Most of my life as a neurodivergent person, the holidays have been a struggle for me to muddle my way through because of all the factors that it involves. Yet, as I am finally settled in a better place in my mind, I am realizing that I need to define my own or new traditions.
Christmas as for many neurodiverse people such as myself comes with a multitude of struggles including those of a sensory nature that can be overwhelming not only for the individual but for all those in earshot or attendance. It means that there is nothing wrong with the holidays, its just having to endure the classic traditions can present extra challenges that can be overwhelming and result in a negative outcome for all involved.
For autistic individuals and families alike, being able to endure these classic traditions can cause struggles in making the holidays a joy or as festive as they are perceived to be. Understanding the complex norms that go with all the holidays can cause anxiety among the entire family unit and fact my family was the casualty of that a few times. Many up all nights and cracked furniture because maybe something wasn’t there or something didn’t go to plan. It would be years until things would be normalized.
There was that perceived fear of being up late on Christmas Eve and that you had to stay in bed. I even feared going to the bathroom as if someone (you can guess who) would catch me. It took until I moved out on my own and even now until I could actually let that anxiety go. As I became more molded into the man that I am now, I have also learned that I do not have to go to all the family gatherings. I started this before the pandemic and the pandemic continued that tradition and as it somewhat waned to a degree, I realize that as there are increasingly more people in the same space that was large before there were more people, I have accepted that it it best even as an independent autistic adult to create new traditions (thanks to technology) in my own home.
It is not saying that I have no holiday spirit. I had my mother minimalistically decorate my home for the holidays with decorations I have accumulated on my own from years of working and social activities over the years, thus giving them purpose. I do see no thrill in it but don’t mind lighting the tree when I am home. It is whatever anyone celebrates and whether or not that is your tradition, anyone who has the freedom to define their space should have their freedom. I do believe in the holiday, I just see little purpose in being overly decorative. I send christmas cards to friends and allies and I enjoy receiving them as a nice gesture of wishing others Happy Holidays and a good year ahead, it’s just the fact that it is just something that can be overwhelming if you allow it to be. I personally choose to keep it simple and not outdo it because I know that I need to take care of myself first and foremost and to not have too much overstimulation as I am a sensory avoider.
The same can be said for crowds and gatherings at the holidays. Some of the societal norms around the holidays can be quite the stressor. Just because it is the family tradition to go to these very overwhelming events doesn’t mean that you should have to do them if it makes you feel uncomfortable or unable to properly regulate yourself. You have to do what is best for you. I remember the first time that I said I wasn’t doing something over the holidays, I got this blank stare as if I was an alien. For over three decades, I masked “getting through” the events because I had no choice. I did it the first year that I was independent and realized I had choices in life as an adult . Despite my challenges, I have rights as long as I am safe.
Please, as you celebrate the holidays in the coming days, be sure to gauge the needs of those yourself and those you love and if something is just too much, don’t do it. There is no law saying that you have to do things, things happen and someone just may be having a bad day. Respect their needs and make it happen for them.