I don’t like family gatherings during the holidays. There, I said it.
The holidays bring along so much anxiety and untapped childhood issues that, apparently, I’m the only one that wants to address. I sometimes feel disconnected being around my immediate or extended family unless I’m in Cleveland. Over the years I’ve learned to protect my peace, even if it means staying away from the place I call home.
So, last Thanksgiving I escaped to Jamaica and ate oxtails with rice and peas. I drank rum punch and enjoyed the medicinal herbs of the island. Last Christmas, I flew off to Morocco, climbed mountains and danced to traditional music on top of them.
I spent an entire holiday season trying to avoid conversations and discomfort that I was the only one concerned with. Then, in January of this year, my father had a heart attack and suddenly, I realized that I’d just have to figure out another way to work through my issues because, being absent was no longer an option.
Then, of all things that could happen, 2020 turned out to be a year that would test all of us when Covid-19 decided to rearrange our lives in so many ways. One of those ways in which mine was rearranged is that I learned to revisit some pain and channel it into purpose. It takes a LOT of work to let go of anger, personal insecurities and shame. A lot.
So, when my sister texted me that we were going to have a small Thanksgiving gathering at her house, I immediately went through every imaginable emotion but eventually settled on placidness, defined as “a feeling of calm; an absence of agitation or excitement.”
Yet, as I have done year after year with family gatherings (or even committing to certain group events), I began to have anxiety attacks every night. I found myself self-medicating and once again trying to mask my feelings as if they didn’t exist so that I wouldn’t be tempted to bring them up. Because they aren’t supposed to exist.
Once again, Covid has a way of rearranging our lives. The closer it got to Thanksgiving, the more risky it seemed to get together so we canceled. Suddenly, I stopped having anxiety but the loneliness began to take over. It’s a constant battle trying to stay mentally healthy and I’m always fighting to win.
I say year after year that I hate Thanksgiving food (I do). Or, I try to downplay it because of how disrespectful it is to Native Americans (it is, btw). Whatever excuse I make to avoid celebrating these holidays, it doesn’t take the pain away. Nor does it prepare you for moments like this when a national pandemic keeps you away from those you love while you realize how much you need them.
Getting together for Thanksgiving as a family may not be an option this year but, I firmly believe that staying away may make the difference in us getting together for Christmas or Thanksgiving next year. I love my family enough to protect them because I want to see them again.
So, as I sit here trying to decide on my own personal Thanksgiving dinner, sans turkey, ham, collards or any of that other stuff, I remain placid. Unable to be sad, unable celebrate. Just a feeling of calm and thankfulness as I try to stay positive that better days are ahead. Rest assured, they are, for my family and yours.