I wanted to write about my holiday anxiety but, I’m not interested in adding to the sea of “how to beat your holiday anxiety” blog posts and articles out there.
Sure, holiday anxiety fucking sucks but I don’t know how to beat it. All I know is how I realized I had it and what I’ve been doing since to deal with it. Figuring out our anxiety is a process and not something that can be magically beaten after following any magic combination of steps, so that’s what I wrote about.
When I was 22 I got my first migraine.
It was an intense affair. I had powered my way through the pain for three days when, in the shower on the morning of the fourth day, half of my face and my hand went numb. It was terrifying. I skipped work and went to my doctor and filled the prescription they gave me. I have no recollection of what that prescription was for, I only remember that it didn’t exactly make the pain go away, it just made me not care about it so much. It made the pain in my head feel like a soft buzzing in the background instead of a wailing siren pointed directly into my ear.
As this all happened a week or two before Christmas, those pills didn’t only make me not care so much about my migraine, they helped me to not care so much about all of the Christmas things: I had the best Christmas shopping experience of my life, I was able to attend all of the parties, make out with lots of ladies, spend less money at the bar and I didn’t once get stressed about the thought of doing all of the family things.
When I was 23 I consciously noticed my holiday anxiety for the first time.
I didn’t have my migraine medication to fall back on and feeling as if I need to DO ALL THE THINGS kept me in a constant state of over stimulation. Having a strong, working class, New England work ethic demands that we just get through whatever is in front of us in order to get the job done; and that’s exactly what I did. I tamped down my anxiety to go to work, to make sure I went to all the parties, to buy all of the presents, to wrap them all beautifully, to be the best friend and child and grandchild and employee and… and… and… Just writing about it makes my heart beat faster and a pit form in my stomach.
The tamping down of my holiday anxiety was mostly accomplished by not sleeping enough and drinking way too much. The cycle looked like this: coffee, work, socialize, drink, nap, repeat. I’m pretty sure my youth was the only thing holding me together, though it caught up with my by Christmas day when I was a bit of a wreck.
When I was 24 I made the connection between drinking and my holiday anxiety.
In 2004 I began the process of trying to find the happy-medium between drinking and my sanity during the holidays. Some years I’d cut back on my drinking significantly. Other years, I’d drink a ton and be shit-faced on Bloody Marys by 11 am on Christmas day, but I’d always feel the pressure to go to everything and be “perfect” in order to be liked. In order to earn love.
I drank for 11 more holiday seasons before I would finally quit for good in January 2016. That’s 11 Thanksgivings and Birthdays and Christmases and New Years of me desperately trying to feel the joy for the season that I thought I should feel. And 11 Januaries spent recuperating from the exhaustion of the previous two months.
What do I do now for the holidays??
In 2016 I tried to keep up the perfection of what I thought Christmas should look like and, no surprise, I was still pretty miserable. So, when December of 2017 rolled around, I took a step back and only did the stuff I REALLY wanted. No big holiday meal. I didn’t get presents for EVERYONE. I spent meaningful time with friends and plenty of time alone. It was the closest thing to a calm, peaceful holiday I’ve ever had.
This year, I’m really not doing anything. I mean, my niece and nephew get presents but pretty much everyone else is out of luck. I’m really focusing on getting settled back in New England. That means figuring out who I am in relation to this place and what my boundaries need to be.
I still feel holiday season anxiety. It’s fucking hard to say no; I still feel like a shitty person when I decline invitations to holiday parties or events or traditions, like I’m not doing the things I need to do in order to earn the love from my family and friends.
Except, I also know all of those feelings are lies. I’m learning how to combat these lies with truth, and the truth is the only thing that will really heal me.