Sunday, 18 December 2011

Be Kind to Yourself This Christmas

The festive season is a difficult time for just about all on the spectrum, and I want to urge all spectrumites to be kind to themselves this year. Most of us get stressed out to the max. Some struggle to understand the whole point of it all. Others feel even more lonely and isolated than they do the rest of the year. Those who do throw themselves into participating, can fall into the trap of trying to have, or thinking they ‘should’ have, the ‘perfect’ Christmas, just like in the Christmas movies or in TV programmes or ads.

It’s important to remember that even NTs find Christmas a stressful time. There’s a reason why domestic violence statistics shoot up at this time of year, for instance. Many NTs also have dysfunctional families that make Christmas gatherings a nightmare. And then there’s the financial stress of gifts and extra travel and special foods, especially this year when even your average middle class person is struggling to make ends meet, and those on the breadline (which includes many of us, with our high unemployment rate) are beyond struggling and into desperation. So don’t think you’re alone in finding this time difficult.

There are practical things you can do to reduce Christmas stress. For gifts, avoid the nightmare of large department stores – instead try small speciality stores, or do your shopping online or through catalogues. Visit a farmer’s or craft market if there is one near you, they’re often great places to find that special and/or ‘different’ gift at a moderate cost. Alternatively, people are usually thrilled to get homemade crafts or baking, if you have a talent for these. If you have kids, or are buying for kids, don’t get caught up in thinking you ‘have’ to buy them expensive toys etc. Kids are often surprisingly content with less expensive items, especially those which involve crafts or physical activity – or that make a lot of noise!!!

Food-wise, stick to your normal types of food as much as possible, throughout the season. If you’re gluten or dairy free for example, make sure others who are doing any of the Christmas cooking know this, and ask for at least some of the food to be ‘okay’ for you. Make suggestions or give recipes if need be. At the very least, ensure you take some food that you know you can eat. And don’t be tempted by the sumptuous display on the table into eating what you know will mean you suffer later, or let yourself be nagged into it by inconsiderate or well-meaning but ignorant relatives. If you’re doing the cooking, keep it as simple as possible – you really don’t need to provide six different and elaborate main dishes and three starters for example. And ask others to cook/bring some food, eg a dessert or salad each, or some drinks. (Oh, and limit or stay off the alcohol if possible, it tends to make things get out of control very quickly.)

If you’re celebrating at your own home, it’s perfectly okay (even a good idea) to have a gathering of only those people you actually care about and want to be with on the day itself – whether this is a partner, your kids, friends or whoever. If you must have or go to a larger family gathering, or you want to, then ensure you have frequent ‘time out’, by going to another part of the house, or your room, or outside, for a walk if the weather permits it in your part of the world. As my family lives not too far away, I simply go home and rest for a few hours in the middle of the day, for instance, between the morning brunch/present giving and the Big Dinner in the evening. Have your own transport if you can – it makes getting away much easier. There is no need to make elaborate excuses when you do this by the way – if any explanation is necessary, then simply say you’re tired/overloaded/peopled-out, whatever works for you. If they don’t accept this explanation, say ‘I’m sorry, but this is what I need’, and do it anyway. Your own needs must come first, not the opinions of relatives.

If you have no-one to get together with, for whatever reason, and especially if you don’t have a lot of money, consider going to a community or charity dinner, if there is one near you. Better yet, volunteer at one. You get to very gently socialise while you peel potatoes, stir gravies and dish up Christmas puddings. If this is not your thing, then do make some effort to make something special to eat, it doesn’t have to be ‘Christmassy’ foods – perhaps your favourite food is oysters, or bananas! Also do something a little different, maybe play all your favourite songs or movies, play all your favourite computer games, or go for a walk in your favourite spot – whatever will make you feel like you’ve ‘celebrated’ in some way.

And let go of the idea of the ‘perfect’ Christmas. The movie/TV version is a commercialised, sentimentalised version meant to either sell the movie, or get people to watch the programme, or buy the product advertised. It has very little to do with the reality of most people’s Christmas – which more often involves things like kids running around screaming and bouncing off the walls because of over-excitement or too much Christmas sugar, Uncle George getting drunk on the sherry, Grandma falling asleep face down in the trifle, and at least one sibling or cousin having a Huge Fight with someone else and storming out vowing Never To Speak To That Bitch/Bastard Ever Again. (Okay I exaggerate, but these things do happen!)

Do what works for you, not what you think you ‘should’ do. If you have negative or confused feelings about the whole business, acknowledge them as valid, even if it’s only to yourself so as not to spoil things for those around you. It doesn’t mean they are any less valid or real. If you have to go through at least some of the rituals and palavers associated with the season, just grin and bear it with as much good grace as you can. Remember it’ll soon be over, and sanity return!!

And above all, be kind to yourself. Don’t thrash yourself trying to fit into a mold that is not you, and/or not right for your family and close ones. You have the right, even the duty to yourself, to celebrate exactly how you want to celebrate, and not how anyone else tells you, or tries to pressure you, that you ‘should’.

Because you’re worth it. Season’s greetings my friends. Have a good Christmas.

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