Someone asked me to write about "how we coped with the holidays" for an upcoming Asperger's meeting. I came up with this.
The Problem with Holiday Cheer
Facebook has a new application that allows you to see the highlights of your year. It has the default setting of "It's been a great year. Thanks for being a part of it!" The problem with this cheery greeting is that it fails to take into account that not everyone has had a great year. Computer algorithms cannot take into account human emotions. Many people had a difficult year and don't want to be reminded of it.
It is this constant pressure to be happy that I dislike most about the holiday season. There are Christmas songs on the radio telling you that it's "the most wonderful time of the year." There are people talking about holiday spirit and holiday cheer. People are decorating trees, buying gifts, and talking about all the parties they will go to and the events that take place during "the holidays." The words "the holidays" are elevated to almost a mythic place, a place where nothing could or should go wrong simply because it's "the holidays."
Even when you don't have actual people telling you to be happy, the message is clear from the environment around you. Our culture in general seems to be over-reliant on the concept of happiness. If you only try hard enough, and work hard enough, you too can be happy - it seems to promise. Only, that's not actually true for many people. Depression, anxiety, and social anxiety are very common events for many people. Life events such as deaths, medical issues and financial issues don't take a break for the holidays. The problem with holiday cheer is that sometimes it creates the feeling within us that we need to be more happy than we actually are. We feel like a failure and somehow less than others for not being as happy as we feel we ought to. This just adds to our depression!
Happiness is a fast moving target. A lot of our happiness seems to depend on how happy we perceive others to be, and how happy we think we "should" be. We might have been doing just fine before we looked around and saw how happy someone else was - or how happy we *thought* they were. Many people fake happiness because they feel the pressure to act happy around others. They feel like they won't be accepted in social situations if they are down in the dumps, so they act. Meanwhile, someone next to them may be internally berating themselves, "If only I could be happy like that person! Why am I so ungrateful? I should be happy!" and base this off of false information. The cycle of being fake, self-comparison and resultant depression keeps going on and on. The holidays add to this by creating an expectation that everyone be happy.
Holidays are a time for families to get together, which is great except for the people who don't have families or have problems with their families. There is a lot of pressure on everyone to be perfect.
People on the autism spectrum often can fall prey to this pattern of thinking they should be happier, because everyone around them seems to be. They don't want to be alone on the holidays, even if it's a holiday they don't celebrate, because no one else is. Holidays can be overwhelming to sensory issues - a lot of noise, sounds, smells, and activity. Parties can be overwhelming to those of us not as socially savvy, and to those of us who are just sick of feeling left out. Also, the holiday season can mess with our routines, cancelling activities we usually do and making people and businesses usually accessible to us closed off for some or all of the holiday season. Holidays, at their worst, are stressful, full of pressure, and disruptive. To many, holidays are a time to be joyful and celebrate, and I definitely try to incorporate as much of that spirit as I can into my daily life in the month of December. But at the end of the day, I'm just praying for January.
If you like this, please be sure to visit my other website, Accepting Asperger's. A lot of my older writing is stored here, including an editorial I once wrote for the Baltimore Sun. Click here to see it: Accepting Asperger's.
What's it really like to be a 20 something with Asperger's? On this blog, I hope to explore that question. But this blog is not just limited to an audience of people in their 20s - this is for anyone who ever wanted to know anything about autism. I plan to delve into the nature and experience of autism, and examine it from as many angles as possible. I would like to start a conversation between people with Asperger's or autism, parents of kids with autism spectrum disorders, and anyone who just wants to know more. Let's explore what autism means, together.
My goal is to start a discussion on and build a community of people affected by autism - parents and adults with ASD - so feel free to leave your two cents in the comments section of any post. If you're too shy for that, however, or want to speak to me personally, you may feel free to email me at KGoldfie@gmail.com.
Asperger's Book for Sale
Common Scents: Adventures with Autism and Chemical Sensitivity" is the story of a young woman's search for physical and emotional safety as she journeys through the mountains of the Cascades, small coastal towns on the Oregon coast, and out-of the-way towns in upstate New York. Along the way, she experiences things she would never have dreamed possible had she stayed in her Maine hometown, and begins to learn the power of human connection.
Common Scents is the story of the last three years of my life. It gives a gripping view of what it is like to experience the world as someone on the autistic spectrum, and some would say, is an entertaining travel story as well. Because of chemical sensitivities, I engaged on a three year journey for a place I could call home.
Comments from readers:
"The Asperger's element is remarkable. I feel that I understand my son better, so much better. I laughed at this part.... because I've stared at my son in the same way for the same thing." - mother of an Asperger's kid
"Your writing style is SO engaging and interesting. It brings me right into the subject and I always experience a little emotional punch towards the end. In other words, this is the third time I've teared-up reading your work. Kate, you've highlighted ALL the problems with how social skills are usually taught." - mother of ASD kid
"I stayed up entirely too late reading the first 14 pages. I can relate to so much of what you write. I really think you are expressing the true experience with MCS and autism in words that convey the experience." person with chemical sensitivity (MCS)
"Absolutely interesting, insightful and witty. You've blended together your three themes beautifully (Asperger's, MCS and travelling). It seems seamless."