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On the First Day of Christmas My Anxiety Gave to Me…

The holidays are a busy time of year — and my anxiety doesn’t like the hustle and bustle. The thought of the big one (Christmas) coming up makes me nervous. I used to love Christmas. Presents, family, an abundance of food and a guaranteed day off of school or work. Those are the ingredients to the type of Christmas I used to love.

So in the spirit of the holidays, here are five wonderful “gifts” my anxiety now gives me on Christmas.

1. The pressure of finding the “perfect” gift.

I don’t give people gifts. It’s not because I don’t want to get my loved ones anything, but the stress of finding the “perfect” gift is something I choose to avoid. I do have an easy out when all else fails: gift cards! But even gift cards are looked down upon.

2. Eating with an audience.

Eating with a large group of people is not ideal. Crowds bring out my “what if” thoughts. What if I choke? What if the food makes me sick? What if I hate the food, but feel guilty about not eating it? Having “what if” thoughts in front of a large group of people is a terrifying possibility. Also, one of the side effects of my anxiety is lack of appetite. How do I explain that to a family member who has spent all day cooking a delicious meal? “I can’t enjoy the food you worked on for hours because of anxiety. Sorry.”

3. Unsolicited family therapy sessions.

Talking to the family I see once a year presents multiple challenges. The biggest problem is knowing I’m faking it. I’m supposed to be interested in their lives, but, and this sounds mean, I’m not. Faking conversation makes me squirm. It’s even worse with the family members who know about my anxiety, but have no idea what I go through on a daily basis. Inevitably, they’ll ask me how I’m doing. If I say I panic frequently and I’m afraid to leave my house, they look at me like I’m crazy. Or, and this is worse, they offer unsolicited advice they swear helped someone they knew who had the same problem. I appreciate their assistance, but sometimes amateur psychology can do more harm than good.

4. Leaving my safe place.

Having Christmas away from home is horrible on so many levels. My home is my safe place. I have a routine here. I have a place to go whenever I need time to myself. I don’t have a safe place at my relatives’ house. When I panic, I have to scramble for a place to hide. If my life was a book, I would tear this chapter out and rip it to pieces. Christmas is supposed to be a time of happiness, so knowing I have to leave home is a direct blow to my comfort.

5. Driving anxiety.

This coincides with #4. Driving in a car for long distances is something I avoid unless it’s completely necessary. My first panic attack occurred in a car. I feel trapped, so the entire time I’m driving I’m going through a rollercoaster of emotions. Much like eating in groups, the car brings out so many “what ifs.” What if I panic in the middle of nowhere? Who will save me? What if I get stuck in a tunnel?

Then, after all those torturous thoughts, I get the pleasure of dragging my anxiety-drained body into a house full of bright and cheerful people. I imagine them looking at me like I’m a complete mess. Prolonged anxiety, like what happens after driving for a long time, makes me look ill. My skin is clammy and pale, and my eyes become bloodshot. This isn’t exactly the look I’m going for when visiting family.

Christmas has all the makings of being an incredibly positive time of year. There’s unselfish giving, the warmth of families reconnecting and, if you’re lucky, a gift or two. The fact that anxiety has the power to get in the way of that truly positive event is deflating.

So, if you notice someone at your Christmas gathering who doesn’t seem to be enjoying themselves as much as everyone else, give them some private attention. I know when I’m anxious, even though I look like I don’t want to talk, all I need is someone to pull me away from myself. Who better to help you through your anxiety than a loved one? Sure, they may not have all the answers, but at least they’re willing to try. For someone with anxiety, knowing we’re not alone in this is the best gift we can receive. Your offer to chat may be turned away, but your invitation may open up a conversation at a later time.

Follow this journey on We Are All Scared.

The Mighty is asking the following: As someone who lives with — or has a loved one with — a mental illness, what’s one thing that’s particularly challenging around the holidays? Why? What advice would give someone going through similar challenges? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.