I get so much out of the baking, decorating, and having The Hallmark Channel on 24/7 that as soon as it’s over, I start counting down the days until we can do it again. In fact, last year after we put away the Christmas decorations, I could feel myself getting sad. I tried to talk myself down in front of my kids. “Well before we know it, it will be February. I start decorating and listening to Christmas movies around Halloween, so technically I only have to wait nine months!”
My youngest had to reach out and give me a hug, and I could see it was out of pity.
However, my love for all things sugary and jolly doesn’t mean my anxiety goes away. I actually think it gets worse this time of year.
I never knew I had this until about twenty years ago when I was in the shower and almost had a full-on panic attack thinking about how I was going to find the time to buy everyone in my family a gift, have my cookie exchange, plan a craft night, buy the decorations I wanted, and host Christmas dinner. I wanted to do it all, yet my mind was in a constant loop going over how I was going to pay for it and come through with the plans.
I was waking up early every morning and rushing around to get things done. My weekends were consumed and I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was irritable and just looking to get something crossed off the list.
My then-fiance told me, in his “here we go again” tone, that I was ruining his holiday. I told him I was just excited, which is why I couldn’t sleep much.
He said, “This isn’t excitement; it’s called anxiety.”
I couldn’t say he wasn’t right.
My heart was pounding. I couldn’t settle down and enjoy the things I was supposed to be enjoying. It was always on to the next thing with a huge dose of worry on the side, because that’s how you live when you have high-functioning anxiety.
It feels like a need to do everything and have it all be amazing — only you are running yourself down to a nub so fast before you know it, the party is over and you have a hangover that lasts for over a month.
Having high-functioning anxiety over the holidays makes you feel like you have to do it all because there is so much to do. You want to bring that experience to yourself and to everyone else because it’s there for the taking.
You’ll sit down for a family movie night in matching pajamas that you gifted everyone and realize that you haven’t made your cookies for your neighbor yet this year that they love.
You put the kind of pressure on yourself you’d never put on anyone else because you think you can handle it. And if you can’t, you are just a huge loser in your mind.
When you set out to do something relaxing, you can’t get into it. Your family gets annoyed with you because you are annoyed with them for not decorating the tree right, not agreeing on what to have for Christmas dinner, and for fucking with the candles in the windows because dammit-it-all-to-hell, it’s Christmas, everything has to be perfect, and it’s all on you.
Growing up, my mother was wound tighter than my thumb ring after I had a plate of beef jerky this time of year. I hated being around her during the holidays because it wasn’t fun. She was always stressed out, never seemed happy, and couldn’t just let the little things go. I have remembered that many times since becoming a mom, and I don’t want to be the one person who sucks the magic out of everything.
Yes, I want to do a lot during the holidays and take it in. That’s who I am, who I’ve been since I can remember, and I will always be this way. But I am also someone who gets extremely anxious. It’s hard to draw the line at doing between doing all the things because of FOMO or feeling like you should, and doing them because you want to enjoy yourself, be festive, and have others reap the benefits of your efforts — because that feels good and makes you happy.
My partner was right so many years ago. It isn’t excitement and joy when you aren’t even liking all the things you couldn’t wait to do. It’s something else entirely. And there are so many people who struggle to see that everything will be okay if they take some time to be in the moment instead of manufacturing every moment because they think they should.
I work on this every year; it’s always a fight with myself, and it probably always will be. But it’s my reality, and those who struggle with high-functioning anxiety are badass and find ways to deal with it.
Hopefully, along the way, we can also forgive ourselves for not always striking the right balance. And maybe even let go of trying.