I am washing the dishes by hand at my kitchen sink.
As usual, my mind is brewing, and unbidden thoughts are forming hurricane-force winds in my mind. It was a quiet holiday. My husband and I celebrated alone to be safe and connected with our families via texts and Zoom video meets.
This is the first holiday since I can’t remember when that we did not celebrate in person with extended family. And I have to be honest. It was a f*cking relief.
I never enjoyed the holidays as a child. There is a myriad of reasons I could offer you: dysfunctional, tense holiday functions with my extended family of origin, my parents constant fighting, my (then undiagnosed) depression and anxiety, the fact that I am a Meyers-Briggs INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging) personality type, and let’s throw in that I am an empath and a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).
Are you getting the picture?
Holidays are a complete assault on my psyche—a smorgasbord of sensory overload, forced social, emotional, and physical contact, with a liberal dose of too much food, lights, and noise. I never understood why I would get so worked up before my family celebrated holidays or why I was so completely and utterly wrung out when they were over.
Even now, as an adult, having done all the hard work of identifying why “I am the way I am,” it does not make the holidays any easier. I still don’t like them. Honestly, I just want to celebrate quietly and be left alone. Instead, out of an obligation to not disappoint everyone else, I throw myself into the “holiday spirit.”
I visit with people who, for the most part, I would have nothing to do with if they weren’t family. I observe rituals and customs that have absolutely no meaning to me. I try not to shut myself off as I sit uncomfortably among people whose very energy is sucking the life out of me.
I really try. I bring a book, so I can tuck myself in a corner after the dinner and obligatory socializing are over and done with, in the hope that I can partially recharge. But, in a house full of people with whom I feel no connection, I am painfully aware that I am not alone, but I am so f*cking lonely.
As the day wears on and I feel my energy flagging, I almost feel ethereal, as if I am untethered, barely holding onto this plane with the most tenuous of threads. I am invisible, a ghost, and I just want to let go so I can fly away.
A little dramatic? Well, that wouldn’t be the first time that someone has thrown that careless dig my way.
You can add that to my list of grievances for holiday gatherings—from people who have known you for a lifetime but have never really gotten to know you at all. Being stuck in other people’s heads as the version of you when you were a misunderstood child, a troubled teenager, or a struggling 20-something adult is no reason to be joyful. Bah humbug.
I am long past the point of trying or wanting to talk to my family about the passions and hopes I hold in my heart now. I simply don’t have the energy or the interest to allow them to suck my soul dry. I know who I am and the people I want to connect with. News flash: it isn’t anyone currently in the room or even in the house.
I want to step into an alternate reality, one where I don’t have to say a word, but I will simply know that my tribe surrounds me. And I’ll know it in a heartbeat because I am an empath; I will feel the energy, and the vibe will tell me it is right.
So I stand over my sink, giving thanks that I have been given a respite from faking my way through yet another holiday. I know this will sound horrific to many who so desperately wanted to spend time with their families and celebrate.
Please don’t misunderstand me. If the fate of the world were in my hands, there would be no pandemic. I know people who have died because of the virus, and I wish this was not happening.
But given the circumstances, I am embracing the pause this pandemic has provided and taking back what is mine, even if only for this year’s holiday season.