Honest reflections about marriage and mission work when dealing with the anxiety and depression

  • Charlie Clayton

My 1st (non-anxious) Christmas

There have been many points during the last year that, after experiencing certain situations or circumstances, I step back and think "wow, if this was a year ago, I would be reacting very differently right now". These moments suddenly catch you - and are a wonderful reminder of the changes that have occurred and the realisation that you are enjoying life in ways many others do without being constantly conscious of you and your surroundings.

It is lovely to be able to nudge Abby, and see her relief that life is on a constant upward trend as we continue to re-learn our interactions within our marriage.

I think it is important to take note and remember when these situations arise as it encourages both of us that life has actually moved forward in this area, and we can continue to have a rising security that although there will be times of stress, strain and anxiety at various times in the future, it is no longer the organising factor in our life and marriage.

And one of these noteworthy days that I have just experienced is Christmas Day.

Don't get me wrong, the Christmases I have had over the years have been wonderful. Full of family, presents, laughter and food! There isn't a Christmas that I look back on and relive any sort of painful moment or lasting negative memory.

But having experienced this years Christmas, without anxiety, without depression, I shocked to see looking back just how wired and anxious I was on Christmas day.

You see, I wanted for just one day to feel ok.

And I would put all my hope in Christmas day to be the one day I could. It always seemed to have so much promise. None of life's normal activities, day of being with family, eating lovely food, relaxed drinking with friends and family, playing games, seeing the children smile, receiving gifts (my love language is gifts!) and being able to sit and not be demanded of.

In fact I would lose myself so much in the need for the day to be perfect so I could feel good, that I completely forgot the day was about anything else. I subconsciously expected the day to revolve around me, that Abby would know that and make it happen the way I wanted it, and that the kids would also get with the programme too. I would have a plan to perfectly craft the day so that I could have one day of freedom from constant bombardment of thoughts, anxiety about every plan of the day and the feeling of sadness that would be constantly overwhelming.

The sad thing is of course that even the loveliest day couldn't enable me to fully escape my prison of anxiety. And the expectations I put on the day were impossible anyway, leading to Christmas day often being one of the lowest days of the year in my internal world. No matter the external joy that I could see in the eyes of my children, the love of family around me, and the ongoing promise that each new year brought, it could never fully dull the pain my subconscious would process on a daily basis. It often led to me needing to withdraw during the afternoon, have a 'anxiety sleep' and re-emerge later in the day to insular thinking and pity drinking for the dream day that never happened.

But yet, on Christmas day this year, during the afternoon, I suddenly realised that I hadn't had the usual build up that required the 'perfect day'. I wasn't sugar junking from early in the morning, I wasn't desperately hoping for the meal to start cooking so we could open the Christmas wine, I wasn't holding each present hoping that it was everything that I needed and would lift some of the darkness. I didn't need my family to make the day as I wanted it, I didn't need to escape to rest, I didn't need to have a few moments to settle myself, and I didn't end up tipsy, upset and emotional at the end of the day.

I couldn't believe how different my experience was.

This experience genuinely shocked me how much my anxiety had impacted me previously. The difference was massive. It actually took me some time to process the stark contrast. Thankful for now being able to experience days differently but also so sad for that old me, not knowing what freedom looked like and desperately trying to find it. I was genuinely just trying to find peace and happiness for one day. It grieved me too to realise how Abby would experience this each year, and it frustrates me of experiences lost that could have been so fulfilling.

Of course, it's no-ones fault that I experienced this and these new encounters of freedom will undoubtedly lead to a range of emotions about past experiences when uncontrolled coping mechanisms ran my life.

All I can do is acknowledge the pain and frustrations of the past, and enjoy the new emotions and feelings as I continue to grow emotionally healthy into the future.

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