“I've felt like I'm on the verge of having a heart attack for about a month,” I told the doctor.
Being between therapists after my last one ended her residency, the general practitioner was the closest person I could think of to reach out to.
“Holidays, man. They're hard.” she typed quickly, not glancing up.
“Do you have kids?” I pressed.
“I have cats.”
It's difficult explaining a high level of stress and anxiety in a season when the whole world is experiencing a high level of stress and anxiety. It's like I'm running around in a zombie apocalypse crying about bad dreams. But holiday stress is very real for me, and it manifests in ugly ways. I have sick, twisted memories wrapped up in that damn Christmas tree.
It starts small. I'm setting the table for guests. Folding festive napkins suddenly transports me to another time, a dark bedroom where I'm being gagged with crisp, bright, holly-adorned paper.
“Deck the halls…”
These things hardly even phase me anymore. Except that they do.
I don't react in the moment, but it pulls at the strings of my brain slowly and surely, oozing into everything in my life that is good. I wake up to find one of the house windows ajar. He's here to get me. “Don't be stupid,” I reassure myself out loud. “One of the kids probably left it open.” But the dogs were barking at something in the field last night. What if it was him? I hop in the shower and hear a yelp, then the kids stirring. Probably just waking up. Or it could be him, coming to kill my kids as vengeance for speaking out.
You aren't paranoid if someone really is out to get you.
It's been ten years since he last tracked me down, and I honestly think that he's lost interest. Perhaps moved on to his next victim. But what if?
What if the holidays are especially hard on him, too?
I walked into the psychiatrist's office the next day. “What primary symptoms are you experiencing?” the cheery woman asked.
“Paranoid thoughts and delusions associated with childhood trauma and PTSD,” I responded, equally upbeat. I know this verbiage like the back of my hand. Here we go again.
I once had a psychiatrist tell me I'd be in therapy for the rest of my life. I laughed in her face and said something immature like, “Your pocketbook would sure appreciate that!” But I no longer view this as a sickness from which I'll recover. These experiences are part of who I am, shaping my responses to everyday life. Acceptance is the first step towards a life well-lived.
As much as can be said about those dark times, more can be said about how bright everything else looks in contrast.
Related: They're Just Days.