I see my future, a plan, a goal, and then it flees the frame. I can’t remember what I am supposed to do. A staircase appears, and I begin ascending for the sake of ascending, but the steps move farther apart. I am lunging, then climbing, and ultimately, fearfully leaping to catch each ledge. I can’t keep up. I can’t breathe. I am stuck.
This is how my panic attacks start. Then crying sets in. Then I can’t stand.
I don’t want to feel vulnerable. I want to feel like a fortress. One that both keeps what is inside safe, and one that locks danger out. No such fortress exists, and so I am not one.
A therapist confirmed what I knew to be true: these attacks don’t just go away.
I need a new vision. I can’t be a fortress, but I can be a person who uses her coping mechanisms. I can’t change the past, but I’m a participant in what is happening now.
I can do things each day to practice wellness. I can stretch, breathe, meditate, stay here in this moment, notice my surroundings, wrap myself in a blanket, and fuel my body with good food.
I can keep going. I can remind myself that I CAN DO HARD THINGS. I can make plans with a friend and keep them. I can set realistic expectations for myself, instead of goals that I probably won’t achieve.
There is much to be anxious about. I tell myself it is valid to feel overwhelmed. People are strong and beautiful. To admit you need help is strong and beautiful, too.
I worry, of course. I worry that I will have a panic attack while driving, so I sometimes pull off to the side of the road and just BREATHE. I worry about my son growing up with an anxious mom. Will he remember me having to tell myself to breathe? Will he remember us pulling over? Will he remember that his mom sometimes needed space and quiet to function? I don’t know. I’ve started doing yoga with him. I hope he remembers how hard I worked to clear my mind and let peace in.
We are all flawed. Our children will see us struggle. It is good for them to see how adults deal with their struggles.
The holiday season magnifies my anxiety.
This December, I hope you slow down like I am trying to do. You are here. Your family is unique. Show up to your life.
If gifts don’t get wrapped, just put them under the tree. Pizza can be a holiday meal (the sauce is red). Set aside time to have a friend (who doesn’t care what your house looks like) over for bagels and mimosas.
Ask for something that will make your life easier (babysitting money, a one-time house cleaning service, a slow cooker, meal-prep containers, a fun class you could take).
Put aside time for yourself if you are visiting family. Go on walks. Listen to music. Take a nap. Just leave the kids in the house (with someone) and walk away.
Consider what will really matter about this Christmas in 10 years. Will anyone remember how clean or dirty the floors were? Will they remember if you finished knitting their scarf by Dec. 25th, or if you gave it to them in January? Will it matter if you made a breakfast casserole, or put out muffins from Sam’s club?
We are always engaged in a delicate balance. We want to take enough pictures, but we don’t want to miss the moment. We want to go to every holiday event, but we want to rest, too, and just enjoy a movie at home. We want to bake beautiful cookies, but we want our kids to have fun splattering the icing in weird shapes. It’s okay to get it wrong. It’s okay to stop in the middle of wrangling your screaming toddler into a snowsuit and gloves, and just say, “We can go sledding the next time.”
There is no antidote to anxiety, but love and grace help. It’s tricky to grant yourself the same amount of grace you grant other people. It’s hard to love yourself unconditionally. But really, unconditional love is the point of this holiday. Give it to yourself, and accept it from those around you. Have a rocking season!