I have been having nightmares every night for over a week.
Nightmares are not a normal occurrence for me at all. I rarely have them, so this past week has been distressing. Last night I had a nightmare that lasted literally all night – I would wake up about every hour, distressed and uncomfortable, but happy to be away from the terrible dream. A few minutes later I would drift off – ONLY TO CONTINUE THE EXACT SAME NIGHTMARE WHERE I LEFT OFF. This happened not once, but approximately FOUR times.
I’m a little stressed. Ok, more accurately – I’m right on the verge of a full-fledged nervous breakdown. Not for any one big thing in particular – we haven’t been through any tragedy or devastation. Just selling one house, buying another, moving, being in my last trimester of my last pregnancy, taking care of a toddler, trying to get ready for Christmas, working two jobs, etc etc. Average, run-of-the-mill stressors.
To be honest, the holidays are just not really my thing. As I get older I realize why – a combination of being an introvert, a perfectionist, and watching family members sometimes struggle with some leftover grief around the holidays is a poor recipe for joy for me. Holiday parties are perhaps especially not my thing – I want them to be my thing, how much easier life would be if they could just be my thing, but they are not my thing. In theory they sound great, but the honest truth is I never, ever have as much fun at a party as I do when I attend an intimate get together or last minute casual thing. The planning of the outfit, of the gift, of the food you will bring, of how you will help the host, of how you will fit the theme; the small talk with a million different people, the difficulty of having time or opportunity to talk about anything other than “so how are things? What’s new? How’s your job? How are the babies?” Move to the next person. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
During the holidays I feel pressure to spend time with everyone. The friends. The friends in town for a day or two. The friends who live here but I haven’t seen in a while. Our family. Extended family. The family we only see occasionally. Our own little family of three. Work holiday parties. Friend holiday parties. Family holiday parties.
It’s a lot to fit in a tiny space of “holiday” time, especially when you aren’t on “vacation” during it. Especially when you are an introvert, and any time spent in groups of people, no matter how much fun, is incredibly draining on your energy levels.
Last night I was suddenly hit with an overwhelming wave of missing my husband – who I technically spent almost the whole weekend with. But I wasn’t really there. I was cleaning like a maniac as fast as I could so I could see my sister, who had just arrived in town. We were shopping in the intense, focused way you must shop for gifts when you have a toddler who is with grandparents for a few hours and these are the last hours you have to get it done. I was balancing the checkbook, accounting for lost bills, double bills, incorrect bills, receipts, receipts, receipts, trying to get things back to normal from our move only a couple weeks ago. In my head there is a constant loop of list after list after list – don’t forget this! You still have to do this! No relaxing until this is done! Only X more days to do this! Do this now or you are going to regret it! What about this? Oh that too! I almost forgot that! You know, we should really try and do this this year. Add that to the list.
In the midst of all this madness, on my occasional social media breaks, I am reminded that I SHOULD BE ENJOYING THIS. I am chastised to make better, more meaningful choices, to not forget what the holiday season is REALLY about. “YOU SHOULD BE ENJOYING THIS” is quickly becoming my least favorite sentence in the entire world.
Then I saw this post by Brene Brown:
I screen-shotted that bad boy and am desperately clinging to it like my very own little holiday life raft.
My mom reminded me a few nights ago, as I was breathless with anxiety and stress and just complete and total exhaustion on every level – “You can say no.” Oh right, sounds so easy, doesn’t it?
Except it really is that easy. Its just damn uncomfortable.
And it is exactly that – discomfort over resentment. It is so uncomfortable for me to say no. I catch myself ruminating after the fact in all the ways the person I said “no” to might hate me now. So uncomfortable. But also, less uncomfortable than the resentment that follows me around like a terrible, ugly cloud, making me unpleasant to be around for everyone when I try and push myself beyond what I am really happily capable of doing.
This past week I have said no, and I have done so with complete honesty. Not the kind of saying no where you make up some plausible or foolproof excuse to rid yourself of any blame. No, I’ve gone the doubly uncomfortable route of being blatantly honest, in an effort to convince myself that taking care of myself is in and of itself a valid reason. I have hated doing it, but I’ve done it. I said no to a work holiday party because figuring out babysitting was becoming too frustrating. I said no to a holiday play date because some attendees weren’t feeling well. I felt like “that” crazy mom, but the thought of my daughter or I getting sick on top of everything else about put me over the edge. I said no and felt a little crazy, a little neurotic, a little “over-protective”, but the discomfort of saying no was about a million times less uncomfortable than my resentment would have been had we gotten sick from this visit.
I said no to a birthday party, even though I had said yes a week earlier, bought a gift, and arranged my day so I could go. The night before my mind was racing, racing, racing trying to figure out how I was going to accomplish everything I had promised that day. It was racing trying to plan the exact minute I would need to leave, calculating driving times and routes to make sure I could get everything done. I ended up saying no. I ended up apologizing to my friend and telling her the truth – that I was exhausted in every way and just couldn’t make it. I felt horrible. I felt major discomfort. But less than I would have felt if I had forced myself to go.
In all of this I am learning – learning that maybe I shouldn’t say yes so easily around the holidays. That I consistently overestimate my abilities this time of year. This year will be different, I think. This is the year I won’t be stressed! This is the year I will learn to enjoy all things holiday! This is it!
Except year after year, it isn’t.
No matter how much I visualize and plan ahead and pep-talk myself.
I’m learning that maybe its my expectations that need adjusting instead.
I am learning that parties are not my shining moments in life. I am learning that what I need matters too, even if it looks different than what other people need. I know many who absolutely come alive and shine in the holiday season – who plan parties and bake goods and buy everyone they know the perfect presents and send handmade cards and long letters and all of these things are done with great joy and love and bring them immense pleasure and renewed energy. As much as I desperately want to be this kind of person – I’m not.
And my stress is my choice. Nobody has told me they will stop loving me if I don’t get them the perfect gift. Nobody has said “I won’t be your friend if you don’t come to this party.” Nobody has demanded that my needs be stuffed away and ignored during the holiday season in order for them to be happy. This is my own invention, my own form of personal torture that I keep choosing year after year.
We are told we should “enjoy this”. We are told there are things we should universally love. Sometimes these things work for us and sometimes they don’t. I’ve decided it is time for me to stop thinking I need to enjoy everything that everyone else loves and beating myself up over it. I love Instagram and keeping my house clean and writing long, confessional style blogs about my struggles. I love public speaking and having deep conversations and Target and reading and bubble baths. I have friends who think Instagram is ridiculous, who hate nothing more than cleaning their house, and who would rather run around the block completely naked in broad daylight than write anything even 1/1,000,000th as personal as I write for anyone in the world to read. I have friends who have actual panic attacks at the thought of public speaking, for whom deep conversations make them a little squirmy, who think bubble baths are boring and would never read “for fun”. The only universal uniter I am coming up with is Target. Thank God for Target, amiright??
My point is, we all have different things we are good at, and things that bring us joy and energy and make us come alive. Holidays are not on the list for me. But instead of spending my time whining about how I wish I was different, my goal is to choose discomfort over resentment, take care of myself unapologetically, and focus on the things I do love and that I am good at.
So its not going to be different this year, but that’s ok.