I have my issues, you have your issues, we all have our issues: December with its holidays
I have my issues with December. In psychology there is a term particularly suitable to my personal troubles around this period: anniversary effect or anniversary reaction. For me, it started as early as the end of November this year, “as a unique set of unsettling feelings, thoughts or memories that occur[ed] on the anniversary of [more than one] significant experience”. Why the end of November? Two years had passed from my paternal grandmother’s death, not only my last grandparent, but a person I was particularly close to. I have been feeling ’’sad, irritable [and] anxious” ever since.
Sometimes I get really angry, I yell or rant about whatever and it works for the moment, but after the rush wears off – I feel this immense sadness taking hold of me and I am simply worn out. As for the anxiety, it has become worse these past few days. Fortunately, as my psychological counselor told me already, it will get better after this anniversary of the event or events moves further and further away. Of course, December is full of anniversaries, all of them bittersweet.
I want it to be clear from the start: this is not a tricky endeavor, where I complain about my dramas and traumas so you can feel sorry for me, get your attention so you can then applaud me for my honesty and my “empowering” manner of spilling my guts in front of the world. I am closer to 30 now and the last 4 messy years have taught me many valuable lessons, with the good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly, the therapists and therapies that worked or did not work, the people who stayed and the ones who left, the friends who came along, the friends who were always there and the ones I have lost along the way – & so on.
I turn 28 years old on December 16, 2017 and there is some inevitable drama there for sure. The fear of getting old? Not really. It is this whole month with its gift that keeps on giving, the previously mentioned anxiety. It usually starts with December 1st, just because I always feel and hear something like a click or the sound of something breaking into pieces when the calendar switches from November to December. Also, my father’s birthday is on December 13. Then there’s Christmas and… even New Year’s Eve!
Believe it or not, during my childhood I would get gifts even on New Year’s Eve. I would sing for my supper, no worries, as my father’s video camera would capture for eternity the whole holiday ritual. First scene: entering the apartment with my paternal grandparents (I’d stay at their place until everything was ready & Saint Nicholas/Santa/my parents would do their magic). Raluca with a joyful face, a little awkward in the first years, then she became a natural – true reality TV star… material.
Cut to: the scene where our small family (my maternal grandmother & my paternal great grandmother included) would gather around the Christmas tree, which was huge, close-ups with all of their faces, endless close-ups with my face, the voice of my father asking me questions, the man who was almost always behind the camera.
Cut to: me opening the gifts one by one, every reaction recorded both on the video cameras and the Nikon photo cameras, be them with big tapes, then smaller & then none, respectively with Fujifilm or Kodak color film and then just an SD Card, my coming of age story from Analog to Digital.
Cut to: me thanking Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus or my parents, with the customary poems and carols.
I have learned throughout the years not to think in extremes and not to hold unrealistic and unfair expectations. There is no such thing as a perfect family (or anything for that matter). Most recently and most importantly, I realized that while we cannot control and we should not be asked to control our feelings and thoughts about the traumatic events from our lives, we have a choice when it comes to dealing with the present and our expectations from the future.
I am not talking about moving past our problematic pasts by magically snapping our fingers or having to listen to others telling us it could have been worse and other unsensitive and unsolicited “advice”. It might as well could have been better, much better! There is no contest when it comes to being a victim and it should never be about that, if we’re honest towards ourselves. Each suffering is personal and intimate and while we hold the right to call upon our aggressors anytime we feel this sometimes unbearable urge, we do not have the duty to share anything.
Truth is, we all suffer – yet in our own ways and for a variety of different or less different reasons. It is also safe to say that we all long for togetherness and for a manageable relationship with our own selves. Sometimes we seek comfort through other people and we get exactly what we need, sometimes we settle for harmful relationships or compulsive behaviors which involve both people and objects. This is not a blame game, though. I am reaching out having started by explaining personal battles and inviting you – no strings attached – to take something out of it not because I suffered the most or because I know better, but because this anniversary reaction is hard on everybody during this particular month and during holiday seasons throughout the year.
We must be careful and gentle with ourselves and others every day, but maybe even more NOW, when the lights are rather blinding and most retailers seem just like patient dealers sitting at the corners of the street, waiting for us to pass by and cash in on our suffering, loneliness or anything else that troubles our minds and souls. Coming back to family: whether we like it or not, family is the place and space giving us both our first good and bad memories, our first behavioral patterns. Right then and there, we are faced (without being asked) with models of both self-love and loving others. The members of our families (not necessary biological, of course) are also chronologically and inevitably the first to show us different ways of being in this world, because our mother is different as a person from us, as she is different from our father & the other way around, and so on.
What does all this amount to? First, try not to think in terms of good or bad when you think about anything – these are social constructs which instead of helping, they just put unnecessary pressure on you or induce guilt, where there should be no guilt. It is neither good or bad if you like Christmas. It is your call: your mind, your body, your feelings, your actions. I don’t hate Christmas per se. Actually Christmas or any holiday for that matter is not an absolute or an entity, so to each his own. Every person has their personal take on everything, so we can only talk in terms of experiences of a certain Christmas, a certain December,a certain year, etc. As for the anniversary reaction – it is merely a term meant to help us contain the feelings me might have around important events from our lives. Just a label. Take it or leave it. I do not like labels, anyways.
So, what is it that truly helps me when coping with these feelings, be it sadness, be it anger, be it anxiety – and any combination of the three?
First, there is the thought that it will eventually get better, no matter how unrealistic it may seem, especially when experiencing these dreadful feelings strongly. This is not just something my current psychological counselor recently told me, but something my fiancé Vivian Dünger has been repeating since the day we met in July 2014 and something I got the chance to actually experience myself, with him right by my side.
Then, there is this thing I learned along the years: to ask for help with less and less fear of being judged and called “crazy” or “lazy” or “lacking will’”. Of course, you have to choose carefully the people you ask help from. My method: give (most) people at least one chance and if they are still the ones lacking the will or patience to understand, I remove them from my “emergency contact” list or from my life (for good or for a certain period of time). Very important: I give myself time to process the feelings of loss, disappointment and so on, especially because friendships can be toxic as well, just like any other type of interaction between people.
Last but not least, I always consider professional help. When to do that? For me, I felt it every time almost instinctively, because no matter how depressed, anxious, confused – BAD – one might feel, our bodies (and minds) are always fighting to keep us alive. As I am not afraid of stigma anymore, I do it every time I feel I cannot deal with the unbearable weight of the world around me and the world within me. I know Romania’s psychiatric hospitals and psychiatrists have a horrible reputation and for more than legitimate reasons, but sometimes even they can help. Doctors are humans after all, and while they can be jerks for sure, you might be surprised to find (few) medical professionals who do not take mental health lightly and can really be there for you. This brings me to 2 of my helping hands: medication and therapy.
When it comes to medication, I do not think in extremes here either. Disclaimer: rationally I really do not do that and it took me at least 4 years to get to where I am now and I can assure you I am and will always be work in progress. Medication is neither good or bad in itself. Unfortunately, it is still approached in terms of trial and error. The worse part is that pharmaceutical companies don’t play a fair game and hospitals and/or doctors often prescribe the pharmaceuticals more convenient for them and not for the patient. However, after years of trial and error, bad experiences with bad psychiatrists and sometimes nightmarish institutions, I have found a good psychiatrist who put me on the right medication. Again, this is what has been working for me for more than a year, not a universal solution and certainly not a lifetime commitment. It is not a miracle cure it all and it addresses the anxiety I have been experiencing since April 2014. I am not saying: take medication, I am merely saying: you might find medication helpful and if you do, that is just fine.
Therapy is a tricky thing, because there are far more therapists out there than schools of thought in psychology and there are even more therapeutic methods and/or offers than ever before. Also, although you might enjoy the theory, you might find yourself troubled by the therapeutic methods adjacent to it. This was the case with me and psychoanalytical theory. I have read Sigmund Freud, Erich Fromm and many others thoroughly, hell, I even crossed an ocean to gain even more expertise. I still like papa Freud, I agree with many of his ideas while being open to any informed criticism (especially feminist criticism) to both his theory and method. Let us never forget, psychologists are humans as well, all too human*!
My first therapist was very by the book Freudian, at least in his methods – silence, couch and all. He was not a greedy bastard, though. I think of him as a decent human being. My only unresolved issue is that he did not admit to himself that I was brought to a certain unbearable point of suffering, anxiety and depression combined, from which he could not drag me out, no matter how many sessions he would add to our already 3 sessions/week ritual. I went to him starting Fall 2012 for 6 months or so, then I got out because I chose leaving for New York and for good. I only stayed 10 months in NY and I resumed seeing him starting Spring 2015, ending it for good in December 2015.
My second experience was with a female psychiatrist in New York, a true professional with over 30 years of experience and coincidentally, a formation in psychoanalysis. She had a chic office on the Upper East Side, with the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud staring at me during those 6 sessions which helped me more than I expected, during those last weeks in NY, April-May 2014. My third experience was with another female psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, but in Romania this time. She was not good to me and for me, both as a therapist and as a human being. I was lucky enough to get out when I did, especially because I was very fragile when I started going to her: Fall 2014. I still cannot believe I stayed as long as Spring 2015.
The point is, I have been around the block. It is neither bad or good, empowering or offensive. I asked for help, and help was given in many forms. Some therapists did their best, some did not. Some methods worked until they did not, although they were used with the best of intentions. We are in December 2017 and after a 2 year break from psychologists and especially psychoanalysts, I decided to go back, to ask for professional help. The reasons: some of them are already exposed above, some of them are yet to be discovered together with my current female psychological counselor. There were only 2 sessions so far, but not only am I starting to feel better, but I have the feeling that I made a good decision for myself and for the important people in my life. Works for me for now, but precaution is key; not paranoia!
These were some of my issues, all related to December and its holidays. I am not a hater, nor a lover of holidays. I am just Raluca Roșu, trying and sometimes actually getting as close as possible to living life while enjoying it, despite or maybe because I know I have little control over what happens to me or to the world; hopeful, yet careful. What I do not have issues with are gifts. Just remember: you can offer yourself and others as many gifts as you want each and every single day; guess what? They do not need to be expensive and they do not even need to be objects. How about gestures? Try, for example listening to your friends and/or family, then try just being there for real and for good. Do not try, actually. Do it!
* quote from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s book title: “Human, All Too Human: A Book For Free Spirits” (1878)
About the Author: Raluca is a Romanian model, photographer and fashion blogger. She’s an active contributor and columnist for a couple of online cultural magazines where she openly talks about her personal life experience and about the depression she’s been battling for years. More about her here.
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