, Corbin, KY


December 5, 2012

Holidays and the Anxiety Closet

CORBIN — “Well there must be some way I can lose these lonesome blues

Forget about the past and find somebody new

I’ve thought of everything from A to Z

Oh lonesome me”

—Don Gibson

Berke Breathed did a wonderful 1980s comic strip called Bloom County. One of the characters would open up an anxiety closet where odd reactions to his deepest fears would jump out.

My favorite was Richard Nixon and Nancy Reagan singing Andy Gibb songs.

OK, the reference is a little dated, but anytime I hear, “I just want to be your everything,” an image of the anxiety closet forms in my mind.

As the holidays roll near, my personal anxiety closet often starts opening wider and wider.

At least I know it is happening. For about a decade in my 20s, I would manage to break up with whomever I was dating in December. My friends used to tease that I was doing it to avoid buying Christmas presents, but the drama and stress made the holidays miserable every year.

As I figured out much later in life, I have a huge fear of holiday abandonment dating back to my parents’ divorce. Thus, my fear of a Christmas breakup became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Every New Year’s Eve, I would be watching Dick Clark by myself.  

Once I calmed down after New Year’s, I would often reconnect, but I lost several outstanding relationships along the way.

I can truly say, “It wasn’t you, it was me.  Actually it was the  ghosts jumping out of my anxiety closet.”

My holiday anxiety gets high because I think I am snake bitten.

In 2006, my mom and sister suddenly died and my marriage ended. I decided to get out of my holiday rut and go to a black tie dinner with some of my best clients. My date got incredibly drunk, insulted my friends, danced on the table and vomited on the floor. I have not spoken to her since and many at the party have not spoken to me either.

I don’t sit by the mailbox waiting for another  invite.

 Last year, I spent part of the holiday season having emergency surgery. I got out four days before Christmas and survived the holidays in extreme pain. New Year’s couldn’t get here fast enough.

Life is good this year, but I still have that twinge of anticipating holiday angst. I try to be careful not to let that stress get absorbed by the people around me.

Some friends have their own holiday anxiety closets. Some of them are going through romantic breakups, economic struggles or fighting their own childhood demons.

I am finding there are a lot of people with holiday anxiety closets, but don’t want to talk about them, which just makes their anxiety that much higher.

For this, I blame John-Boy Walton.

The Walton’s dominated television during the 1970s. They were the perfect family with the perfect Christmas.

Those of us with slightly odd and dysfunctional families felt like outcasts and started to resent the Christmas season.

Not everyone gets it. One is my wife. Her family is a great group of people who are the living embodiment of the Walton family. A close-rooted family that learned hard work on a dairy farm.

They start planning Christmas in June or July. They get 25-foot trees and outside lights that put the Griswold family to shame. Now that I am married, we have all of that stuff, too. You could see my house from the space station and probably Mars.

The key to shutting the anxiety closet is to remember the true spirit of Christmas: helping others. I sponsored a holiday dinner for people I don’t know at a church I don’t belong to.   I am not easy to call, but my friends who are struggling with depression have my secret number and can find me 24/7. I am not a shrink or professional, but it helps to find someone who has walked the walk.

Like many people, I tend to push others away when I am down. I’ve learned that the second effort is the key and won’t quit when someone does it to me. I thank God for those who stuck with me when I tried to run them off.

There are people out who should and do care, but may be too caught up in holiday parties to really notice people in their lives who are hurting.

You see a lot of holiday and post-holiday suicides. People often get lost in the shuffle.

Lending a hand and lending an ear, not just throwing gifts at people, is what the true spirit of Christmas is all about.

I’d rather have an hour with a good friend than a brand new sports car. Anyone with a wide open anxiety closet will feel the same way.

Happy Holidays. I really mean it.

John-Boy is doing commercials for Zaxby’s chicken now. His perfect Christmas is a myth. Don’t open your anxiety closet living up to that myth.

Don McNay is the bestselling author of “Life Lessons from The Lottery: Protecting Your Money in a Scary World.”

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