Christmas a humbug? Okay, not really. Like loads of holiday-lovers, I put my decorations up at the first possible chance. I watch my favourite Christmas movies over and over all December long. I cook immense meals for various family gatherings. You’d think Christmas was my favourite time of year. And I think it was, once upon a time.
Much like a little Cindy Lou Who, I am wondering if Christmas changed or if it’s just me. I am unsuccessfully attempting to pretend I am happy as a clam about the end of December. Posting pictures on Facebook and Instagram that give the impression that I am having fun. Saying “Merry Christmas” at every chance I get. Inviting friends over to my house for a Friendsmas celebration tomorrow evening. Dressing my puppy up in all the Christmas attire I can find in this city. And yet, for the past several years the holidays have been a major drag. It seems like nearly everyone around me is gladly celebrating their various holidays and the coming of a new year. Meanwhile, I am dreading that another year is coming to a close and hyper-ventilating at the thought of all the social gatherings I have signed up for.
I don’t hate the holidays. I love the holidays. One of the most difficult things about depression and anxiety is that they can twist events you love into the most terrible time ever. My lows make it so that I can’t fully enjoy even the things I hold most dear and my anxiety gets in the way of me engaging in all of the gatherings. My mind is split in a dichotomy between holiday spirit and dread of everything this season entails, in spite of myself.
This year I sought counsel from my psychiatrist about how to handle the days between December 23rd and January 1st. This isn’t even about trying to enjoy the holidays, it’s about surviving them. We decided to use some strategies which include planning to take 15-minute breaks every hour or two during social engagements, rejecting any last-minute plans, staying at events for a short amount of time and keeping myself low-key during unscheduled time. Thankfully my husband is more than willing to help me stick to these coping strategies and my loved ones are all very understanding.
In spite of all of this support, I feel guilty over my sudden change of perspective on Christmas and New Year’s. I worry that I am not doing a good enough job of convincing my family and friends that I am enjoying myself or even “doing okay”. I used to be the happiest person at holiday gatherings – the embodiment of holiday spirit. I worry that they will feel the need to walk on eggshells around me, especially since I just got out of the hospital again. I worry that I will detract from the joy others should get to experience in full this time of year just by being around them.
I also feel sad about this whole situation. It has been such a challenge to sit around Christmas trees with people I love and not feel genuine happiness or calm. It’s hard to hear myself saying “I hate Christmas” over and over when I know the opposite to be true. I know that I only “hate Christmas” this year because I love it so much that it is hard to feel detached from it. I know I will feel the same in a few days when I am faced with the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018. I feel like in addition to letting everyone who matters to me down, I am letting myself down. I wish I just knew how to get out of my own way so that I could feel the way I used to during the month of December.
The worst panic attack I have ever had was last New Year’s Eve around 11pm. I felt my anxiety levels start to rise as I was watching holiday programming so I went and had a bath to help calm down. I wound up having a catastrophic panic attack with all the “fun” bells and whistles. Why? Because I suddenly realized that I had wasted 2016. I had secluded myself, done very little of value, lived in near constant unhappiness and anxiety, etc. A year later, I feel much the same. Yes, yes… I hear you people who know me saying how much progress I have made this year, how many amazing things have happened in my life this year, etc. But from where I sit, progress feels slow and it is hard to see all of the good through the foggy lens of depression and anxiety. 2017 is the year I got married, the year one of my best friends had a baby, etc. Hopefully at some point down the line I will remember it that way. Hopefully at some point down the line, I will be able to enjoy my favourite time of year again.
If you too are dreading the start of a new year and just doing your best to make it through the holidays, I hear you. I know the pressure to feel jolly this time of year makes it even harder for those of us who aren’t coping so well. I hope you are okay and that next year’s holiday season will be a little bit easier for you. In the meantime, this article from The Royal Ottawa Hospital or this one from CAMH might be of some help. Remember, if you are in distress there are helplines out there with people ready to chat.