Thinking about things like upcoming holiday gatherings with large crowds of people can bring on anxiety for people who don’t even usually have anxiety issues. Face it, the holidays are stressful. When you have bowel troubles, being in crowds, coupled with food to which you simply cannot say no, and a sketchy or unknown bathroom situation can make the already “standard level anxiety” explode into a world of unknown possibilities that would make Willy Wonka’s world of pure imagination seem dull. I spend the holidays with Crohn’s disease and anxiety together, and it always makes me wonder if I am on Santa’s naughty list. I seriously wish I would just get a lump of coal instead.
Christmas Before Chrohn’s Disease
When I was a little girl, we always spent the holidays at my grandparents’ house. It was a huge, old, three-story home, complete with a creepy basement. There were lots of wooden pillars between each room and
The bathroom was upstairs, also. The one bathroom. The one bathroom in the whole great big house. The one bathroom that all of us, and there were over fifty people, had to use when we gathered for the holidays at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. There was even a little couch on the landing area just up the stairs that sat outside the bathroom, because you were inevitably going to have to wait for it to be your turn. As a child, this didn’t bother me at all. I used the time to explore the upstairs bedrooms and look around at all of the things I wasn’t allowed to touch. I was particularly interested in my Grandpa’s ship in a bottle – I still don’t know how that thing got in there!!
Christmas with Crohn’s Disease
Now, if I had to go to a one bathroom house for any kind of get together, I would panic. There is no way I would be able to negotiate any kind of celebration with that many people and only one bathroom. Even if there is a super comfy couch to sit on and wait my turn. Because of Crohn’s disease, I can’t wait. When I have to go, I have to go immediately. And the thought of just being somewhere that I don’t have immediate access to restroom facilities creates a level of anxiety that freezes me in my tracks and keeps me from doing so many of the things I want to do. Even if the people are family and understand my situation, it doesn’t make the anxiety stop – not even a little bit. It does make me wish I just got a lump of coal instead, though.
Holidays & Social Anxiety
The feelings of “what if this,” or “what if that,” happens regarding my bowel issues are one thing – and a horrifying thing at that. But then there is the social anxiety that I have to contend with on top of bathroom anxiety. I don’t like large crowds. I don’t like loud noises, especially sudden or startling noises. I don’t like to hear small children or babies crying uncontrollably. It is very difficult for me to make small talk, even if it is with people I know and genuinely enjoy being around. It’s actually terrifying for me. And I cannot explain what it is, or why it is, in any way that makes sense to someone who has never felt this way. It’s just emotionally and physically painful. I always try to fend off these feelings with humor and sarcasm, laughing so I don’t appear so uncomfortable. But deep down, I’m in very real agony. I’ll take that lump of coal now instead, please.
A lot of people say they get it. I often hear, “I understand, I don’t like crowds either,” “I don’t like loud noises,” or “The screaming kids get on my nerves too.” No, that’s not exactly it, but I appreciate the sentiment – sort of. Other times I’m met with a downright denial of my feelings altogether, “It’s just one day, you can get through it.” I honestly wish it were that easy.
Anxiety around the holidays for me is two-fold because not only do I fight with the anxiety of being around a lot of people, I am also fighting the fears about the bathroom situation at any given time. It’s been years since we all gathered in the one bathroom home of my Grandparents. My family gets together now in places with multiple bathrooms, which helps ease that problem just a little, but bathroom anxiety never truly goes away when you have bowel problems.
There is always that kid that pounds on the bathroom door even though they just saw you go in there. There is always that super overly concerned, but well-meaning relative that asks you if you are okay all three times they see you come out of the bathroom. There is the other relative who automatically knows how you feel and tries to empathize with you because they have a lactose issue or a spastic colon. So they have to make a huge deal about how alike the two of you are – usually loudly and in front of everyone – doling out the same ridiculous advice they give you every year that is sure to “cure” all your problems. And then there is the jokester, who tries to make fun of you going to the bathroom again and again. Even though they are trying to be funny to make you feel less self-conscious, they always end up making you feel worse. But hey, it’s only one day. It takes several weeks to mentally prepare and four days to recover from that one day, but, it’s only one day. Lump. Of. Coal. Please
Not Just One Day
For me, and so many like me with anxiety, it isn’t just one day. It isn’t just one hour. It isn’t just sucking it up and doing something you don’t want to do like emptying the cat litter or getting that pesky flu shot. It is literally all the days leading up to that one day. It’s the fret and worrying and concern and overthinking that is involved in mentally trying to prepare for every possible scenario that might occur in that one day. It’s also knowing you will never be fully prepared enough, so you start freaking out about that. Then it’s the actual event itself, which is almost never as bad as it seemed like it was going to be all the days, weeks, or sometimes months before
It’s also all the days after the events suffering from extreme exhaustion and the need to come down from the high levels of stress and anxiety and all the interactions with other people. The physical fatigue and genuine body pain from having to endure such a distressing ordeal, coupled with the havoc that it all wreaked in my gut,
It’s not about not wanting to be around my family. I desperately want to be around them because I rarely see them. I desperately want to spend time laughing and eating and having a good time enjoying the holidays, or any other celebration, without a care or second thought about anything – just like I did at my grandparents’ house when I was little. But now, anxiety happens. I can do my best to control it, I can take my medication, I can do my self-care, and I can be funny and pretend I’m okay. But the bottom line is the anxiety is still there. The irrational fear is still there. The “what if’s” are still there. I get that, technically, it is just one day – except it isn’t. I do understand what is happening. I even have insight into how illogical it is. That doesn’t make it stop, though. I wish it were as simple as being able to tell myself that it’s just one day and I’ll get through it. Seriously, where is that lump of coal instead?
This, my friends, is what makes people with chronic illnesses so very special. We really are superheroes. Everyday superheroes endure these kinds of situations, mostly silently, and we do it well. We’ve done it for years and we will continue to do it because that’s what superheroes do. That, and we don’t really have a choice. So let’s go don our invisible capes and get through our holidays and remember, that when it’s all over, we don’t have to do it again for a whole entire year! Now, isn’t that more fun than just getting a lump of coal? Eh, I’m still not sure. Happy Holidays!
About The Author
Jenni Lock is the creator of Jenni’s Guts blog and writes about her journey with intestinal nonsense and other chronic health issues. Her sense of humor, sarcasm, and willingness to talk about the things most people just think are all part of her charm. Learn more about Jenni and her guts at JennisGuts.blogspot.com.