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When Anxiety Strikes on Your Favorite Days of the Year

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With smells of stuffing, turkey and homemade noodles wafting through the air, I stood outside in the freezing cold, barefoot and bawling my eyes out on Thanksgiving — my favorite holiday of the year. I was pleading with my husband not to go to work 30 minutes before his scheduled law enforcement shift on one of the biggest holidays of the year. Although I was asking the near-impossible, he stayed. We went back inside, where we were surrounded by close family, and we tried to make the most out of the situation.

Rewind to the day before. I actually drove to pick my daughter up from school, I took a walk around my neighborhood, I considered going to the store, but I never made it there due to time constraints. I was having one of the best anxiety weeks I had, had in a long time. I was looking forward to Thanksgiving. I woke up Thanksgiving morning with the same bright-eyed optimism. We grabbed coffee, got in our SUV and made the seven-mile trip to my parents’ house. I was still maintaining that optimism, but I began to feel the familiar niggle in the back of my head. There were so many things that could go wrong, and my husband having to leave for a shift immediately after eating dinner? That was the trigger.

My generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) has caused me to develop some unhealthy codependency habits. My husband lets me be what he affectionately calls “clingy,” even though we both know it is something much worse than that. We’re working on it, but it’s baby steps. He travels across the country every few months. I mentally prepare myself for weeks. Sometimes, though, small things like a shift at work or a need for him to go get milk at the store can leave me reeling for hours.

In the time leading up to the big meal, we had a fun time. I laughed and joked with my parents, and I enjoyed the company of my kids. I sucked in the Thanksgiving smell — the one you can’t get in a bottle, spray or candle. The niggle I had earlier on, though, was getting worse. As soon as we ate and my husband got his gear on, I lost it.

I had to get out of the house before I started panicking — or worse, passed out — or worse, died.

Meanwhile, I was doing my best to hide it from the kids. The last thing I want to do is pass my anxiety onto them, so I always make my first goal during a panic attack to get away from the kids. I had to feign a stomach ache for my less-than-understanding parents. I had to grovel to my husband to stay with me. Worst of all, I had to cause some type of upset on one of the most peaceful and heartwarming days of the year. Why couldn’t Thanksgiving come on Wednesday, when I was having a great day, or Friday when I actually braved the Black Friday crowds (OK, I went out at 11 a.m., but again, baby steps).

Thanksgiving still happened on Thursday. My panic still happened. I got through it like I always do, but it left me wondering what the coming months are going to have in store for me. The holidays have always been somewhat of a sanctuary time in the years I have struggled with this disorder, but that is clearly no longer the case.

For me, the hardest part about living with GAD during the holidays is dealing with the dark days even when they’re on my favorite holiday.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Originally published: December 1, 2016
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