This Christmas, I’m taking a break from my pro-Trump, anti-immigrant, socially unaware relatives for the sake of my health and sanity.
It’s a maneuver I’ve heavily debated in the weeks leading up to Christmas. In fact, since Trump’s inauguration last year, I’ve been quietly wondering how I’m going to handle family gatherings and the emotional toll that will inevitably come with them. I’ve skipped holidays before while in college, for various reasons, so this won’t be the first time I’m dipping out on overeating and presents.
But this time, my reasons for not going are directly related to politics and my emotional well-being.
My views are 100 percent incompatible with those of my family members. I have watched on social media as several of my relatives have posted and shared ignorant, hateful, and propaganda-like articles; I’ve seen their racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia become nauseatingly clear since Trump moved into the White House.
I know that there is a good chance that several conversations on Christmas Eve are going to revolve around the Wall, terrorism in the United States, police brutality, and sexual assault – and none of them are going to be in support of the people who are actually harmed by these atrocities.
I’m used to dealing with their shit, and I’ve done it many times before. I even wrote a handy guide filled with rebuttals for others who have to deal with insufferable family members this holiday season, because I know that we need to address and dismantle oppressive rhetoric in our own circles.
But even thinking about being in a room with my politically ass-backwards relatives drives me to the brink of a panic attack. And that’s why I’ve debated my decision to attend Christmas Eve and see my family members: I need to confront bigotry, but I also need to preserve my mental health. I will always advocate for those that America has and continues to mistreat, but I have to find a balance between strength and extreme anxiety.
I feel like avoiding the family is a cop-out, but I don’t know if I can rationally, calmly, and coherently explain to a conservative (read: racist) military/cop family that “blue lives” do not exist, let alone matter, when they insist that the unarmed black men and women who are murdered by police “should have complied.” I know I won’t be able to hold my tongue when one of them claim that “police have it hard,” but I also know that I will start an argument that will be volatile and never-ending, and possibly end in violence.
I have spoken up, especially within my own household, but I get shut down. I have been told, furiously, that I don’t know what I’m talking about. That I have no business speaking about these issues because I don’t know how the real world works. To shut my mouth.
My dad even revealed himself as a sexual assault apologist during a heated argument a few weeks ago. There are few times in my life I’ve felt so helpless.
I can take on a couple of my relatives. I don’t know if I can take on a whole room full of them and avoid an anxiety attack. I can’t tell them that their white supremacy is showing and expect any type of positive or productive outcome. I don’t think I have the stamina to exert large amounts of emotional labor and mental resiliency to combat their hate.
At this point in time, I don’t feel safe calling them out in person, in a large group.
This Christmas Eve, the best decision for my mental health is to step out of a space that I do not have the emotional ability to withstand. Additionally, I have learned that these arguments only breed more hostility and hatred in my family. I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and accomplishing nothing.
I recognize that this decision comes from a place of extreme privilege and comfort. Millions of people around the world must fight, every single day, to defend their race, religion, sexual orientation, immigration status, gender, culture, and right to inhabit the very space they live in. They do not have the privilege of avoiding oppression.
I also realize that I cannot effectively stand up to injustice if I’m hyperventilating or feel unsafe. I must know and respect my own limits on my mental health. This year, attending a family get-together where I may hear triggering remarks about sexual assault is pushing those limits. Being in a space where I would be demonized by the majority, if not all, of my family for praising Colin Kaepernick is a mental burden I don’t think I can confront right now.
If you are attending family gatherings where you know you will be calling out the bullshit and fighting your family’s ignorance, much power to you. If you will see relatives who freely share their oppressive beliefs but you won’t be speaking out because it is unsafe to do so, much power to you as well.
If you are staying away from these toxic people so you can mentally live to fight another day, that is also valid. The fight continues. Every once in a while, we must pause to reevaluate the state of our mental health in these situations. We must tend to our emotional and mental well-being if we want to be effective forces for cultural, legal, and societal change.