While the general joy of the holiday season begins to creep upon me beginning with Halloween and my birthday, the anxiety of it doesn’t really start for me until now, in the week between Limerick’s birthday and Thanksgiving. I don’t know if everyone has to fight down panic attacks during the holiday season, or intentionally pursue joy while the black tentacles of depression and apathy are pulling them down; I don’t know if everyone feels trapped between the potential of the season and the expectations for the season, faced with a list of people to visit and chores to complete, wondering where the beauty and the significance went. I would imagine there are a lot of us, but I personally only know one other person with any certainty.
With that in mind, what I want to do is to ask the rest of you to be kind and gracious: to realize that we really do love being with family, participating in the festivities, carrying on the fun or meaningful traditions we’ve built with you over the years, but that sometimes the weight of it all is just to great for us to carry. Sometimes the chaos of a joyful family is too overwhelming, the social pressure too intense, the smells and sounds and expectations a perfect storm that threatens all our normal coping mechanisms. When we have to leave early, or take a few moments of solitude to recalibrate, or drop out of the conversation and activity for a while, it’s not because we don’t want to be with you. Will you believe me when I say we’re making a huge effort to be there with you, because we love you and you matter to us?
And for anyone who’s trying to navigate the holidays through anxiety or depression, I feel you. I’ve been there – some years more so than others – and there really isn’t anything positive about it. It’s incredibly hard to stay engaged for hours of small talk, with stress-inducing levels of ambient noise and who knows what other irritants (low light and allergens, anyone?), when your insides feel like a black void or when every defense system in your body is on high alert. It hurts to try so hard to be happy and present only to end up feeling like you’ve failed, and ruined the holidays for someone else.
So please don’t feel guilty about taking the space you need to be you, to be joyful, to remember the big ideals or the little traditions that are meaningful and important to you as an individual. Please don’t feel guilty about advocating for yourself and your own well-being – if it helps, think that there are probably others who will be glad you spoke up because they’re running on fumes as well.
You are loved. You matter. Even if you can only be around for five minutes on Thanksgiving Day because you’re having an episode or an attack, the day will be brighter for everyone else because of those five minutes. When you’re fighting for each moment, sharing it with another person is one of the most precious and valuable gifts imaginable, and anyone who understands will value it accordingly.