by Katie Simon Phillips
Note: This post originally appeared on Born Without Marbles and has been cross-posted with permission.
When I was five years old, I used to get so frightened at the prospect of people turning up to my house in costumes on Halloween, that my mum would have to take me out of the house and drive me around our neighbourhood with a jumper wrapped round my head so that I couldn’t see the hoards of trick or treaters passing by. I am now twenty four years old and a lot of things about me have changed (for example I can now tie my shoes and tell the time unlike my five year old past self), but my terror towards and unusual way of spending the pumpkin laden holiday of Halloween is still very much the same.
It probably sounds ridiculous to admit that when I am of course aware that a lot of the ghosts you see dragging their chains at Halloween are actually kids with bedsheets thrown over their heads as apposed to genuine supernatural beings. It is after all fairly easy to distinguish the two simply by checking to see if the creature in question is carrying a bucket of sweets (kids wearing old bed sheets tend to be more interested in seeking candy than seeking revenge, unlike the true ghostly counterparts on which they base their fashion choices). However my issues with Halloween are not because I am convinced that the trick or treaters appearing at my door are real monsters, but are due to a hell of a lot of mental health fears and stress that I am sure a lot of other people struggle with as well. So, if you have ever wondered how Halloween feels when you have mental health problems, sit back and rest assured, for I am here to tell you all about it…
Let us begin with trick or treaters. When you have problems with anxiety it is likely you will be anxious about a lot of things (ground breaking information right there I know), and with social anxiety these things are likely to involve pieces of general daily interaction like answering the phone or the front door. I know that for me, hearing the sound of the doorbell or the ringing of a telephone sends shivers down my spine/causes me to leap under the nearest blanket and clamp my hands around my ears until the noise stops and the person goes away…and that is when I am expecting a call from a friend. Indeed, I have been known to ask visiting chums to text me when they enter my road and then a second time to say when they have reached the door step.The vibration of my phone to signal the receiving of a text scares me too, but it is far better than the alternative hellish chimes of the doorbell. As you can imagine then, when the people turning up at the door are unexpected strangers, the anxiety is even more intense.
That is bad enough when it is general unexpected strangers, say a postman dropping off a parcel or a window cleaner asking to be paid, but on Halloween it is even worse because the strangers I am already in fear of are wearing goblin masks designed to make them look all the more terrifying!Some may even be dressed to look like the Grim Reaper or be carrying fake blood soaked foam axes to create the impression that they are a murderer on the loose, which, when you live in fear of terrible things happening on a day to day basis is a sight that will do little to calm any stresses already spiralling in your neurotic anxiety riddled brain.
It isn’t even as if you can just decide not to answer the door to avoid the unexpected goblin visitors, because if you ignore them they will threaten to throw eggs at your door! Who the hell came up with that idea as a means of celebrating a holiday that originated as a way to honour the dead? Which dead people have ever said that they wish for that to be the way in which they are remembered?
I know that it is all supposed to be “just for fun”, but I certainly don’t enjoy an evening of people turning up in horrifying attire, demanding I choose between the options of providing them with sweets or having my abode bombarded by the unfertilised albumen/vitellus of low flying poultry. That isn’t a choice! I don’t like either of those options! Whatever happened to the joy found in socialising with friends and celebrating any occasion over a cup of tea or a game of snakes and ladders?
Then again, even if you decide to brave opening the door despite the potential terror lurking on the other side and give your tormentors the sugary treats they require, you have the added stress of actually having to buy the candy, yet another nightmare for multiple anxiety related illnesses, most of all eating disorders.
Everyone knows that people with eating disorders often fear eating food themselves but for some, even walking into a supermarket to buy it in the first place is a difficulty. Personally, I know anorexia makes it hard for me to buy tins of chocolate or biscuits for presents at Christmas even though I am aware that I don’t have to eat them, and I have several friends who find that things you would potentially buy for trick or treaters are “triggers” which they would usually avoid having in the house. For some, there may be certain foods that they know they are likely to binge and/or purge on, so obviously it is easier to keep them on the supermarket shelves out of harm’s way and not in the next room, much like someone giving up alcohol rids the house of bottles in an attempt to remove temptation. If therefore, you have an eating disorder and this is the case, Halloween is a night where you either have to buy products that you know will potentially send you on an out of control rampage back home, or avoid the products and spend the evening scraping egg yolks out of your letter box.
Reading back all that I have just written, it is pretty easy to see how Halloween can be an utter nightmare for people with various anxiety laden mental health problems, and here I have only touched on the dread that comes with trick or treaters, which really is a small part of Halloween on the whole. I haven’t even mentioned the serious potentially frightening situations like Halloween parties, other social gatherings with people disguised as intimidating warlocks and of course the most petrifying festive activity…apple bobbing (cue dramatic lightening, crash of cymbals and the high pitched cackle of a hyperactive banshee).
If then like me, you have a mental health problem that sends you into a state on Halloween, my advice for managing this evening would be to try to hang out with friends or family who are not dressed to look like the Grim reaper, to distract you and help with any goblin like visitors. Either that or of course there is the option of hiding under a blanket with your hands over your ears waiting for the day to be over/getting a friend to drive you around the neighbourhood away from any doorbells with a jumper tied around your head. Remember, it is just one night of the year and if things really are terrible I hope this post has let you know that you are not alone in feeling scared of a holiday everyone else seems to look forward to. I am not sure how knowing that I am also terrified will help much when the doorbell rings and you are faced with the “say hello to a masked creature or clean eggs from windows tomorrow” dilemma, but I guess it is always nice to know that you are not alone and to have the knowledge that someone out there understands. Also if you don’t have mental health problems and none of these things are relatable, I hope I have at least answered any questions you may have wondered on in life about what it is like to have mental health problems on October 31st.
I hope you all have a fabulous/as anxiety free evening as possible. Happy Halloween!