Today, it's Erev Christmas Eve. The Hebrew word Erev means "the night before," and it's a succinct way to say "the night/day before the night/day before," if you get my gist. A nice cultural blending, too.
At 1:31 a.m. this morning, when I slipped into bed, it occurred to me I really have no idea what Christmas stress is, since I've never experienced it at full-tilt.
The only day newspapers never publish is Christmas Day, so the only day each year, the only day news rooms are dark is Christmas Eve. That's changing as we go digital and the Internet never sleeps. Nevertheless, I've always been a Christmas orphan. I've always worked through the holidays so my non-Jewish colleagues could enjoy them without the added pressure of work. That's pretty traditional in the the newspaper business. Though that's changing in this digital age where the Internet never sleeps. To add to that, my family is never around. They're always "down south" or at a cottage, as they are this year.
So, for more than 20 years, when I was single, I celebrated the Christmas Social Season on my own or with friends. By proxy, I was privy to its stresses and some of its silliness
'Tis the season to party and socialize – except if you're not a party animal... then what?.
With parties come a certain amount of anxiety. For me, anyway. I'm never terribly nervous speaking in front of audiences, of any size – from 12 to 1,200. On radio and television. It doesn't matter. I love it.
But invite me to a cocktail party, and do I ever get my knickers in a twist any season but especially this season when expectations are so high.
I'm a bit party-phobic. Maybe you are, too. Well, welcome to a safe place for party-phobes. The other name? Social Anxiety Disorder, but that doesn't need to apply if it only relates to social gatherings like cocktail parties at Christmas, so forget the label for now. You know I hate labels.
I used to dread parties. Now I don't in the same way. I've learned a few things. So today and tomorrow, I'm going to muse on the stresses of socializing, particularly at this time of year when the pressure's on to have a good time. Plus how and why I've been able to recover, somewhat. I'm no expert.
As the holiday season swings into high gear, as social gatherings loom on your calendar between Christmas and culminating on New Year's Eve, do you find your stress-o-meter rising?
If you haven't any plans, that may stress you out, too. You may be feeling isolated with an empty dance card. That's an awful feeling. I've been there, too. There was no happy medium. And there's nothing worse than being a "sympathy guest" – issued an invitation at the last minute simply because you ARE alone.
This is a tricky season. Everyone is filled with good will and trying to be. There are so many types of events. Family gatherings. Social gatherings. Business parties. All with their own cultures and expectations. Their own peculiar politics and stresses.
One areligious synonym for the Christmas season is celebration. It means party-time and for too many of us caught up in today's consumer and commercialized lifestyles, with all its implicit and explicit expectations, "party time" can also mean "show time" – all razzle dazzle and bling bling.
Put on a happy face and gird your emotional loins for the onslaught. Some trick when you're not in a party mood, but you're obligated... how's that for pressure.
In one of last week's posts, this prescient comment came in, proof this subject is weighing heavily on people's minds. This comment says it all, eloquently:
"What is really going on with the holidays?
"Have you ever not been able to breathe for whatever reason (running, stress, being underwater) and then come up for air and panicked? You're breathing but you're scared and it hurts.
"This is what Christmas is. We're more busy, and then in a moment we breathe. We're scared to breathe and reflect upon what's going on in our lives.
"Hell, we'll have to tell acquaintances and family we only see at holidays what's going on in our lives. It's stressful.
"This is the first Christmas I'm experiencing without being manic or depressed. It doesn't feel like my first breath because I've taken three-day-weekends and breathers along the way. I'm nervous about the parties, etc., but I know I can handle it. Maybe if we are so go go go until Christmas it is a more enjoyable experience."
Social gatherings are supposed to be about fun (and family, if you have family in the vicinity), but everyone has a different idea of what fun is. Family and fun don't necessarily go hand in hand.
What if fun is close friends, small groups, conversations with no crosstalk and the security of knowing you're loved for who you are – no matter what you're wearing or how you look. Feeling loved. Feeling secure.
I'm no party-animal. During all my single years – my first fifty – I was your classic wallflower. Never the type of person people were drawn to at parties. I was the girl standing alone on the periphery watching and trying to smile. (Or in a little gathering of wallflowers.) Clutching my club soda and lime, I felt intensely awkward, yet wanted to look like I was having a good time.
All I really wanted to do was go home.
Surprised? Don't be. I spent my adolescence and much my young adulthood in residence at what was formerly The Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, now the College Street site of The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, or other psychiatric wards about town. Never learned to flirt. I felt like an oddball in social settings. Especially where alcohol was featured.
Did I mention that I'm a teetotaller? Never developed much of a taste for alcohol. It tastes like medicine and I've taken my fill. (Still do.) Furthermore, I don't need drugs to get high. I can do that all by myself. No artificial stimulation needed. Then, up, up and away I go, off to a mental ward, again.
So parties worried me. There's nothing more isolating than watching a group of people getting looped when you're stone-cold sober.
I'm not thin. I never felt I ever looked "hot" – just out of sync with my generation – an old soul.
Add all this up and you can imagine how social gatherings, especially at this time of year, were always preceded by major cases of the jitters. Sometimes, I'll confess, I'd call the host at the last minute and say I couldn't come because I wasn't feeling well. Terribly bad form, but that's how frightening parties were for me. I couldn't face walking alone into a room filled with smoke (back then) and boozing. I couldn't face being ignored for a whole evening by everyone other than my coupled friends and their kindhearted other halves.
Men didn't notice me. No matter what I wore or how thin or not I was or even if I smiled.
I wasn't confident in those situations. I felt I wouldn't fit in and that became my self-fulfilling prophecy.
To be continued tomorrow...
Remember, Coming Out Crazy is not planning on taking a break this Christmas – though one never knows. I want to be up and running twice a week, as usual, so you can stop by, comment, share, muse, celebrate or vent. You don't have to feel alone or abandoned. I'll be checking in regularly and doing my best to keep up with your comments – I know I'm still a bit behind, but I'm catching up slowly.
Cheers and sweet dreams tonight. Oh, one more thing. Tomorrow night click onto NORAD's Official Santa Tracker and follow "the big guy's" global journey. The countdown has already started. This is one of my favourite Christmas activities.
See you anon...
Be well. Take it easy. And breathe.