Jess shared the essay below on her experience with holiday anxiety along with a collection of other women from across the world. The project's mission is to create awareness and open up conversation on mental health during the stressful holiday season. Read their stories and share yours at Behold.Her.
My relationship with the holiday season is complex. I absolutely adore the season for the opportunities to give and celebrate with loved ones, gather around food, and plug into that childlike joy that comes from twinkly lights and the smell of sugar cookies. However, I am paralyzed by anxiety when it comes to the day itself.
My parents separated when I was a teenager and the holidays became the pinnacle of heartbreak. Even before their divorce, we spent the day shuffling from house to house, visiting grandparents, aunts, cousins and then loading up and doing it again. Once our parents also had separate houses, this just added to the chaos. We never sat still and enjoyed the company of anyone because we already had one foot out the door to head to the next location. I remember feeling sick with guilt for being with one parent and not with the other, and as we made our shuffle to the next house, the same guilt would creep up in reverse.
This mess of pain and guilt and anger and sadness has stayed with me from childhood, when I thought surely my life was uniquely broken— to adulthood, where I’m now certain I’m in good, anxious, irritated, stressed out company.
This year’s holiday season is particularly uncomfortable. I am recently separated from my husband and celebrating the holidays alone for the first time in a long time. The idea of sitting solo at the Thanksgiving table doesn’t worry me, but the inevitable conversation about my alone-ness at these holiday events is and will continue to be absolutely crushing. I already feel myself pulling back, declining invitations, and looking for excuses to fill my calendar to avoid these moments.
Getting divorced has taught me a lot about other people, and one of those things is that they are so, incredibly, freaking uncomfortable with talking about hard things. They either divert to awkward babbling or douse you in pity and sad eyes. Neither of which cultivates a comfortable conversation space. Neither makes me feel good. Throw in the pressure of having a holly-jolly time and too much mulled-wine and it’s a nightmare.
The proverbial cherry on top is that I do not celebrate the holidays with any religious ties. I float comfortably between the titles of agnostic and atheist, with zero desire to discuss my beliefs or belittle anyone’s opposing beliefs any day of the year. Christmas day is traditionally an occasion spent hiding my tattoos, avoiding conversations about Christ, and now carrying the sinful burden of my divorce around the table with my very conservative family. (Sidenote: I could write a whole new essay on how to awkwardly make it through family prayer/not audibly gag when we 'pray for our president.’)
I don’t have any words of wisdom for surviving the season. I truly believe that everyone suffers through their own unique heartbreak, anxiety, confusion, and frustrations around the holidays, and the best thing we can do is own it—put our stories out there, support and love one another, and take our friends for drinks the minute they make it back from their family’s home.
To anyone who feels their chest tighten at the thought of the holidays, know you’re not alone, you’re not broken and like any other season, this stressful, hard season, will pass too.
Also, if you’re up for running away to a beach somewhere to avoid it all, let’s freaking do it.