Okay, so, picture this:
You are headed to your family’s big holiday gathering. Crisp air and crunchy leaves as you walk up to the front door. You turn the cold doorknob and are greeted by warmth, the smell of cinnamon, a few big hugs.
As you find a place to set the dish you brought over, already you hear the whispers about that one uncle’s new girlfriend. It's followed by laughter - laughter about jokes that are not at all funny and that totally clash with your world views.
To make things interesting, let’s add in that you have anxiety, a disorder that no one here actually takes seriously, but they do like to bring up - usually to other people when you aren’t around. You know, like when someone asks them about you they say that you’re probably doing great *whispers* except for the way you're always overly worried about everything and always blowing things out of proportion.
Make small talk, even though you hate small talk. You can't afford to talk about anything real or serious. You have to watch what you say around certain family members, after all. Give out a few more hugs. What's that? Hugs make you uncomfortable? Oh well. Maybe add a few highlights about what has been going on in your life. Now, take a deep breath, because it’s really crowded in here.
Your anxiety bells are ringing. Don't worry, no one will notice. You're the only one who can hear them, trust me.
Sneak off to the bathroom so you can get a minute alone. Great. Let's see... that's a few minutes down… a few more hours to go...
Now, add that you are the oldest kid - the oldest grandchild, the oldest niece/nephew, the oldest cousin. That means you are the first adult, the first to start your own life, and the first to move away. You were the "test drive" kid of your whole family, basically.
You’re the first to be in a serious romantic relationship (oh and just to make matters more complicated, let’s also say this relationship is.. um, unconventional). Which means, the first to want to spend the holidays with your significant other.
Speaking of that unconventional relationship of yours... Questions are being asked about your boyfriend, and it’s hard to answer when you know he has already been a big topic amongst everyone, and you really don’t want to give them more material to work with. You work quickly to change the subject.
A classic, festive song comes to mind. How does it go? *hum hum hum* with the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer... It’s the most anxiety-provoking? The most stressful time? Ah, right. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
Square your shoulders and keep a smile on your face, as you wander into another room, looking for that one person who makes you feel sane in all of this. No such luck. Instead, you've been intercepted.
Annnnnd here it comes. What you've been waiting for. And by waiting for, I mean the comments you have been dreading since at least September.
“Glad to see you could finally make time for us! Remember me? I guess you really don’t care about us anymore! You're too busy for us, huh?"
I forgot to remind you that you have one hell of a guilt complex, but they sure didn’t.
So now I'm going to ask you something, something really important. Have you actually done anything that you should feel guilty about? Because I'm guessing that you are just doing the best that you can with the time and energy you have. And I'm pretty sure you don't actually have to deal with any of this shit if you don't want to.
I'm not suggesting you tell them to fuck right off. Maybe just say something sarcastic that will go over their heads anyway.
What I AM saying is that it's YOUR holiday, too. You're allowed to go and stay only a very short amount of time. You're allowed to not go at all. Just reminding yourself of your options, reminding yourself that you're not trapped, can sometimes be enough to offset half your anxiety.
If you think you'll enjoy yourself, that the good outweighs the bad - go! But, truly, if you don't want to - don't. However you choose to spend this season, it's okay to make yourself and your own mental health a priority.