My kids have been so incredibly sick this winter, and it's really put a damper on the time I can spend blogging. But, that just means that you get the final 2 "things people with anxiety wish you knew during the holidays" at once! Happy holidays! The cool thing about my kids being super sick this last month is that it has distracted me from my "normal" anxiety I feel during the holidays. However, now that we're at Christmas Eve eve, I feel it closing in around me.
#2: We Don't Want to Be This Way
One of the hardest stigmas I've had to battle with my anxiety is the idea that I'm anti-social or stand-offish. People perceive my disengagement as apathy at best or callousness at worst. I want to be careful when I say that I "don't want to be this way" because I have learned to embrace my anxiety and use it to strengthen my psyche and ability to empathize. **It took me YEARS to get here. If your anxiety is still debilitating, don't let that be a statement that frustrates you. You will get there.** I enjoy my anxiety in that it often allows me to see the world as it really is (even though it often causes me to read into situations way more than I need to). However, I do have to address the ideas that 1) we didn't choose to be this way and 2) we don't want to be this way.
When everyone is seemingly able to laugh and ignore the fact that there are tiny pieces of wrapping paper embedded in the carpet, our quirks are exemplified. We ask ourselves, "Why doesn't this bother anyone else?" "Am I crazy?" We don't want to be so distracted by whether or not our child loses the pieces of his brand new toy that we miss the joy in his face as he pretends he's a fireman. We don't want to be so worried about food borne illnesses that we can't enjoy the cookies our niece made. We don't want to be so overstimulated that we have to "go to the car" to "look for some gum." We don't want to, but sometimes we have to. Any guilt you place on us for "missing out" only further perpetuates our idea that we aren't worthy of the experiences everyone is sharing.
#1: We're Still Having Fun
With all this being said, I want you to know one very important fact: We're still having fun. The good news is that most of us are aware of our triggers, and the really lucky ones among us have perfected our self-care techniques. We've started preparing a long time ago to address all the possible hiccups we could face as these next few days approach.
Even if we have a "bad" anxiety day on Christmas, we're still enjoying your company. For some of us, we feel safest with our families. For some of us, we feel most exposed with our families. Regardless of where your loved one stands on that spectrum, they still appreciate the effort and love that goes into preparing for a holiday. The only thing I ask is that you remember that "fun" looks differently for everyone. Some people thrive in chaos - an intense game of charades, drinking, everyone opening presents at the same time. And, some people thrive in the more quiet moments - a private conversation with a loved one they haven't seen in a while, eye contact after someone has opened a thoughtful gift, the drive home when the kids are finally asleep. Be sensitive to the different ways your loved ones thrive. What works for you doesn't work for everyone else, but that doesn't mean they're not sharing in the joy and fun with you!
I will be thinking of all my fellow anxiety warriors as the holiday season comes and goes. I want to add one more caveat to all of these tips: I addressed people with "normal" family situations. I'm also aware some of you are estranged from your family, some of you are geographically far away from your families, some of you are battling through a season of loss, and some of you may be in a season of anxiety that is greater than your will to combat it. If you fall into any of these camps, it's okay to "just survive." It's okay to put your head down and just get through. Fill your own cup if you are able, and if you have any left over, fill the cups of the people who mean the most to you.
Happy holidays, friends!
Alright, friends. I'm taking a break from the "Things People with Anxiety want You to Know During the Holidays" because I'm angry. I'm angry and disappointed. I've been glued to the impeachment hearings just like many of you have. I'm not going to talk about them specifically, but I am going to talk about what has happened to our country over the past 3 years.
Why do we hate each other so much? Seriously.
I am a podcast junkie. One of my favorites is NPR's Hidden Brain. I recently listened to an episode called, "In The Heat Of The Moment" (I'll embed it below). In this episode, it talked about "hot" and "cold" states and how these states interact with our ability to empathize with ourselves and others. For example, the host, Shankar Vedantam, had a colleague who was going to attempt to keep his hand in a cup of ice water for a minute. After about 20 seconds, he pulled his hand out because he couldn't take the cold. However, just a few minutes later, he had already forgotten that pain and was sure he could do it again. Spoiler alert: He still couldn't. Shankar discusses how when we are in "cold" (not directly related to temperature...it's just ironically related to the ice water scenario) states, we cant predict how we will act in "hot" states. And once we're out of those "hot" states, we can't understand why we acted the way we did or even accurately predict how we will react when we are put in a "hot" state again because we have an empathy gap with ourselves and others.
I believe this is what's happening in our country right now. We are struggling to empathize with people who have it worse AND better than us. Yesterday, I worked my primary job from 7:30-4 then I waited tables from 4:30-9:30, and I'll do it again today. My primary job requires a master's, which I have, but it does not pay enough for us to live on. I am, by no means, complaining about my primary job. I love it. I love being able to help people, and I was willing to make financial sacrifices to make it work. I also love waiting tables. I love interacting with people. I love making people happy. BUT, I don't love leaving for work while my kids are still sleeping and coming home after they've gone to bed (just kidding, they're never asleep when I get home, but I do hate only seeing them for about 30 minutes a day). I also don't enjoy how 12-14 hour work days impact my chronic illness and make my body swell and ache for days. I am not asking for a single bit of pity. I chose my career. I chose my degree. What I am asking for is a little bit of empathy.
I have seen so many horrible comments regarding people from my generation. We are "entitled." We are "whiny." We are "lazy." No, we aren't. We're working 2-4 jobs. We're in debt up to our eyeballs because we were manipulated to buy into a broken system. We can't afford houses. We avoid the doctor because we don't have insurance or can't afford our deductible. We aren't whining; we're speaking our truth. I'm going to make a bold statement: No one should have to choose between having a family and getting the skills or education needed to help them attain a job that allows them to share their gifts with the world. Here's another bold statement: No one should have to choose between paying rent/mortgage and going to see the doctor when there is something wrong with them. Maybe, you were able to pay for your college while working a part-time job. We couldn't. Maybe, you have your health. But, some of us don't.
I am not debating forgiving student loans or universal healthcare, but I am urging you to do something a bit difficult today. I want you to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has a life path that doesn't look like yours. And friends in my boat, I still ask you to do the same. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has worked hard to pay off student loans or someone who rarely has to see a doctor. Again, I want no pity. Actually, in the grand scheme of things, I have immense privilege. I'll continue to work as much as I need to provide for my family and pay the bills I have accrued because I am a bit lucky to even have those opportunities. However, I refuse to be disrespected and degraded because I want a world where people can share their gifts with the world and still afford to live.
In a previous blog, I told you the best marriage advice I was given: You can both be tired. Friends, we can all be happy. Maybe, you worked hard for all you have. I'm proud of you. Maybe, you were dealt a really shitty hand. I see you. Maybe, you are currently working towards your dreams. Keep striving! Maybe, you're already there. You're awesome! There's plenty to go around. Empathize, please.
I'm going to need you to do me a favor: read this all the way through before you process it. I'd be ignorant to believe that I wasn't the only person sharing about my mental health journey. It seems as if our society is moving towards more understanding and acceptance of mental illness. I am excited to know that my children might live in a world that is a bit more conducive to the flourishing of everyone. The interesting phenomenon about mental illness is that those of us who battle every day aren't entirely comforted by this movement towards "normalizing" mental health.
#3: Don't Cater to Us
Like I said, I would really like you to read this in its entirety before placing judgment on what I'm saying. When I ask you not cater to my mental illness, I am not asking you to ignore it. You see, one of the most powerful ideas my anxiety chokes me with is this idea that I am a burden. My anxiety makes me feel like I am not enough. My anxiety makes me feel like I am a nuisance to the people who love me. My anxiety tells me that the get-together I'm attending would be better if I would have stayed home. If you've never battled anxiety, you might look at what I just said and reply, "That's silly. You know we love you." The weird aspect of anxiety is that I know that, but my anxiety keeps me from believing it sometimes.
This transitions me to my point: when you cater to me while I'm having an anxiety attack or antisocial moment, you inadvertently perpetuate those illogical conceptions my anxiety is trying to plant in my head. I am NOT saying that you should ignore me, not check in on me, or let me fall so deeply into my own head that I am a danger to myself. What I am saying is that I don't want you to change your plans for me. If it's time to eat and I am sitting alone in a bedroom, go ahead and start eating without me. If I text you, "hey, I'm running late. Go ahead and exchange gifts," please exchange gifts. I am likely alone or running late because I am preparing myself to be the best version of myself that I can be. When you wait for me after I ask you to go ahead, my anxiety is amplified because I then, rightfully, feel like a burden. These thoughts are illogical; I understand that. That's why anxiety is so powerful. You're fighting an enemy that makes no sense, so you can't combat it with logic.
This might sound callous, but I promise it's better for everyone involved. I know you're well-meaning, and I know that you have no intention but to make me feel welcome. However, I'll join the party when I'm ready. I'll laugh and enjoy your company. But, please, don't draw attention to me by changing plans to accommodate my coping mechanisms.
Raise you're hand if you're socially awkward...actually, don't. You'll likely feel very uncomfortable if I ask you to draw this attention to yourself. In social situations, I often appear to be thriving. I remember the look of shock on students' faces when I would share with them that I actually hate being in social situations. "But, you're so good at talking to people," they'd often say. I attribute that to the socialization skills I've developed to combat some of my intrusive thoughts that would force me to stay in my home all the time if I let them win.
#4 on the list of "Things People with Anxiety Wish You Knew During the Holidays": It's NOT Personal
I pride myself in the coping mechanisms I've developed to help with my anxiety. Growing up, they weren't always healthy. And, to error on the side of transparency, I can't tell you that every strategy I use to cope as an adult is healthy. However, one major mechanism I use/have used is avoidance (I'm still not sure if it's healthly or not, and I don't know if it matters either way). It's caused me to flake on some plans, it's caused me to call into work, it's caused me to hide away in my office.
During the holidays, there's really no place to hide. The expectations to be places are high. The guilt when you hint on not attending certain events is palpable. From work Christmas parties to family get togethers, the holidays are draining for every type of person. It can be almost debilitating for your resident introverts or friends and loved ones with anxiety.
When someone says, "where's Emily," or finds me hiding in another room alone during the joyous gatherings, it can be a bit jarring. Why doesn't she want to be with us? Why would she hide away while everyone is sharing time together? I'm not taking a moment to myself because I don't love you or want to be around you. I'm taking a moment of peace and quiet to recharge, so I CAN be with you. It wouldn't matter if you were my brother or sister or a complete stranger; the kind of socialization required during the holidays takes a lot of recharging to sustain. Please don't take it personally when someone needs a minute to themselves (and this goes with people who are extroverts at heart). It has nothing to do with you; it has everything to do with their overstimulation and need to be recharged.
Sorry for the hiatus. I was busy writing about how to promote critical and digital literacy in an English classroom and how Guy Montag, in Fahrenheit 451, has a symbolic Oedipal complex. It's been an exciting two weeks as I finished up my first semester of graduate classes for English.
It's no secret: Christmas is approaching. I'm going to say something that might seem Scrooge-worthy at best and sacrilegious at worst. I'm not a fan of the holidays. My parents always provided us with amazing holidays, and I have heartwarming memories of spending time with all of my family members. I also work hard not to reflect my stress and frustration during this time on to my own children, so they can harbor the same wonderful memories I do. For a long time, I thought I was just defective because I didn't become all "merry and bright" as soon as we got through Thanksgiving. However, as I've grown, I've learned that my frustration during the holidays likely stems from my anxiety.
Mental health issues don't take a break for the holidays. As a matter of fact, it is likely that your friends and family who battle their own brain on a daily basis actually have to put up a greater fight during the holiday season. For this reason, I want to do a 5 part series on mental health and the holidays. The list I'm compiling contains "The Five Things an Anxious Mind Wants You to Know During the Holidays."
#5: We are Grateful
Anxiety and depression manifest in very different ways. I will be speaking about my anxiety; however, I hope that those of you whose anxiety manifests in a different way or those of you who battle other mental illnesses can still take nuggets of wisdom from this.
I have been told by the people really close to me (the people brave enough to be honest) that I'm not a good gift-receiver. Talk about a gut punch. The first time I heard this I got extremely defensive. "What do you mean? I'm not a good gift-receiver?!" However, after some reflection, I realized it was half true. I'm only saying "half true" because it's not completely fair to put all the blame on me. When people tell me this, what they mean to say is "you don't reflect gratitude the way I'm used to receiving it."
Those of us with anxiety are often overstimulated by mundane situations. For example, you can put me in a "quiet" waiting room, and I could have an anxiety attack from hearing the girl beside me pick her nails, watching the corner light flicker, and being nervous about missing the nurse calling my name. Now, imagine what a chaotic living room with wrapping paper strewn across the floor, children squealing, food scents wafting through the air, and Uncle So-and-So talking about the latest political scandal can do to someone who gets anxious in a quiet waiting room. By the time someone hands me a gift, I am already exhausted. I am exhausted from having to engage (and I'll talk about this in a later post. Don't get offended) and present myself in a "holly-jolly" way. So when I unwrap your present, and I say, "Thank you," in a quiet tone, please don't take that as me being ungrateful or unappreciative of what you got me. I am really just working hard to survive at that moment, and I'd rather not draw any more attention to myself than what was already drawn by my opening of the present. I want the situation to move on. I want to watch the joy in someone else's face. I want the attention off of me.
I will likely send you a thank-you letter when I am back home and able to center myself, but please know that I am grateful. I am grateful for the gift. I am grateful for the time you took and the money you spent. I am grateful that I have people around me who love me enough to buy and watch me open gifts. I'm just nervous and anxious, and I have a really hard time expressing genuine emotions when I am in this state.
**Disclaimer: None of this list is meant to give anyone an excuse to act like a horrible person during the holidays. I'm just reminding you that, though the holidays are magical, they come with difficulties for everyone. And, those difficulties are often amplified by the fact that we believe we aren't allowed to face them or be unhappy during the holidays.
The holiday season is here, friends! We see pictures of warm family dinners. We see parents sharing pictures of their elves on shelves. We see beautiful bows carefully placed on top of elaborate gifts. I've never been a big fan of the holidays (it's one of my major character flaws...that and my inability to do math). But, I do love when we all share in the magic of whatever holidays we celebrate.
It would be great if all we ever had to think about was all the goodness that is the holiday season. However, one difficult reality about the holidays is that it can sometimes highlight what we don't have. And, what's most difficult about the holiday season is that people often feel like they can't share their despair because everyone else is so happy. You might be stressing over the fact that you don't have the money to buy your kid the one big gift they asked for. This might be the first holiday you celebrate without someone you love. This holiday might churn up memories for people who didn't always have joyous times during this season.
First of all, I hear you. I am missing my grandparents terribly this holiday season, and I am certainly scraping pennies to get the people I care about the gifts I think they deserve. But secondly, I encourage you to think about what you do have - and don't do it in a comparative way. Sometimes we fall into the trap of saying, "But, some people don't even have what we have." I argue that's just as dangerous as comparing yourself to people who have more. When you base your worth on the worth of others, you have no control over how you perceive your reality - it is determined by outside forces. I don't have the money to get my kids the motorized Jeep I'd love to watch them drive around in the summer, but I do have the money to get them some little things they're going to love. And more importantly, I have the mental and physical resources to give them memories that will last far longer than the cheap plastic. I don't have my grandparents here anymore. But, my own parents are grandparents now, and I can build some beautiful memories with them and my children.
Inevitably, the people I follow on social media will share pictures of "better" gifts they bought and received. They'll share pictures with their grandparents. Those images and ideas only hurt me if I let them. The easy thing for me to say is to get off social media. However, I actually am not one to damn social media. I get to see pictures of my cousin and his family that I would otherwise miss because they live a bit away. If you want to swear off social media for the holidays, by all means, do so. If you're like me, and you need it to keep track of people you care about who don't live near you, I encourage you to mentally check in with yourself when you feel yourself sliding down that comparative slope. When you feel yourself being drained by images of things that evoke jealousy and sadness, make a conscious effort to feel happy for those people then close the app and look at what you have. Look at your two children playing with the 15 dollar toy you got them. Look at your own mother smiling as she watches them play. Your life is full of joy if you don't let the comparative jealousy eclipse it. That mother who got her kid the 300 dollar Jeep, the father who got his kids' presents from the Dollar Tree, and the grandma who stayed up all night wrapping 30 presents for her grandkids all have one thing in common: they want to be happy. Be happy for each other then be happy for yourself. We can all be happy simultaneously...this isn't a competition.
Happy holidays, friends!