Around this time last year, I came across this brilliant little graphic while scrolling through my Instagram feed:
I lol’d for sure upon reading this, but to be honest, my giggles came from a place of humour and from recognizing how deeply I related to this little letterpress graphic.
I know humour is great medicine and I’m always appreciative of a good belly laugh, or even just a quick little smile and nose exhalation (come on, you so know what I’m talking about), but when you live with mental health struggles or in the wake of trauma, too often those happy moments are small in number and short in duration. Good times always seem to be followed by a reaffirmation of the anxiety or depression you feel and usually these reminders intrude vehemently, as if they are trying to out-do the little bit of joy you just experienced. It’s like my anxiety reasserts itself saying, “No, no, no…remember me?? You can’t forget about me; I’m what matters most. Hahahahaha!”
(For the record, I’m imagining that being spoken by either Cruella De Vil or Skeletor; take your pick of the two.)
I do like Christmas. I do like celebrating holidays and special occasions, or at least, I want to enjoy them. But I struggle during these times; I always have! And the recent events in my life have made these times even more difficult.
Anxiety is often described as a fear of what is yet to or may come. Working with the assumption that anxiety’s core quality is this intensely fearful anticipation of the future, and understanding that anxiety manifests as things like social anxiety, panic attacks, mania, or other debilitating symptoms, I think it’s easy to see why holidays trigger people who struggle like I do.
Throughout the Christmas season, I try to remind myself to cherish it; to use it as an opportunity to connect with friends and family, to enjoy holiday traditions with my children, to pause and celebrate my successes over the past year... I try to do all those things, and I succeed some of the time, but I know I’m facing a lonely season. I know I’m going to be without my kids for much of the Christmas break. I know I will be surrounded by happy couples and happy, intact families who get to enjoy Christmas together. I know I am responsible for all the holiday activities, meals, gifts, and decorations around my household. I know I have to bear the financial burden of these celebrations. I know I will have to participate in large, social gatherings and will need to travel substantial distances over the Christmas season. I know that I will have to manage my diet and my body insecurities as I’m offered treats throughout the holidays; I know my willpower will be tested and that when I indulge, I will feel guilty.
I know all of these things, but it’s the anticipation of them that really causes me to struggle at this time of the year. Yes, it can be (read: it is really, really) hard when I’m experiencing them in the present, but ultimately it’s the build-up to Christmas that gets me down.
I do my best to get through the holiday season, but despite my efforts, I always spiral into unhealthy thinking. Like, right now, as I’m typing this, my anxiety has just promised me that if I can just get a boyfriend, all my holiday anxiety will go away. Of course! Meet a dude—the right dude, obviously, because that’s so easy to do—and all will be well!
As if it’s just that simple!
The effect of this thinking is to lead me into another anxious and depressed down-spin, where I start thinking about how lonely I am, about how there must be something wrong with me since I’m a single, divorced, mother of two. How all the men I’ve been with have let me down or been entirely the wrong fit. How that can’t be true because the only common denominator in those relationships was me, so clearly everything is all my fault…
Do you see what I did there?
It’s a fucking slippery slope, friends. And again, I’m half-laughing because I recognize how absurd this thinking is. It is absurd, but my reaction to all these stressors does make sense.
Christmas time is one trigger after another; it’s incredibly overstimulating! And my fancy Christmas anxiety may look really pretty on the outside, but it feels sharp and gut-wrenching on the inside.
Are you lonely this Christmas? Do you have to give up time with your children because of divorce or separation? Are you a single parent taking on the responsibilities of the holiday season all by yourself? Are you living with chronic illness or mental health struggles that sabotage your experience of special occasions or require significant accommodation so you can manage?
I hear you. I see you. I feel you.
I wish I had something more to offer all of us than just that, but I don’t. And honestly, my plan for getting through the holiday season is pretty much just to rely on silly Instagram posts, a good dose of writer’s therapy, and all the self-love and self-care I can muster. I hope it’s enough, but I know I will still struggle. I won’t give up, though, and acknowledging my struggles, speaking up about them, and giving myself permission to feel these things, will go a long way to helping me get through this festive time of year.
I think as a starting point, I’m going to keep re-imagining the lyrics of different holiday songs. For example, maybe the lyrics “Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer…” should be changed to “Christmas time is here, doing my best to get through it this year…”
What do you think??