What Self-Isolating On My Birthday Taught Me About Self-Love


In Australian Aboriginal culture, there is a coming-of-age ritual called the walkabout. Around pubescence, a child walks into the wilderness for weeks, alone, fending for themselves outdoors while searching for themselves within. They return with answers, markedly changed, having undergone a spiritual metamorphosis into adulthood.

In the United Kingdom, our national coming-of-age ritual and the way we mark major times of transition is to bring people together and get as out of ourselves as possible. Throughout my life, in order to celebrate every end or beginning (whether it’s birthdays, graduations, or new jobs), it’s almost felt like scripture to make sure I’m surrounded by people and in some state of escape, whether that meant leaving the city with family or a boyfriend, or blitzed at a party or the pub.

That is, until last August, when, while running errands for my 28th birthday blow-out (and the subsequent week I booked off for continued partying), I realised my nose was streaming. And my throat was raw… The faint red second line that appeared on the test I took before bed was twice the size, bold and underlined on my second swab come morning. And that was that. For the first time, I’d be spending my birthday completely alone.

On the day, I woke up late and moody. Boiling the kettle to make a soba noodle pot from the stack I’d stored to eat without contaminating my flatmates, I felt pathetic. Low from my ruined plans and phobic of any Zoom-related activities, I was unsure how I could mark the day from any of the others, and, like a fallen tree in the forest, wondered if there was a point in making the effort without anyone around to enjoy it with.

But a FaceTime with a friend encouraged me to make it an event for myself. I ended up applying make-up, singing to my loud speakers, dancing and drinking Prosecco. As I sat in front of the mirror, drawing around my eyes, I suddenly noticed them with a start. I was here!

I will admit: the most profound feelings can sound almost nonsensically simple when you try to put them into words. But in that moment, it was as if I was seeing myself through new lenses. And I was overwhelmed with emotion at this person who’d shown up when no-one else could. It just clicked. A biblical flood of confidence swept through me. For the first time, I viscerally felt what I’d only really known in abstract: that only I could give myself the love I needed. That I didn’t need someone to drip-feed that love to me. Glowing with self-love, my first birthday alone was the first I felt a real, gear stick change inside me. I spent the rest of the night having unlocked a new type of bliss.

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