Celia 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.