Birthdays have been a struggle for me over the last few years, triggering a lot of anxiety; in fact, they trigger so much anxiety that I can barely acknowledge them, let alone celebrate them. I’ve been trying to just ignore them and let them pass with as little fanfare as possible but that’s a surprisingly hard thing to do. At some point, it seems that birthdays, birthday plans, and so on, became public property, a topic that you’re obliged to talk about or risk appearing rude or uptight; someone always wants to know if you’re doing ‘something special’ (with the best of intentions, of course – I’m not trying to guilt trip anyone). Even shops and organisations send you emails wishing you a happy birthday. You just can’t get away from it.

So, to make it as manageable and an actually enjoyable day, I used the Birthday Rules I found on Tumblr years and years back. I like them as a way curating your birthday experience, I think because you can make it as big and extravagant or as low key and chilled as you want, as you’re comfortable with. Both can be memorable and enjoyable; it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s the attempt to straddle both ends of the spectrum that can leave a birthday, or any celebration, feeling emotionally weird.

So, the basic idea – if you haven’t seen my earlier blogs using this technique – is to do something you wouldn’t normally do and buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy, making each birthday unique and special. I like that it doesn’t necessarily impose the birthday connection: the focus is on making the day one to celebrate and treat yourself. So I tried to keep my mind on that and on spending time with my family, rather than all of the anxieties that my birthday triggers.

Rule #1: Do something you wouldn’t normally do.

A while back, I was scrolling through Eventbrite and discovered an Equine Facilitated Learning workshop called Harnessing Assertiveness, where attendees were guided through confidence building exercises, based on building relationships with the horses of the HorseSense UK herd. I have always loved horses and I struggle desperately with my self-confidence and self-esteem so this seemed like both a fun and fascinating experiences that could be really helpful, as a one off or a starting point on the path to something bigger. The workshop was originally supposed to be for six people but it ended up being just me, my Mum, and Becci, the founder and facilitator. That was a little daunting because I hate being the centre of attention – yes, I know how weird that is given my love of performing – but it ended up being so special because we could work at my pace and according to how easy or difficult I found a certain exercise. That was really amazing.

I could happily document it minute by minute but that would very quickly become a very long blog. Every step we took was designed to integrate us into the herd, to build relationships with the horses. We greeted them and let them get a sense of us (after which I swear they had a little conference, standing together and ultimately deciding that we were perfectly acceptable guests in their herd) before learning to communicate with them more directly. They’d step into your space and you had to hold your ground, showing them that they could depend on your strength and certainty, and then you learned to move them in the same way, the way they move each other, using your presence to convince them to move because you are a part of the herd and you wouldn’t do so without good reason. It was utterly fascinating. And then, suddenly, we were saying goodbye to them and sharing a moment with each horse, thanking them for trusting us. Almost two hours had gone by but it was like everything had just… stopped. It was just us and the horses. It had been such a calming experience that it was kind of jarring to have to go back to the real world.

As I said, it was an amazing experience and I’d love to go back and spend time with the herd again, maybe in one of the Calm 4 Adults sessions. But whatever happens going forward, I’m so grateful to Becci and the horses – Dainty, Squirrel, and Jim – for a really special way to spend the day. There’s not a lot of calm in my life (or any at all really) so this was a much enjoyed experience and a much cherished memory.

Rule #2: Buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy.

Having been frustrated with my camera for a while now, I did some research and discovered that the model had been released in 2011 so it’s not exactly surprising that the quality of photos I’m taking feel soft and low quality. Frankly, I’m amazed that I’ve been pleased with them so long, given that it’s over a decade old! I’ve been researching a replacement on and off over the last six months or so with the plan of getting a new one at some point before going to The Eras Tour next summer. But I’ve actually got several pretty exciting concerts before those shows and it seems a shame to miss out on taking gorgeous photos at those because of some arbitrary deadline. Concerts are where I most enjoy taking photos, after all. So, armed with my research on focus and zoom, I searched for the camera I’ve returned to multiple times, checked the specifications one last time, and ordered it. Ah! Spending money always really stresses me out, even with all of the reasons why it’s not a terrible idea, but I’m pushing through and trying to focus on how lovely it will be to have beautiful photos after my gig, Maisie Peters in October.

Physically and emotionally, I was exhausted afterwards (not that I got a lie in with Izzy tugging at my sleeve bright and early the next morning). It was never going to be an easy day but I think that, given everything going on in my head, it was as enjoyable as possible. It was certainly very special, with good memories to keep and good memories to make.

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