It’s That Time of Year…
…when some of us want to run and hide.
Ah, the holidays. A time to spend with family, exchange gifts, attend festive parties, decorate the house with joy… and totally freak out! I have to be honest. I just barely made it through Thanksgiving and I’m dreading Christmas. Over the past fifteen years I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety and agoraphobia. Once the life of the party, I’ve found myself avoiding any type of party at all, especially holiday gatherings. This past Thursday, Thanksgiving was hosted at our house with Monica’s family. Where was I? When the bulk of the crowd arrived I had one of the worst panic attacks in years and I ended up hiding out in our dog kennel. (I know you’re picturing me in a doghouse, but it’s a 6-foot-high fenced in area with a pitched tarp over it.) So I stood there, sheltered from the drizzling rain, like a scared little doggy. I called Monica on my cell phone from my cage. I told her I didn’t think I could “do this.” I was content to just stand out there until it was over. In a few minutes my son, Daniel, came outside.
“Whatcha doin’, Dad?”
“Um… just checking to make sure the dogs have their own Thanksgiving set up for them.”
“The dogs are inside, Dad.”
“Oh, yeah. I guess we better go in.”
So, reluctantly, I slipped in the side door. However, I know my house well. And I know how to hide from a house full of people. So I did. I eventually had to make conversation with a couple of people. I tried not to make eye contact. I’m ashamed of how I acted. I don’t understand these feelings. It makes me not want to try at all for the rest of the Season.
I can think back to more dismal days during the holidays and recount stories that make this one seem tame. Years of holidays and birthdays lost because I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house. One time I spent alone in a car, in an empty school parking lot, wondering if I could even go on living, let alone force myself to drive to a family Christmas party.
The notion that suicide rates go up over the holidays has been debunked, however no one denies that those who suffer from depression and related illnesses struggle more during Christmastime. Even people with physical illnesses can notice an uptick in symptoms. I had three dystonia attacks before and after Thanksgiving this year. I had been dystonia-free since August. There is probably a correlation.
The point of writing this isn’t to draw attention to myself. I’ll be fine. There have been worse years than this and I thank God that I’m in such a better place than I used to be. I’ll go to the endless annual progressive dinner with my family. I’ll entertain Monica’s co-workers at the annual company party. I’ll get by as best I can. I’ll even hide if I need to.
However, there are so many people out there who are in a much darker place, just like I was a few years ago. Frozen. Scared. Ashamed. Lonely. For some, the holidays will remind them of the people who aren’t with them any longer. I can’t even fathom that. For some, the holidays will remind them of things that they’ve lost. Relationships. Health. Purpose. Dignity. It’s easy to say, “Be of good cheer.” For some, it’s just not possible right now.
For some, they will retreat to a cage.
On behalf of those who want to hide this year, this is my phone call from the cage. It’s a call to action. To those of good cheer, come out into the rain and check on us. We don’t really want to be alone. We don’t necessarily want to be dragged to a big party either. We just need someone to ask how we’re doing. To spend a little time with us. We don’t want to be “fixed” right now, so please don’t try. We just want someone to listen. Or maybe we just want someone to sit with. Nothing fancy. Nothing loud. Just someone to be with for a while during this crazy time of year.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll come inside. Just keep in mind that we’ll probably want to hide in the crowd… and that’s okay.
November 30, 2015