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How I'm Protecting My Mental Health Against the Exhaustion of the Holiday Season

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Tired. I don’t remember the last time I wasn’t tired. Not just your usual “man I wish I got more sleep last night” tired, but life tired. Tired of processing events that have happened in the past few months, tired of being on all day every day, tired of being me. I found myself telling my therapist that I didn’t want to be me anymore, because no matter what I do life happens and I end up back here in this place.

In the last few months I have experienced my first loss of a loved one that I was incredibly close to. I’ve lost loved ones before, but not like this. I’ve witnessed a car accident and performed first aid and CPR to the people involved, one of which did not survive. And all the while I’ve been running my own preschool in the middle of this ongoing pandemic. But those are stories for another time.

Now it’s the end of November, Christmas is just around the corner and I have never been more tired. Christmas has never been my favorite holiday and Santa Claus guys, for real? A creepy old dude that breaks into your house in the middle of the night and eats your food? Sounds great. I was 4 years old when my cousin told me that Santa was not real and that I couldn’t believe in him because that would make me a bad Christian, because Christmas was about Jesus. Throw in an anxiety disorder and some family drama and you’ve got yourself a child who can’t sleep on Christmas Eve because she is terrified someone is going to break into her house and rob and murder her. My happiest memories were of being at my grandfather’s house on Boxing Day for our family Christmas dinner all my family, aunts, uncles, cousins crammed together in a tiny little farmhouse stuffing our faces full of turkey, ham all the fixings and oh the desserts! It was impossible to not feel at least a teeny bit of joy with my Grampy around. This year will be our first year without him as he sadly passed away this past Good Friday.

Every year I push myself to be cheery and excited for the children at school and my family and friends. I’m generally not very good at it. This year I have been trying extra hard and have been in full Christmas mode all day every day for the past few weeks and still have about three to go before Christmas break.
It is hard and exhausting trying to be the person my students need me to be. For them Christmas is still magical, Santa is still real and everything is so exciting. In my heart I want it to stay this way forever for them and I do everything I can to keep the magic going for them every day at school. We have written our Santa letters and walked to the post office to deliver them, started practicing our songs for our Christmas concert and the Christmas music is on non-stop throughout the day. The next few weeks will be filled with Christmas everything, crafts, activities, stories and outings. Sometimes I do get caught up in the excitement, but mostly I’m exhausted. It’s even more overwhelming trying to be the person that my family and friends need after spending the day trying to be the best teacher that I can be. I come home to be the cookie baking, tree decorating, gift wrapping (don’t even get me started on Christmas shopping in the stores right now), movie watching, handmade present giving Katie that they wish me to be.

I feel like the harder I push the more depressed and anxious I become. It just sucks the life right out of you. People don’t realize how hard it is to fake it till you make it, or that as hard as you try you may never make it, plus it’s Christmas so how can you not be happy?

Sometimes my whole life is fake it till I make it running on autopilot, trying to get by and not let anyone see the cracks in my façade. Depression is hard. Anxiety is hard. You have good days and bad days. On the good days I get things done, I genuinely laugh and socialize and feel a little more human. On the bad days I get so mad at myself, it’s overwhelming and I’m exhausted. I want to curl up into a ball and disappear. It’s like throwing a boomerang, you chuck it away but know it’s going to come back and you need to be prepared to catch it. I’m always waiting for the shoe to drop. It makes me feel worthless and stupid and I can never understand why I find myself back in this place. What is wrong with me? Because obviously I am broken and something isn’t right, I should be able to push it away and keep it away.

That doesn’t go away at Christmas. If anything it gets worse. There are family gatherings to go to where you have plenty of time to compare yourself to the rest of your family, because while this person does something fancy for a living and that person is married and this person has children etc, yup you’re still single and headed for 31 with no children in sight. It’s silly of course, but that’s anxiety for you. There is so much pressure to be happy and excited simply because its Christmas that I find myself pushing through forcing the smiles and laughs. I feel like the Grinch. I feel like I am ruining everyone’s Christmas if I am not being sunny and delighted at every little Christmas thing.

This year I don’t feel joy; I’m in a place where I mostly feel sadness. I miss my Grampy. I’m still learning to process the grief that I feel from this loss and the trauma from the accident back in July. I’m slowly learning more about myself and how my autism (a fairly recent discovery) impacts my life, and there is grief there for the struggles that I went through as a child. My heart aches for that little girl and what might have been. How much easier could my life have been if I had just known? What could have been different? So much grief and sadness. So this year feels especially hard, I’m working even harder to be the person that my friends and family want at Christmas, and be the teacher that my students need at Christmas all the while processing everything from the past few months. There are days that I don’t want to be me anymore, there are days I just don’t want to be at all.

Right now, I am struggling to find balance between taking care of myself and doing what is best for me and spending time with my family and friends. I know deep down that choosing to skip the parade and the tree lighting in favor of curling up with a good book and some tea today in order to go to a Christmas party tomorrow is going to disappoint someone, but I just have to keep telling myself that I cannot do it all. In the words of my therapist: If Christmas makes you sad, if it’s overwhelming and overstimulating (me too), that’s OK. If being “on” all the time is exhausting (me too), that’s OK. If being Christmas “on” all the time has you wanting to fade away into the corner (me too), that’s OK. It’s OK to say no, even at Christmas (something I am reminding myself of every day right now). It may feel awful in the moment because you know you are disappointing someone, but in the long run its better for your health (also continuing to remind myself of this every day). Be gentle with yourself. Sure, Christmas only comes around once a year, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your mental health to be someone you’re not to please the people around you (and yup you guessed it still have to remind myself of this every day as well).

Getty image by petrunjela

Originally published: November 29, 2021
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