Dread Journal: I’ve Had A Panic Attack Every Christmas For The Past Five Years

home alone 2Celia Kramer is a writer living with debilitating anxiety. In her weekly column, Celia will write about the horrible and hilarious world of fear, dread, paranoia, phobias, panic attacks, and trying to function as a halfway normal person. Some names and inconsequential details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people in her life.

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that I’ve had a panic attack every single Christmas for the past five years. Jesus. I’m so freaking high maintenance. I’m afraid this might turn into a bit of a rant about my family (who are by and large delightful, but not at the holidays), but maybe your family is like mine, too? Maybe, you too are stocking up on anxiety medication and wine because no one, I mean on one, can trigger your anxiety like your family can.

I know I’m not special. I know that the holidays are a god-awful time for everyone, everywhere, and so pretending that my anxiety makes Christmas uniquely unbearable for me and not everyone would be silly. All I can say is that some of my very specific anxieties are triggered by the holidays–more specifically, when I spend them with my extended family. To be clear: it’s not my entire extended family, nor the entirety of people that I even have to spend time with at Christmas. It’s more of a loud minority.

My extended family, which includes a slew of aunts and uncles, seven or so cousins, and grandparents, are all very health conscious. They know exactly how many calories are in each Christmas cookie, and volunteer that information without being asked. For a person tenuously hanging onto recovery from years of disordered eating, I can’t hear talk about calories while eating. So I don’t. I find that around my extended family, I revert to some of my disordered behaviors, like not eating at all, or sneaking food into my pockets to eat in the bathroom, alone. Food quickly becomes something shameful again, and so an internal fight starts between my healthy brain and discorded past.

Additionally, my extended family has a bit of an obsession with fitness. They all run every day, have participated in multiple marathons with excellent times, and all look like Olympians. I have reached a tentative détente with my body, and don’t wake up immediately filled with self loathing as I used to (now, I wait until I say something stupid and then the loathing sets in). While their accomplishments are incredible and certainly pride worthy, can we all just shut the fuck up? My soft and sedentary body, while normally strong enough to propel me up almost 20 flights of stairs daily and walk around and do things that make me feel proud, is nothing compared to these Greek gods, and they know it. I could have the most glowing personality, active social life, fantastic career, and a Nobel Prize, and I’d still be just a bit lesser, because I’m not a fast runner. Feeling physically inadequate and guilty about eating isn’t a great mix for holiday cheer.

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    • Lindsey Conklin

      “food quicky becomes something shameful again,” -yep, hate that about the holidays. really appreciate this post!

    • Andrea Dunlop

      Great post. Panic attacks are the worst–good for you for being proactive about taking care of yourself. One of the benefits of being a grownup is getting to decide on things like where you spend the holidays.

    • http://fairlyoddmedia.com/ Frances Locke

      “They beg my family to come every year, asking my sister and I to entertain them with jokes and funny stories and then after an hour, realize they are tired of our shtick and don’t like us very much. They don’t care for our humor, don’t understand our lives, and think our chosen careers are silly.” –

      Can you come to my house for the holidays next year? You sound AWESOME and exactly like the type of people me and my family want around. Hell, you can come live next door. No sarcasm, honestly. You extended family sounds Douchey with a capital D (and OUCHE).

      About the food stuff, Amen. I’ve had my fair share of food and eating issues, and I know exactly what you mean. Thankfully my family now is pretty great about it, but even a few years ago, back when we all still forced these big family get togethers, it was incredibly hard to get through it and not regress. In fact, not just hard, but impossible.

    • I Like Pizza

      I’ve had two panic attacks already today, and I blame my family even though I’ve been out of their house for nine years. I’m newly married, and my husband is keen on making new holiday traditions together, but I am still apparently adrift at sea without those of my family — and the accompanying guilt, anger, drama, awkwardness, and alcoholism.