I spent Christmas with my family this year. It was a small gathering – just my parents, my brother, his fiancee, and me. Except it didn’t feel small; it seemed like there were far too many people around. I haven’t had a lot of contact with my family for some time now because of my depression-related self-imposed isolation. In the last year and a half I had only seen my brother twice, and hadn’t seen my soon-to-be sister-in-law at all. I was reluctant to head “home for the holidays”, but decided I should push myself and just go for it.
Everyone gave me a fairly wide berth. Not in a mean way, but in recognition of my need for space when I’m not feeling well. Despite the cozy little gathering, I felt like an outsider, a stranger in my own family. Not because anyone excluded me, but because their little family circle just seemed so foreign to me.
Since I wasn’t engaging much in the conversation, I felt kind of like a fly on the wall, observing from a detached position. Or maybe not so detached; regardless, I found that things grated on me. My sister-in-law is a lovely girl, but it seemed like my parents were putting on a performance of sorts because of her presence, and it looked so contrived from my odd perspective. Things that would normally be minor irritants, like my dad’s poor table manners, stirred up a feeling that was closer to disgust. Much of the general conversation focused on meaningless minutiae (kind of like Jerry’s parents in the show Seinfeld but without the humorous element), and it struck me as such a waste of time. I was mostly able to keep a lid on my irritability in terms of external expression, but it maintained a slow simmer on the inside.
I’m back home now, and it feels like a relief to be alone with just my guinea pigs for company. I’m left wondering, though, if feeling like a stranger in my own family is something that will ever really go away. Maybe if (when?) my illness goes into remission things will go back to normal, but that seems hard to imagine at this point. It’ not their behaviour that would need to change, it’s my perspective, and it feels like the connections that well me used to value have been washed away in the storm of my depression. Maybe I’ll find them again, or maybe I’ll forge new connections in the future, but at this point I don’t see that happening any time soon.