December 15, 2015 by Julia
Yesterday morning I actually had a conversation with my psychiatrist, which, like, never happens. In the past she has been so unlike a therapist, with her piercing hawk eyes and no-nonsense manner, that I feel like I’m checking in with a triage nurse. She asks me to rate my mood on a scale and then sends me on my way. Maybe she’s giving patients a holiday “actual conversation” bonus because she knows we really need it this time of year. Or maybe it was because I was crying within the first minute and she felt like she had to do something about it other than try something new with my medication (which I told her I wasn’t interested in doing).
Through annoying tears I said I just have to get through December and then I’ll be okay. Not that I don’t love all of the holiday stuff. I do love it so much, and I want to do it all, even the two children’s parties I threw last week. And all of the other work. It’s so, so much work. Good work, but still. How quickly it tips over into overwhelmed crazy tired land. Which is where I live these days. Maybe I live there all the time. What is wrong with me?!
She asked the typical B.S. question: “What would happen if you just stopped?” So I told her the world would end, obviously. I see what you’re doing there, missy. She asked if my kids would still have a good Christmas if I went out of town. I was like, “Umm, no? Their Christmas would be ruined.” She asked how old they are, and when I told her they’re seven and four, she admitted, “Okay, I’ll give you that one.” (Which makes me wonder how old she thought my kids were in the first place. Full-grown adults? Just how bedraggled and worn out am I looking these days?!)
She asked why Christmas is so stressful for me, and I said because I have to make everything wonderful for everyone. Joking through tears, you know. Fully aware of how ridiculous I sound and yet unable to stop myself.
At one point, she said, “You poor thing,” and I wasn’t offended. I was like, Oh Thank God, she sees me. I want to curl up on the couch now and go to sleep.
We are all people-pleasers to some extent; to me, it’s an overused, outdated term that people disparagingly use to describe themselves when they avoid conflict, buy too many gifts, or constantly try to be whom they believe others want them to be. Okay…that does sound like me. Crap. I am surprised by that sentence. I like to think of myself as a genuine people-pleaser in the non-doormat way – someone who just wants to make others happy and comfortable. Which is true, to some extent. I care about the well-being of others. A lot.
I can’t bear to disappoint a customer or hurt a friend’s feelings. I just want you to be better off in some way after I see you. If you are suffering, I want to help, and I don’t care if that means scrubbing your toilet or watching your kids all day. I may not always have the right words, especially in times of deep despair; I’m often too blunt or awkward or flustered. But I long to understand and help.
I might also feel compelled to curate an environment of comfort and beauty just for you. I will find you the right music based on my experience of your tastes, something I hope you’ve never heard before, so that you aren’t already tired of it. I will suggest your favorite restaurant, or buy your favorite cookies and give you coffee in my best mug, light a candle, and adopt the tone of conversation you are most comfortable with. Also, the subject matter will align with your interests. I am not one to prattle on about things you don’t care about. I consider my audience.
It sounds a bit creepy, but we are all social chameleons to some degree, too, aren’t we? I am not willing to lie or act phony. I trust that you would see right through it, and besides, we probably have overlapping interests anyway, like a Venn Diagram. I just…usually fail to mention the parts of myself that don’t overlap with yours. Even if we’re really close, I have to consciously remember that it’s okay to share things that might bore or even displease you. Because I am looking for real connection, too, messy and spontaneous. The pleasing exterior is just the prelude; I know that. I hold out for the moment when we can relate and build each other up.
But I tire myself out. For you, for me, for our community. I don’t know which parts of it are right or wrong, I just know it’s in my blood and if empathy is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Still, I don’t want to be crying from stress. That just sounds stupid. There must be another, better way.
Well, there you have it: my guts, spilled under the Christmas tree, with a bow on top! You’re welcome. If you don’t like them, you can try returning them to Target, they’re really nice about taking stuff back for store credit, even without a gift reciept.
Dear Lord, I am tired. But I will keep trying to do the rightest right thing, because I have faith that it’s not all just about me trying to impress people, or kiss-ass, or whatever. Sometimes we can hold goodness without ulterior motives. We can sacrifice for others, and yes, compassion and action might cost us something, but that is not always wrong. We can also fill ourselves up when we are empty, and that is not wrong, either.
I will continue to search for that glow of light in the darkness of confusion. (The glow is love.) It’s been so dark, literally, these days. It’s been gloomy and foggy and feels like the sun has set by three-thirty in the afternoon. I’m not one to complain about the short, dark days of December much, but this year it’s gotten to me.
So let us link arms, figuratively speaking. I am flawed and overextended and figuring out how to best do Christmas, year after year. You are happy and sad and struggling and coasting, too, I assume. The glow is love. Have faith that it will heal and bring clarity, strong as that slanting winter light in the chill of morning.