Frosty the Anxious Snowman -or- Jingle Bells, anxiety sucks, Robin laid an egg…
Much like Frosty anxiously trying to find the right temperature so he doesn’t melt, I anxiously navigate through holidays trying to avoid situations that will throw me into a panic attack.
I seriously despise holidays. (Though I suppose Martin Luther King Jr. Day is okay. It doesn’t typically involve large family gatherings.) You’re in a small space filled with a bunch of people. You’re expected to contribute food and make small talk. You have to put on a happy face and wear a mask so your family doesn’t see who you really are and judge you… or is that just me?
Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. Most of the time, once I get there and get settled in, I’m okay.
Most of the time.
The exceptions were holidays with my soon-to-be ex-husband’s family. There are so many of them, and I never felt like I fit in. I basically spent every holiday with them trying to be invisible.
The thing I hated most about holiday gatherings at my ex’s grandparents’ house was trying to use the restroom. They lived in an old farmhouse. The family would be packed into the living room, dining room, and kitchen.
To give you an idea of how many people there are in this family, there was a large table set up in the kitchen, one in the dining room, another smaller table in the dining room, and a card table in the living room… just so everyone had a place to eat. The problem with this layout was that in order to get to the bathroom you had to squeeze around the people sitting at the kitchen table to get to the other side of the room, and then had to knock on the bathroom door, which stayed closed to keep the toddlers out of the toilet water. That involved interacting with so many people… and because of my social anxiety, I typically ended up just waiting until I got back home to go to the bathroom.
Yes, I know it’s stupid to be afraid of asking people to excuse me while I squeezed through and knocked on a bathroom door. Anxiety does not make sense.
My worst experience there was the Thanksgiving my ex was sick. He couldn’t go to his family’s Thanksgiving dinner, but my mother-in-law still wanted me and the kids to be there. I was terrified. My son has the same anxieties as me, so he stayed right with me the whole time.
I sat at the kitchen table when I got there. Part of coping with my anxiety is finding a safe spot where I feel more comfortable. I don’t leave that spot unless I absolutely have to. My son wanted to sit with me during dinner, so I made extra sure that we kept our safe spot at the table. When we started eating, though, my mother-in-law said the kitchen table was for adults only. She made a big deal out of it and eventually got up and moved my son to the dining room. As with so many Thanksgivings, I went to the bathroom and cried. There wasn’t enough room for me to sit with my son in the dining room. Not only was my seat in the kitchen my safe place, but he was my safe person since I didn’t have my husband there to seek comfort in. I wanted to grab the kids and run, but being rude would draw attention to myself...and trigger my anxiety a different way.
Another awful Thanksgiving was this year when I got into an argument with half of my mostly Republican family regarding President Cheetoface McTwitter-Thumbs. I had settled into my safe spot and felt mostly comfortable when someone pointed out my grandfather’s Trump bobble head and asked what I thought of it. I typically have a strict “Don’t Engage in Political Discussions with Family” rule, but on this particular day I’d forgotten to take my medication and didn’t do a very good job of avoiding the topic. I tried to play it off and just not say anything, but my grandfather said “Oh, you don’t like that?” and kept asking questions until I was forced to answer, no matter how much I tried to avoid the topic. It ended with me crying in the bathroom, yet again.
Thanksgivings always seem to end that way.
Christmas is nerve-wracking for all the same reasons, except you have the added anxiety of exchanging gifts. During white elephant gift exchanges I never take a gift from someone else. That’s terrifying. What if I upset them?!
I’m always worried about my children being happy enough with what they get. This year is especially panic-inducing because it’s my first Christmas as a single mother, so I can’t afford to get them as much as usual. What if they realize Santa isn’t real because he’s suddenly not bringing them as much as previous years?! Then there’s the fact that this will be my first Christmas in a decade without my husband. What if I cry and scar the children for life?
Basically, any holiday involving family get-togethers reduces me to an anxious mess. My family thinks I’m weird, I know they do. They think I’m weird because of the anxiety, because I’m atheist, because I’m liberal, because I’ve been married three times and am working on my third divorce. They don’t even have to say anything - my anxiety has already said it for them.
So I go into every gathering imagining all the things they’re judging me for and imagining all the ways I could possibly make a fool of myself. I know, I shouldn’t care. But I do. Anxiety won’t let me not care. It makes me vividly imagine every possible scenario, basically until I go crazy.
But I keep hoping that, one day, with a lot of work and help, I’ll be able to find the right temperature and wear my magic top hat all through the holidays.
Next time I'll talk about how anxiety has affected my relationships and possibly been at the root of multiple marriages... or the failings of those marriages...