Two months ago, I had the pleasure of celebrating my 30th birthday and as a Sagittarius who adores my birthday, I really showed out. I planned lots of small celebrations like coffee and dessert dates every week of the month. I bought myself gifts that I normally wouldn’t. I wrote daily gratitude affirmations in honor of closing the chapter of my third decade of life. I planned the party of my dreams – a celebration with friends and family where we stayed in an MTV Cribs worthy Airbnb and spent the weekend cooking incredible meals, twerking in the kitchen, making music together and practicing self-care. All the things I love.
I started planning and talking excitedly about the party months in advance, and along the way people were caught by surprise. Not over the fact that I was already planning, everyone who has met me knows that’s just what to expect by now. They were surprised by how genuinely excited and celebratory of the occasion I was. Each time these conversations happened I’d explain that the sources of my excitement were trifold:
First, I know aging is a privilege in this world for black queer bodies and promised myself never to take that for granted.
Second, all my trusted astrological sources said my 30th year would be the glow up of all glow ups (I’m happy to say that so far that’s been true!)
Third, I have learned that celebrating every chance I get in life is incredibly important to my well-being.
Then they’d say, “well you really know how to celebrate!” And it’s true, I do! Thanks to the fact that I’ve spent years devotedly practicing the art of celebration.
I say art because I’ve learned celebration is a practice requiring time and effort to be cultivated and strengthened, just like any other craft. I used to think that being good at celebrating was a sort of fixed quality. You either like and know how to celebrate, or you don’t. Simple. I also felt I had a leg up on really knowing how to celebrate thanks to African-American culture.
Growing up black and southern meant coming up singing negro spirituals and hearing tales of how my ancestors managed to sing, dance, cook, love, and celebrate life despite their hell-on-earth circumstances. Their stories served as reminders, warnings even, that no matter what you must be ready and able to reach for joy when she streaks by like a comet in the night. You got to grab onto her tail and ride to glory as long as you can.
Some call this resilience and it absolutely is, but it’s also celebrating. They knew what elation and reverence the gifts from the universe deserve. That when the universe gifts you something you’ve wanted and needed, when it brings positivity to your life, you fall to your knees, give thanks and radiate as much joy as is humanly possible. Goodness is not guaranteed. When she communes with you, it’s your job to be such an open and gracious host that she’ll want to return. When good things happen, you celebrate.
I embraced that lesson wholeheartedly as a child. The older I got, the less simple it seemed. I was caught off guard by the way there seemed to be less and less to celebrate the further I stepped into adulthood. Celebrating got harder when the baton of responsibility for uplifting my achievements in life passed from my mother’s hands to mine. It suddenly felt childish to want affirmation for reaching goals and living life, so I stopped believing I deserved to be celebrated. By my early twenties I’d become someone who felt there was nothing in my life worth celebrating at all.
I was in graduate school, I was exploring my sexuality – I was building my future, and I was the most depressed i’d ever been. I spent most of my freetime lying in the darkness thinking about how much of a failure I believed I was. In truth I was celebrating, just not the enjoyable things, not the way I’d been taught.
Of course in its widest application, celebrating is correlated with positive enjoyable things, but at its base to celebrate simply means to acknowledge or observe – particularly through routine and tradition. I spent all my time fixated on everything wrong and difficult and painful. I didn’t realize that I was often celebrating my sadness.
I had so much sadness from my clinical depression, that in truth it was hard not to revel in it. I knew what it was to hurt and feel nothing all at once. To wonder if the bulb in the light at the end of my tunnel had burned out. To ache from loss, rejection – the weight of oppression that occupying multiple marginalized spaces puts on a life. I knew it well. I began to perform rituals of sadness. Don’t get out of bed and eat breakfast. Don’t get out of bed because you’re too weak since you haven’t had breakfast. Don’t reach out to anyone to talk, they’re all busy. Get on social media. Compare yourself to others. Sink in deeper.
Get high. Go to sleep. Wake up, order a pizza then judge myself for how much I eat. Sink again. Promise I’ll “do better” tomorrow and hear the voice in my head laughing about how I’ll break that promise before I’ve even finished making it. Repeat.
Every day I was staring at a mug, gifted to me from a friend, that said CELEBRATE THE GOOD THINGS in thick sparkly gold letters. I realized I’d been doing the exact opposite. I knew if I could exert most of my energy in the painful icy parts of life, I could certainly make my way back to celebrating the good.
I worked to do exactly that. I was fortunate to have affordable therapy available to me, so I finally decided to utilize it. I learned to stop feeding the negatives in my life that I could control, and honor those feelings or obstacles instead. I learned to allow painful feelings to come and go as they needed, instead of wallowing in their familiarity. Slowly I navigated sadness without making a home in the darkness. On the days that my brain chemistry made the idea of finding anything to celebrate a near impossible task, I learned to uplift even the smallest victories. My breath. Spending time with my thoughts. Brushing my teeth. The one time I managed to get out of bed. Successfully ordering delivery, opening the door and interacting however briefly with another human, and actually eat the food before lying back down for hours.
Sometimes I’d visualize the neurons in my brain forging a new path to the positive association I wanted to make. Like little shooting stars. One for texting a friend and asking for help. One for reaching over and having a sip of water. One for getting a snack. I still do this. It reminds me that even though depression is a ruthless gatekeeper, I’m able to ever so slightly affect my brain physiology to help make me in stronger. I celebrate that.
I also reflect on the fact that my soul attempted twice to leave this world as a child. Left my little body lying temporarily motionless on a classroom floor, then later two hospital beds, but eventually returned. Sometimes I think that, in those times, part of my soul learned what’s poppin’ on the other side and decided there was reason to be here instead. So I might as well enjoy it.
I am committed to learning to celebrate life to the fullest. When sadness comes, I stand still, when happiness comes I step in. Each time I find another crossway from sadness to happiness, I celebrate building that bridge. I celebrate releasing trauma, I celebrate every experience I have – every minute, every day. It’s cliche, but so true that because my relationship with hardship is so intimate, my bond with celebration is exponentially stronger.
Tears of joy roll down my adorably chubby cheeks as I laugh almost daily. I work that muscle harder than any other and when it’s my birthday I fucking flex. I’m now an age that far too many of my black queer ancestors and peers never reached. I’m here because of them and for them too I celebrate. Each year that their sacrifices have given me fills me with joy that brings me to my knees. I no longer see my birthday as the day I was forcibly brought to a world full of suffering in a body that would never know equality. I see it as a triumph.
I lived another 365 black and queer ass days in a world where that is not a given. I am loved and imperfect, learning and growing, I’m beautiful and I’m here. That’s the greatest cause for celebration I know. 🎈
edited by carmen.