting that it was OK to be on it, and now I am back on it. It doesn’t change me or make me joyful, it just ALLOWS me to feel it.

    Someday we may not need the medication, but while we need it I am glad it has let you feel your joy in your life.

  11. Diane
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    we question what works. we do.

  12. Posted November 15, 2012 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    I remember when I first started taking meds a few years ago, I felt like a cloud was lifted — not like everything was fine, but just that I could see the sun again. I’m so glad you’re feeling better.

  13. Posted November 15, 2012 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    “so quiet that you can hear whales breathing in the distance” Wow! That sentence stopped me in my tracks! Now I must go to Antarctica and experience it myself.

    So glad you had such a wonderful birthday. You deserve it!

  14. Shosh
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Happy birthday! What a lovey post – sounds like it was a birthday of mindfulness and being present. Here’s to a year (many more years) of exactly the same feelings.

  15. Posted November 15, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Happy Birthday! I’ve been reading your blog for several years now, but I never comment. Sorry about that! I admire your courage to be vulnerable and open in your life and in this space. I’m glad you were able to soak in the love and belonging of your friends and family on your special day. You deserve good things! Thank you for being real and sharing beauty with the world.

  16. Posted November 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I am sitting with a smile on my face and a little tear in my eye and my hand on my heart, full of joy for your day. The happiest of birthdays, Andrea. Thank you for being here and sharing this and yourself with us.

  17. jmbh
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Andrea,
    Happy Birthday, what wonderful gifts for yourself. Making room is a perfect analogy. I thought my meds weren’t doing anything, I didn’t feel miraculously better. . .but slowly I realized there was indeed more room for things that were not anxiety and depression, especially with my children. It was a gift to myself and to them. So glad you are in such a great place. . .

  18. Sarah Ford
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    I remember commenting on one of your entries when you were deciding what to do on your birthday. I had a dinner in my favourite restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall (UK) for 18 people (we took over the whole restaurant), who were close family, personal friends, ex-colleagues who are friends and current colleagues who are friends. I was wondering whether to make a seating plan to ensure that everyone had someone to talk to and something in common with the person they sat next to. Eventually I decided not to have a plan. The evening was fantastic and it was great to see the people I love all getting on together even though they had never met before. The best birthday ever!!!

  19. Posted November 15, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Happy Birthday!
    I also was struck by the sentence about the quiet in Antarctica. WOW!
    The part that meant the most, however, was your description of how it was for you. You are describing years of my life!! You have inspired me to go back to the doctor to re-evaluate my meds. Zoloft worked for one day for me, then I stopped sleeping. I’ve been on Prozac 20mg for 6 months, and I do not feel any different. The only thing that helps is Ativan. Perhaps my doc can up the dosage, or try something different.

  20. Christine
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Happy happy happy belated birthday. Looks likee you had a great time! Lots of joy for this new year of yours and love. All the best. Only.

  21. Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    You, my dear, deserve every single thing you have received for this birthday. I’m soooooo glad to hear that you are feeling your love flow in a deeper, more meaningful way. That must be a fantastic feeling. Not much compares to being surrounded by love and filled with love all at the same time.

    The photos are great. You look happy, at peace, and ready to dive into that cake.

    Those boots rock!!! And that jacket too. You will be even more gorgeous with your new goodies. As if such a thing were possible…

    Happy birthday! Happy holidays! Happy Every Day!!!!!!!
    (Did I use enough exclamation points???)

  22. Posted November 15, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Happy, Happy, Happy Birthday!!! What a wonderful, soul-filling, calm, glitter and sunlight way to celebrate YOU. Couple reactions:
    1) The cake! Can Viola share the recipe? Please?!
    2) I used to visit Viola’s Antarctica blog (through a link you shared once) and LOVED reading it! I’m so happy to hear they’re still going and wonder if they’re still blogging…and what that blog is since I’ve forgotten the URL.
    3) I am so happy for and with you. ^_^ Hugs!

  23. CLH
    Posted November 16, 2012 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    So like you . . . it’s your birthday and you’re giving us gifts. I’m deeply glad to know you have a greater range again, for noticing and feeling and experiencing, that you can be familiar with yourself again. This is a *return*, dear Andrea. And so, happy birthday — and many happy returns. XOXO.

  24. CLH
    Posted November 16, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    Also: the shoes!!!

  25. nina
    Posted November 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Happy birthday, beautiful, BRAVE Andrea! You are such a gift…and I will now hold forever the thought of it being so quiet that one can hear whales breathe in the distance. XO

  26. Vickie
    Posted November 17, 2012 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    Happy, happy birthday. And thanks again for being so raw and open. And glad to know you had a great birthday party.

  27. Posted November 20, 2012 at 2:20 am | Permalink

    LOL! I think that’s why I love reading your stuff; you’re so honest & open & don’t sugar-coat anything. I need to be more raw (in the most beautiful way) that way. DIED @ your Zoloft moments; I often question my burst of happiness: wait, am I happy or is it the Xanax? Is everything REALLY okay, or is it the Xanax? Lol Crazy, strange, funny lives. Glad your b-day was soul drenching. :-)

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