I managed to hold it off until the day before Christmas Eve, but the sad sat down hard on my chest this morning. Driving in to the office about 7:45, alone in my car, Paul Anka was on the radio singing “Rudolph,” all the Christmas lights were shining through the gloomy fog in Centennial Park, and the SkyView ferris wheel was lit up and spinning.
And suddenly it felt like everything joyful and festive and hopeful and good in me was sucked out and only an incredible emptiness was left. I was suddenly acutely aware of my aloneness.
What is it about Christmas that does this? I’m no more alone than I am any other time of year. And I’m not “alone.” The office is full of people today. I’ll be with my family tomorrow. (And for me, gratefully, unlike some, I love being with my family.) But when I could’ve left the office this morning after my 9:00 meeting was over, I didn’t want to. The idea seems cold and empty and dark and – alone.
I tried to alleviate the “alone” this year. I invited someone to come to Christmas Eve at my mom’s with me (and to various other Christmas events as well) – but… well… yeah… you know. And maybe that makes me feel more alone too, when you try to not be alone and those attempts are rejected.
I know there’s got to be more to this feeling that descends on me this time every year. And I’m so glad that it’s only happened a few days before Christmas this time. (For the last couple of years, it hit at Thanksgiving and didn’t let up until Christmas was over.) But even a couple of days of feeling like this sucks!
I read a great article yesterday that feels very true to what I’m feeling. (And I can’t remember where it was so I can link to it, dammit!) But basically it said that feeling anxious about being alone is evolutionary. As cavemen (and women), if you were alone, you weren’t safe.
That’s very much what my aloneness feels like; the emotion feels like vulnerability and insecurity and danger.
I always feel guilty when I feel like this around the holidays. I have so much and I am so blessed. I’m not a big evangelist or testifier, but I truly believe if God hadn’t interceded in my life, I could very well be homeless, whoring, or dead right now from my alcoholism. I have found an amazing church that fits my incredibly liberal beliefs socially and theologically – five blocks from my house. More importantly, that church has become a home and a family for me. I have an amazing family of birth and amazing friends. I have stumbled accidentally into a comfortable career that allows me to provide for myself. I could go on and on.
There are people who ARE homeless. Children who are hungry. I have a friend who’s sitting death watch over his mother right now. There are people who’ve been disowned by their families. There are people wrestling mightily with addictions. There are people in prison. There are people in sexual slavery. There are people in abusive relationships. I could go on and on.
I don’t feel like I deserve to feel sad, but still I do.
I guess one of the hardest things is that (at least most years) I don’t want to just wish away the holiday. When I’m sad or upset about some event at other times of the year, I just tell myself that it’ll be over soon. But I really like Christmas, particularly Christmas Eve at my mom’s where my immediate family eats ham sandwiches in front of the TV, then opens stockings, then move to the living room where we listen to Christmas music on the stereo while we exchange gifts one by one. So I guess I feel very conflicted about loving it and wanting it to be over (or maybe just wanting to not feel sad) at the same time.
I think if I could ferret out exactly why I feel like this, I could make it better. Meanwhile, I have a man pinging me on eHarmony. He sounds interesting. We have a lot in common. He has pretty eyes. But when I get ready to respond to his questions, I’m terrified and can’t bring myself to do it. So maybe I DO want to be alone.
Can you simultaneously want to be alone and want to not alone at the same time. I can’t decide which one is scarier.
I’m living in a limbo of fear and anxiety. Ho ho ho.
I just want to share how much more manageable my holiday anxiety has been this year – probably better than it’s been in about 15 years. I’m sure being on Paxil for a year has helped a lot, and the realizations I had last month about my expectations for the holidays seem to have made a big difference as well.
Staying busy helps too. Frankly, I was so depressed last Christmas that it was hard for me to get off the couch and do anything. That doesn’t help my blues at all. I think the Lamotrigene prescription has helped here. It’s a mood stabilizer that’s made my highs lower and my lows higher. Not getting so low that I can’t function makes it easier to do the things that keep me from being so blue and anxious.
Being ABLE to be busier has helped so much. I was busy training and racing until the first week of December ended. I’ve been running sound for almost all the Sunday services and the Christmas cantata this month. I’ve also done a couple of funerals and a wedding.
I went to a ridiculous Christmas party for the church youth group last weekend where we played Dance Central 3 and the adults spent way too much time huddled in a corner laughing and playing with Poo Dough.
Then I drove five teenagers home from the party. They listened to the Classic Hip Hop channel on Sirius and marveled at songs they’d never heard before – songs from 1994 – before they were born…. (Seriously?) And they wrote profound Christmas wishes like “Poop” in the fog on my windows. Good times.
Just being with people, staying busy and laughing (the opposite of what you want to do when you’re depressed) makes such a big difference in how I feel. I think the mood stabilizer keeps me above that low end threshold that makes it hard to care if I’m taking care of myself or even to do it even when I want to.
I usually try to take some time off running at this time of year to let my body rest and heal some, but that time off is really bad timing for my anxiety. Even after my busy weekend, I was feeling the holiday squinkiness sneak in last Sunday night. But I did something I wasn’t able to do last year, I made myself get up early before work on Monday morning and run because I knew it would help. (And it did.) I knew it would help last year too, but I couldn’t get myself to do it.
I’ve also been wrestling with my feelings for Boo for the last couple of years. When I was in the depths of my depression last year, I got to the point where I couldn’t feel anything at all. When I started coming out of that, I had feelings again, but I had trouble figuring out exactly what those feelings were and what they were about.
I feel like I’ve about sorted all that out. For the last year I’ve assumed any bad feeling I have is sadness and unrequited love about that relationship. And so if I felt something bad, I thought it was about Boo, which made me think too hard and too much about Boo, which made me feel bad, which made me think too hard and too much about Boo, which made me feel bad….
But I had a big moment in therapy back in the spring when I realized that what I have always thought was the feeling I experience of “being in love” is very much the same feeling I have when I’m feeling anxiety. (This may be an important realization…. *snork*)
I still haven’t figured out why I feel like it’s so important to me to hang on to Boo. He’s never really done much to reciprocate those feelings I have for him. But there’s obviously something deep-seated in my need to hang onto him in some fashion and in the fears I have of letting my hopes for us go.
I wrote in a recent post that I wished “I had the courage to give up.”
For me, having the courage to let things go means being brave enough to stand on my own without having to use things and people as crutches, without having to try and control the outcome of every single thing in my life. I’m starting to feel like I’m strong enough to try and begin letting the Boo thing go.
I need to believe and trust that it’s the healthiest thing I can do. The Mr. Spock part of me knows that’s true. The disgusting, weak, clingy, needy, girly part of me is still afraid. That makes me a little anxious.
But that’s OK. I am better. And this Christmas is better – even when the anxiety still creeps in.
All I know is that I have my running clothes sitting out for tomorrow morning. I will run. I will breathe. I will calm my mind. I will keep getting better. I will keep getting stronger. And maybe one day I’ll even find something to value in the weak, clingy, needy, girly part of me.
And to you, I hope if you’re depressed or anxious or lonely or scared this Christmas, that you’ll know you’re not alone. Love is all around you, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Just keep slogging through and know that it won’t always be like this. We’ll hold each other up until then.
Much love, friends!
I was sweating my recurring holiday anxiety the night before Thanksgiving. I SO want this year to be different. I really, really want to enjoy the holidays again.
But I drove to Thanksgiving lunch Thursday with a sense of dread in my stomach.
Anxiety is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You worry about the possibility of feeling anxious which makes you feel anxious and you think, “Well damn! Here it comes again.” Which makes you feel anxious.
So as I tooled down I-20 West with a knot in my stomach, I finally took a deep breath and said to myself, “OK. You’re smart. What is it that you’re really dreading? Be honest.”
So I thought for a while, and I realized that going to my grandmother’s house makes me feel anxious, first, because the whole atmosphere at her house is a bit cold and tense. She’s not a huggy, “make you an apple pie” grandmother. She’s a “get mad at you for sitting on her bedspread” grandmother. She’ll tell you you’re fat. She’ll tell you she doesn’t like your hair. After all, wearing it that way makes you look manly. *sigh*
Secondly, half the people there don’t WANT to be there and spend the whole time making snarky comments about my grandmother. And that makes me feel bad.
Finally, as Grandmother’s gotten older, she can’t hear much and so my mom spends the whole day yelling at her trying to communicate. It’s not intentionally confrontational, but they start to get irritated with each other and between the yelling and the frustration, the tension rips the scab right off my confrontation anxiety.
I thought about those things after I let myself admit them and said, “You know. Hating those things doesn’t make me a bad granddaughter, daughter, or Southern woman. It makes me human.” And I felt better.
Then I asked myself what made me uncomfortable about going to my mom’s house – the house where I grew up. And that one was easy. Although I’d never really admitted it, I feel such an yawning emptiness there since my dad died. My mom is amazing and I love her and I like spending time with her. But there is a gigantic love and laughter and warmth hole in that house since Daddy’s gone.
I thought about that for a while and realized that it doesn’t mean I don’t love my mother or that I’m a bad person for feeling some negative emotions when I’m at the house. It only means I love my daddy, that I was blessed to have a magnificent father, and I miss him at the holidays. There’s no shame in feeling that. And I felt better.
I realized that it doesn’t make me a bad person or a Scrooge to have things about the holidays or my family that make me uncomfortable or sad. It’s OK to feel negative feelings. Feelings can’t make you a bad person. The world is not perfect; the holidays can’t be perfect; my family isn’t perfect; and I don’t have to be perfect. “It’s OK,” I thought. “It’s all OK.”
Then it felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I took a deep breath. My heart didn’t race and there was no hint of hyperventilation.
I went on to grandmother’s and had a good time. I let it be what it was. And we ate good food and we had good conversation. My cousin and I put up Grandmother’s Christmas tree and we watched a little football. And I felt satisfied and relaxed, not like I needed to escape.
Then I went to my mom’s for a while and hung out. And my dad wasn’t there. And I didn’t like that. And it was OK. We watched TV and fed the cats and put her big, light up, plastic Nativity scene on the front porch. Then we kicked back in our recliners and watched the lighting of Macy’s Great Tree. And it was OK.
Back home last night, I decided to put up my two-foot tall fiber optic Christmas tree and my tiny figurine of Snoopy and Woodstock decorating their Charlie Brown tree. I was hurting so much and feeling so bad last year that I never put them out.
And as I turned off the living room lights and watched my little tree spin and change colors, I was content. It was beautiful. It was a little tacky. It made me smile. And at least for the moment, I didn’t fear Christmas coming.