Family Gatherings & Anxiety
Turkeys are not the only ones who get freaked out in November. Holiday gatherings stir up my anxiety something fierce. It starts around now in anticipation of Thanksgiving dinner at my brother’s home. When I think about that event, my heart starts to thump loud enough for me to hear. My breathing gets shallower and I start to wonder if I will have a full-blown panic attack. Some years, I have been lucky enough to skip the dinner altogether, but I have run out of plausible excuses, so, it looks like, unless I become ill (if I didn’t have three autoimmune diseases, I might wish for this), I am going this year.
I’m not sure why my anxiety spikes around people I love so much. But it does. It may have something to do with the judgment swirling in the air when families come together. My family would surely deny it, but everything gets evaluated, from my body size (Have you put on weight?) to my clothing (Why do you always wear black?) to my career (You should finish that memoir you started—that would be a real winner.) By the time the evening is over, I will be questioning every choice I have ever made, feeling not-good-enough and ashamed.
As I’m writing this, I realize shame is the direct cause of my anxiety at family get-togethers. And that’s understandable, I think. After all, who wants to feel less-than? I am already a people-pleaser, which entails some pretty deep insecurities I spend a great deal of energy masking and tamping down. Why would I want to put myself in a situation in which everything will come bubbling up to the surface, leaving me feeling helpless and out of control? Why would anybody want that?
And yet, as I have heard from hundreds of friends and fellow anxiety sufferers, that is exactly what family dinners turn out to be for so many people. The sad part of this story is that the family is often clueless about their role in this particular anxiety loop. I know my family is. Or was.
Now, I am feeling guilt, which is also contributing to my anxiety. I feel guilty because my family is wonderful and we are lucky to have each other and I have no business complaining about them because there is so much sorrow in the world. Lots of anxiety sisters use those same exact words when talking about holiday stress. We want to feel only gratitude, but those anxiety thorns really hurt and make it impossible to feel anything else.
Solutions? I don’t really have any. Other than calling in sick (been there, done that) or disappearing halfway through the evening for a “long walk,” there’s not much I can do other than bring my Spin Kit, pop an Ativan, and call Mags.
Anybody else feel this way?