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.