Hello there. How are you? Please be ok and remember that it's ok if you're not ok. I am... mulls not ok.
One of the things I like about writing is using it to process my thoughts. It helps to write about something instead of over-thinking and worrying. When I've written and sent a piece I feel like I can move on. It's become part of my mental health routine. I never found going for a walk/run/cycle to be that effective because I'm carrying the issue with me. I'm not leaving it at home. I physically can't as its my own head causing the feedback loop. Writing, the process of describing the issue and working through it, helps close the loop and move on. Yay. Not this week though. It's full on December and Twittstagram is all about "IIIIIIIIIIIIIIITS CHRISTMAS!!!!!" Didn't they get my newsletter a few weeks ago? By my calculations it is not Christmas. It's nth December. Fine. OK. Time to feel inadequate for a bit. Again.
My negative thinking brain is like;
- Everyone is else putting their real tree up. "But I don't have a real tree. Aw."
- Everyone is wearing silly jumpers. "But it's not Christmas. It's a day in December."
- Everyone else is getting Christmas bonuses. "Aw. Never had one. If there was a year to get a bonus this'd be it."
- Everyone is talking about the food. "Really? That goop?"
- Everyone is making lists. "Complex decision making process? Not for me. Oh but if only I had friends to make a list for. sigh Pick an issue brain! You can't have both!"
- Everyone is happy. "... sarcastic defensive reply ... Yer well... least I got chicken. sigh"
I have of course done the market research so I can conclusively say "Everyone". At least that's what my negative thinking brain is telling me.
In the modern world I have to endure weeks of being triggered by Christmas. It was never like that when I was little. Christmas Eve was when decorations went up. Playlist went on. Prep the house for the next day. Maybe some mulled wine for the adults? Some chocs? Occasionally shout "Christmas is cancelled!" while covered in parcel tape. It sets the mood. You’re excited for tomorrow and not 3 weeks time. You can’t sleep. You wake up at 4am and there’s a pillow case with toys in to unwrap which you do ever so carefully with a Swiss Army knife. You try to sleep. You can’t. It’s exciting. Eventually you hear people sounds. Everyone’s up and like that it is Christmas!
That. That’s what I want. I want it to be my childhood again. I want my parents to decorate the house while I sleep. I want the smell of the tree and the promise of snow. I want that bad Christmas album to be skipping on the record player. I want to be a kid again and because 42 year old me is flipping exhausted. I don't want mental health concerns, money concerns, retirement concerns, or even pandemic concerns! I want to look forward to something instead of having my brain tell me everyone else is happy and you're not. I don't want to spend 24 days fighting my brain to get to Christmas Day and be mentally exhausted. 24 days of being reminded how I'm rubbish and everyone else is happy. I want to be a kid excited because I got a train set or an Airfix model.
But that ignores all those years of fighting and arguing with my parents over meals and social occasions because none of us knew I was autistic. I was apparently just acting out or being a troublesome little duck. It took years of grinding my parents down for them to give up trying to force me to eat turkey at Christmas. Food covered in gravy? I'm not great with wet food and the gravy infects everything around it. Dry food? Dry Christmas turkey that takes 2 hours of cow like chewing to finish one piece? Oh no no.
There was all the stress of being dragged to everyone's house for a Christmas get together. Forced interaction with other children who didn't share my interests. Computers, trains, geology at one point and Star Trek. I didn't want to go because it was torture for me. There was no exposure therapy to be had here. I never got used to it. I never came out my shell and I hated the "Aw he's just shy" comments with a fiery passion of Data having to reboot for a system update while scanning for life forms. (I know he never did that but you'd be annoyed if you had to right?)
The worst part of all this is that people shame you. "Scrooge!" "Wait, what? No! I... I have issues." The season has an in built harassment system. No-one gives 2 hoots, except maybe owls, about Easter. If you don't want an Easter egg people don't shame you for it. But at Christmas if you don't dial up your masking abilities to 200%, smile, wear a novelty jumper and wish it could be Christmas every day then you are pointed out and mocked. No. No! Just no! Isn't this the season of peas on Earth and good will hunting to all men? Isn't it the season when we should be more empathic and not empowered to judge and harass people? As an autistic person you have to dial up your masking (the act we put on just to fit in and get through the day without judgement which leaves us exhausted) because if you don't mask and get in the "festive spirit" you are branded a Scrooge. Bah. Humbug. Socially acceptable shaming. Bad Santa!
If we had just known I was autistic and needed to find ways to cope then would Christmas have been more fun? Would my parents have seen video games as something that enabled me rather than hid me away from them? It's probably best not to dwell on things that I cannot change.
By the time we as a family had overcome those issues my parents health declined and did so very slowly for 20-25 years. By the time we were getting a handle on Christmas their health issues were becoming the main concern. Eventually I spent Christmas and birthdays completely depressed to the point that they lost all meaning. I hid it well. I masked and got through the days by spoiling my parents as best as I could because we just didn't know if this was the last. Every Christmas I saw as the last and it was heartbreaking. My room was above the lounge and I would spend Christmas listening to my parents struggle, helping where I could, but generally just struggle. Every Christmas was harder to cope with than the last. We all coped. We never spoke openly. We coped.
After my mum died my dad gave up on Christmas but he still wanted to spoil me. It all seemed so pointless. I didn't deserve anything. I wasn't worth spending money on. Depression had taken Christmas from me. We had six Christmases with my dad after mum died. Each was spent with him on Christmas Day putting on a brave face. We didn't know how to cope any more so we masked instead. We had Christmas dinner, opened gifts and made sure he was going to see friends over Christmas before we headed down south to my wife's family for a week. I genuinely don't know if he saw anyone or not. I didn't have the heart to ask.
Spending Christmas at the in-laws is always nice. Baileys. Sausage rolls a plenty. Shortbread. More Baileys. I've got into playing board games. It's fun. Due to the distance we had to leave my dad alone for a week and hope he was OK. We had to hope his physical health didn't take a turn, which it did once, and also hope that his mental health was OK. While I was catered for at the in-laws it was hard to be away from home. It was hard to be at a warming family Christmas home knowing my dad was alone. Every Christmas I had the same thoughts and I never knew what to do. We did our best I'm sure but it never felt like Christmas.
My dad died 4 years ago in the summer of 2016. Christmas that year was spent in New York and Iceland because I wanted to be somewhere totally different for a time. The following Christmases we've spent at in-laws and I scan old family photos as a way to spend time with those people. It's nice but if only we'd been better at talking openly and known more about autism. The rest of the time I'm turning down sausage rolls, sipping Baileys and trying to work out what is family and just what the hell is Christmas?
To throw another issue into the whole Christmas and family debacle I'm adopted so the idea of "family" is fascinating. I often debate whether it is being autistic or adopted that makes me feel detached from people at family events. I'm married so I have a 3rd family. "Hey Siri? What is family?" No help there. It says parents and children living together or an ancestrally lineage. I empathise with Mr Data from Star Trek. I was activated in Sept 1978 and handed over to some other people. As far as I'm aware I'm the only one of my kind.
So what is family and just how do you do "'ave a good one!" during the Christmas period? After years of depression, heartache, fighting over issues due to a lack of understanding, loss, grief and dealing with issues I wasn't aware I had, I don't understand any of it. I don't feel capable of being a part of a family and I don't think I'm capable of feeling Christmasy.
I know life could be worse for me. I know worse things could have happened during the Christmas period. I am grateful for what I have but unfortunately I also have depression. I’ve spent most of my life being struggling at this time of year. It is hard to undo that.
Christmas or the winter period should be a time for warmth and giving. Maybe I'll get there one day. This Christmas it's the wife and I home alone with the cats and chocolate. That is plenty.
Ho. Ho. Ho. Mary Berry!
- How to have an autism-friendly Christmas | Autism Together
- My autistic son made me see the season anew – a Christmas tree is not a fish! | Christmas | The Guardian
- Autism at Christmas: 'My son likes to lock himself in his room' - BBC News
- An autistic person’s guide to an autism-friendly Christmas - Autistic Not Weird
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- BBC iPlayer - Animated Thinking - I Feel Different
- Satoshi Tajiri: how autism inspired Pokémon – SEND Youth Advisors Surrey
- Mikiel is the Stormzy-approved dancer fighting autism stigma with his art | Dazed