The run up to Christmas is always a fraught affair with pressures here, there and everywhere. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means a Bah Humbug but now I’m older I do find myself somewhat dreading the festive period.
Christmas as a child was brilliant, we’d be spoilt rotten and spend Christmas day with my grandparents for a big family affair with all the trimmings and then Boxing Day with my other set of grandparents for round two. Both days would be full of tradition; my uncle would allow me a sip of his wine and I’d get the brightest red cheeks, my aunty would pretend to swallow the pound coin from the Christmas pudding and my grandfather would divvy out a huge glass jar of Quality Street to all us grandchildren, and there was something most comforting about it all.
Of course, you grow up and the magic of Christmas sparkles a little less. Family homes get sold, grandparents pass away, parents separate and suddenly you find yourself longing for how it used to be. You make the best of it, have a good time and soldier on; but it can still be painful. Now having a significant other in my life, Christmas has changed once again and I do find myself enjoying it more and more and making more of a conscious effort to get stuck in to the festivities.
And with this in mind, a few weekends ago, Tom’s school friends came to London for their annual festive get-together and I tagged along for good measure. Winter Wonderland has factored in their plans for the last few years and this year was no exception. I’d been pre-warned that it was less Christkindlmarkt and more Blackpool with fake snow but nonetheless I was looking forward to it. Especially as this is my first Christmas in London and I was keen to try new things.
The first hour was okay, the crowds weren’t too huge and despite paying through the nose for a mulled wine in a polystyrene cup, we went on some rides and tried winning a giant teddy; as you do. But suddenly it seemed like an extra million people had arrived and it was nothing short of hellish. I guess you could say it was naïve of me to think that I could deal with huge crowds given my anxiety but I had no idea that a family attraction such as a Christmas fair would attract the same crowds I was used to seeing fall out of the Printworks at 3am on a Saturday. Needless to say we soon left.
In hindsight I think I was being unrealistic and slightly ambitious. I tend to shy away from social events with large groups of people as they cause me severe levels of anxiety; I’m much better with a handful of people. The plan was to go for dinner afterwards and after being on the verge of a panic attack from Winter Wonderland, the anxiety started taking over and suddenly I wanted to flee. A million thoughts started buzzing around in my head; fear of having to have conversations, fear of looking rude, fear of not being able to go home when I wanted to.
I managed to eat dinner but all the while I felt omnipresent. I felt like I had an un-focused view of life; everything was blurry. People were talking to me but I felt like I couldn’t talk back and just found myself nodding and smiling. Tom knew; the wide eyes a give-away once again. And then the palpitations started and I knew I had to leave. Tom saw my level of distress and told me to go home and that he’d deal with it. So I did. I got my bag and ran out the door without saying a word to anyone. I felt relieved knowing that I’d soon be home in my safe place but that notion was short lived as I then realised how rude I had been and how mean I was to leave Tom to make excuses for me. I hated myself.
It turns out that this was just the start of a bad week. I’d been tasked with organising the staff Christmas party, so made sure I had everything planned ahead (I even hand made the decorations). I was anxious; an evening with 25+ people terrified me, especially as I’ve only been here 3 months but I tried to put a brave face on.
Social events centered around alcohol have become something of an issue for me. Whereas I used to enjoy a good old boozy night I’m pretty much tee-total now and I’m never sure how people are going to react to me not drinking; especially when getting drunk seems to be part and parcel of most social events. So that had been weighing on my mind. Headaches are a common manifestation of my anxiety/depression and they seem to have been rife the last few months and low and behold, the day of the Christmas party a blinding headache starts – the type that makes you feel nauseous and light headed and doesn’t budge with any amount of medication. So rather than spending the afternoon and evening enjoying the festivities with my colleagues; I went home and lay in a dark room with a cold compress on my head.
It’s hard to say whether it was just a coincidence that I had a migraine on the day of a large social event or whether it was in fact anxiety induced; but I have my suspicions. And it makes me sad; Christmas is meant to be a time for fun not dread.
But maybe it’s high time I realised that it’s okay that my idea of Christmas fun is snuggling up on the sofa with a box of Celebrations rather than being sick in the office toilets from too much cheap sparkling wine?