I have a huge family. Normally, I absolutely love it. I love going to Thanksgiving and Christmas and having 20-30 people there. I love my little cousins. I love my aunts and uncles. We’re a really close-knit family and I love that.
Except for this year. With my increased anxiety, I’ve been absolutely dreading the holidays. I’ve tried to prepare myself for every little thing. When I’m freaking out, I don’t want to be touched. So, I try to avoid hugging people when I’m that anxious. However, my family is full of huggers. We hug hello. We hug goodbye. There’s no excuse. It’s just assumed you’re going to hug a million people, personal comfort level be damned.
When family comes in from out of town, they naturally want to talk about what’s new with you. I’ve always been the overachiever. I get to say that I’m doing great in school, getting straight A’s, etc. This year, I’m the girl that lost her job and can’t get her shit together enough to leave her apartment. I’ve had small victories on the job front, but since nothing is set in stone yet, I don’t want to tell people and jinx it. Then when they ask about it later, it’s just one more way I have to admit failure. When people hear I’m unemployed, they of course want to know what my plans are. That is an excellent question. Right now, my plans pretty much consist of trying to get my shit together enough so I can function. It’s so much easier said than done.
Of course, I’ve been freaking out about the holidays for a month or so. I discussed it with my psychiatrist and she gave me Gabapentin, a medication to take as needed when my anxiety was getting overwhelming. Since filling the prescription, I haven’t had to use it…until tonight.
As mentioned, my family is very close-knit. So, holidays are a marathon of events. Tonight was just the first of a three-night lineup of family togetherness. Rather than having to psych myself up for one meal, I have three events (plus one with my fiance’s family). Fortunately, tonight’s event was at my parents’ house. Yay for home field advantage. I had it all planned out. I wasn’t going to take the Gabapentin until Thanksgiving day. I was going to just deal with tonight’s event and see how it went.
That plan went out the window around 5:00. T-minus 90 minutes until the crowd arrives. My heart starts pounding. My chest tightens. I get short of breath. I can already hear the questions: “Are you working?” “What are your plans?” “Maybe you should [insert well-meaning advice that just makes me feel like shit].” I realize that tonight is not going to be my night. I give in and take the Gabapentin, which I had never before taken.
We have a scavenger hunt planned for the younger kids when they arrive. I engineer it so that I’m the last stage. This way, I can sit in my room while I adjust to the crowd level. I’ll hear the noises and the kids will come to me one by one. I can handle the younger kids. They’re not concerned with my life plans. Talking to them is a breeze. By sitting downstairs, I avoid the onslaught of hugs at the beginning. I think I might even be able to escape them altogether. This plan is not successful.
I handle things okay at first. Then the kids ask when I’m coming upstairs. I give in and go up before I’m really ready. I come up with a mantra to repeat to myself before I join everyone. “They’re your family. They’re harmless. They love you.” I chant that a few times and take a couple deep breaths. My plan is to stick close to doorways. That way, if I feel trapped, I’m always near an exit. I try not to draw attention to myself as I enter the room. I sit down near the stairs and try to take up as little space as possible. If I’m sitting down, surely no one will hug me. I can get away with just a wave for the time being. I underestimated my family.
Cousin #1 comes over and crouches down to give me a hug. She starts to ask what’s new with me. She tries to convince me to move closer to her. She tells me I need to come to more family events over the weekend. She gets pulled away. The walls feel like they’re closing in.
Cousin #2 comes over and crouches down to give me a hug. He sits in the stairway, effectively ending my exit strategy. He asks if I’m working or if I’m looking for a job. I try to quote a line from a TV show that I found funny. I try to play it off that I’m seeing what it’s like to be an underachiever for the first time in my life. I start twitching and rubbing my arms with a plastic spoon, pretending it’s a razor or set of keys that might help ground me. Cousin starts talking to someone else.
Aunt comes over and crouches down to give me a hug. By this point, I’m in full-on panic mode. She knows that I had been working and asks why I’m not anymore. I try to get out of it by saying it’s a long story. She asks about budget cuts and if that’s why. I eventually get pulled away to get some ice cream. I take my sundae and get the fuck out of dodge.
I practically sprint downstairs to my room. I shut my door and start texting Caity. I try to call her. I can’t get a hold of her. I text her mom and ask her to have Caity call me. I sit in silence and try to get control of my breathing. A few minutes later, my phone rings. It’s not Caity, but another friend. I consider rejecting the call, but decide maybe she could help. I don’t let on to the fact that I’m mid-anxiety attack. She has a quick question for me that is somewhat related to my life goals, but in a non-intimidating way. We talk for a few minutes and then I hear a beeping in my ear. Caity got my message and is calling me back. I quickly hang up with my other friend and talk to Caity.
By this point, my anxiety attack is not as bad. I manage to explain to Caity what’s happening. I can’t stop twitching. I feel like I’m in a daze. I feel short of breath. The walls are closing in on me. I just want to stop fucking twitching! Caity calms me down. We talk about therapy and how terrified we are of family gatherings this year. I start to hear people leaving upstairs. I’m okay at this point, so I head back upstairs. Of course, people want to know why I disappeared. I manage to evade the question for a little while.
Only two of my cousins are left. I manage to talk with one of them about how my anxiety gets worse when there are more people around. I try to explain that it’s even worse when it’s people that I know. This seems to surprise people, but it’s perfectly logical to me. If I’m talking to a stranger, it’s a blank slate. They have no expectations. They don’t know my background. I can make whatever impression I want. With friends and family, there’s so much pressure! I’m no longer the straight-A student who is an overachiever in every way possible. My greatest accomplishment lately is watching 2 1/2 seasons of Pretty Little Liars in six days. I’m damn proud of that. It’s the most alive I’ve felt in months. However, that’s not something easily understood by others. Now, I just feel like a slacker who peaked in college. I’ve been knocked down and kicked repeatedly by life. I’m so numb that I hardly even try anymore because I just expect rejection. I have no idea what my life plan is. I’m just trying to get through the day without falling apart.
My cousins leave. It’s just my mom and my aunt. My dad and uncle are in the living room discussing conspiracies about how the Democrats lost absentee ballots to win the election. I can’t politirage, so I go to talk to my mom and aunt. My aunt knows a little about my anxiety and it’s pretty fucking clear to everyone in my family now that I’m kind of fucking insane. By this point, the Gabapentin is affecting me in really weird ways. I don’t feel like I’m fully present in my body. I start talking and can’t stop things from spilling out. I’m trying to be more open with people about when I’m feeling anxious and what’s happening. Sometimes, I’m a little too open. I feel completely dazed. It feels like there’s cloth pushing down on my eyes, just a soft pressure. I’m still mildly twitching. My mind’s not racing. It’s just oddly silent. I decide it’s time to go to bed.
But first, I decide I need to post this. I need to get my thoughts in perspective and figure out what the hell happened tonight. I can’t decide if the medicine made things worse or it was just a bad anxiety attack. Tomorrow, I have two family dinners (mine and John’s). I don’t know if I want to take the Gabapentin again. I can be all twitchy and weird around my family. They have to accept my insanity. Plus, there’s enough of them that I can hide without anyone really noticing. I can’t be like this around John’s family. I have a planned phone date with Caity before we both go to our family dinners. That way, we can try to calm each other down. I think I might try to get through my family dinner free of medication tomorrow. Obviously, if I’m even worse than I was tonight, I’ll have to take it. I just wish I could get through a simple family dinner without needing extra medication. Maybe next year?