Parents were picking up kids, and I was handing out little baggies of goodies to each bouncing boy headed out the door. We had filled their systems with all forms of sugar from liquid-grown-in-fields to powdered-and-whipped. We had celebrated our bright-eyed boy’s turning of eight, complete with a hand-drawn ten-foot Godzilla adorning the wall, a back porch covered in yellow, blue, orange, and green silly string, and a cake that featured gummy army men plotting the takedown of a plastic Godzilla. I felt two feelings battling inside me, dark and light. On one hand, I felt proud we had celebrated well, even with while keeping the newly adopted two-year-old happy and feeling safe with all the buzzing, busy boys in our house. It felt good to feel like celebrating and celebrate well. On the other hand, I felt the presence of my anxiety.
May and June are full of big days for our family: four birthdays, Mother’s Day, wedding anniversary, and Father’s Day. Last year during this time, we were in the middle of a very uncertain international adoption, and I didn’t feel like celebrating a darn thing. I was treading water emotionally. We even had a bonus special day thrown in last year because our oldest graduated high school. One more party to plan in between crying and mental nail-biting. My grief and anxiety would not be put away; It demanded to be seen and acknowledged. What I’ve realized this year is that even without the stress of our adoption and graduation, my anxiety still makes it hard for me to celebrate.
Celebrating is worth fighting for. It is worth it because I love my family. We must celebrate because celebrating brings joy, and joy is our strength.
Here’s how to survive when the calendar demands celebration:
1. Don’t shame yourself at any point in this process.
Thoughts like, what’s wrong with me that I can’t be happy about a birthday party? are not helpful or kind to yourself. If you are wrestling temporary stress in your life or you are dealing with the realities of living with anxiety, you must allow yourself the room to feel what you really feel, and you cannot have shame because you have those feelings.
2. Set up good boundaries in your celebrating.
You don’t have to be hype for a week over the big day. You don’t even have to be partying for more than a few hours. The point is to take a chunk of time and celebrate something for the sake of celebration. Set aside your grief, anxiety, or stress-inducing problem for just a few hours and give this important person, place, or thing in your life its due festivity. When it is over, you will still have your issues you are struggling through there waiting for you.
3. Invite people who have proven themselves as safe people.
Someone who will bring you flowers on a bad day is the perfect person to invite to your good day. Someone who refuses to acknowledge you are struggling during hard times isn’t going to truly celebrate your good days either. They may pretend to celebrate with you, but if they don’t engage in your whole life as a person, good and bad, they aren't genuinely rooting for you or the success of your life. You have permission to only invite who you need and want to invite. It is perfectly ok to only allow people who are genuine and kind into those big celebratory moments of your life.
4. Do not overdo it on your party planning.
Don’t demand perfection from your party. Keep things as chill as possible. The icing might run, the wrapping paper might rip, or you might forget the cups. Something will go wrong. If you have unreasonable expectations for the big day, you are setting yourself up for a meltdown.
5. Schedule time to recover after the party.
Your energy level is going to be depleted. Plan for that. Don’t plan to hop from a time of celebration to something else that would demand your energy. You will probably have feelings about the day or interactions with people at the celebration. Plan a quiet morning the next day to reflect and recover. It may even take two or three days to recover from a party. Don’t beat yourself up if that happens. Remember, no shaming yourself!
6. Give yourself credit.
When the celebration comes to a close, don’t allow your anxiety to rob you of that moment of congratulating yourself for celebrating well. You honored the moment and didn’t allow your anxiety to steal your joy. You celebrated (not perfect) well.
Your life deserves wonder, fun, the satisfaction of accomplishment, and delight, even as you contend with your anxiety. May these tips help you celebrate and bring more joy to your life as you deal that anxiety.
The wonderful thing about joy is that it is deep enough to hold all the light and dark that your soul can hold, and as you allow joy to enter into that space in your soul that was made to hold it, your body, mind, and heart will be strengthened for the good days and bad.