I wrote a post last year talking about several issues I dealt with when trying to stumble my way through the festive period. The last few years was particularly difficult with work Christmas outings, family get-togethers and games. All in all, this would amount to an awful time for me.
Last year, I guess, was the final straw. I’d taken part in games and nights out that I didn’t want to do because it didn’t suit me. Since then, for the last year or so, I’ve been dreading the upcoming Christmas, worried about how I can avoid things I don’t want to do, how I can get out of it, what I can say? Then I stopped.
I wasn’t going to do this anymore. I don’t want to lie my way out of a work meal, I don’t want to fumble awkwardly through group games feeling sick, having panic attacks or suffering with anxiety symptoms for days on end. Enough is enough.
I decided to tell my girlfriends family about my anxiety disorder in a bid to give me a defence when I don’t want to partake in something. This was a difficult decision to make. Only 6 people in my life know I suffer with anxiety. When I tried to tell my uncle, his only response was to put me on the spot, and finish with ‘get a grip’ and since then I’ve told no one else. The difference now is that I’ve got my strength and fight back.
I had a chat with my girlfriend and we decided she would let her family know, as this would be easier and would be more natural.
First, her mum and dad who are in their 60’s and very traditional. Their response was brilliant. ‘He doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do’ said her mum. ‘I bloody hate games as well’ shouted her dad, and that was that. They knew. I expected some little dig or comment but nothing.
The next was her sister. After telling her, her sister went quiet and followed up with ‘why didn’t he tell me before? We could have helped him’. She’s been asking so many questions, enquiring about what it means for me, how far I’ve come, what my challenges are. When I saw her, she came and gave me a big hug.
The support has been overwhelming. All have said ‘just do what you’re comfortable to do’. I didn’t expect this response. It feels like such an alien thing to do, opening myself up to people and letting them see my weak side. This is usually followed up by my strong side, fighting against stigma with all of my strength – but there was no need. Walking through the room with everyone, knowing they knew, made me feel quite vulnerable and my guard was up, but they treat me as normal which felt amazing.
Next week, I can do what I want at the family events. I don’t have to worry, I can do as I please and that’s amazing, I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Her sister was upset because she felt guilty about putting me through it. No one should feel guilt – anxiety is complex. I chose to go to the family nights and play the games, I chose to take part, that was all my decision, however it isn’t my decision for anxiety to destroy me in all of these moments. Understanding is all I ask.
Opening up to them has made me realise that I am strong enough for the bad, but when the good comes it feels amazing.
I can’t promise I’ll open up to the world just yet, but baby steps means I’m making slow progress every day with everyone’s support, and that works for me.