How the Holidays Affect Those On the Spectrum
This article is for information only and doesn’t call for any action.
Let me tell you a holiday story. First, you should probably have a little background so that it makes sense.
In August of 2017, I moved from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles and Orange County, CA to the Ozarks primarily to cut down on the sensory overload that overwhelms my senses as it does for many autistic people.
Things were moving along and I was feeling a big relief at not having to deal with the daily stresses that came along with my So. Cal. Life.
Soon enough, the calendar changed to November and things started getting a bit tenser and soon enough, things were back to how they had been before. Holiday gatherings full of people awaited me and I was not thrilled at all to have anything to do about it.
How did it turn out? Keep reading.
I call this story “The Great Thanksgiving Fiasco of 2017” and it goes like this:
I started dating a woman I’ll call Lilly in October of 2017 and the first date was great, as was the second, third, fourth and probably even the fifth. Things were humming along nicely until shortly early-mid November when Lilly invited me to go with her to her hometown to enjoy Thanksgiving with her family.
Ask an Aspie (someone like myself who has Asperger’s Syndrome) what it’s like to be in a closed setting with a lot of people you don’t know and they will tell you it’s terrifying.
I knew from past family holiday gatherings of my own (where I knew everyone or almost everyone) that it would be a very difficult experience for me and that’s why I told Lilly several times, even as recent as the night before Thanksgiving, that I preferred staying home with Tye, my autism service dog, and just cooking a chicken by myself.
It was pretty evident how badly she wanted me to go and meet her family and I knew that she had prepared her family for the fact that the guy she was dating was autistic and had a service dog. Just the mere thought of meeting all these people and having to talk to some of them freaked me out like you can’t believe, but for some reason, I was planning on going through with it.
To say Lilly wasn’t happy that I was considering staying home is a huge understatement and so I did what any good/stupid Aspie boyfriend would do. I sucked it up, brought a couple extra anxiety pills and went with her.
It was everything I expected and more. We came in the back door and I planted myself in a chair and didn’t get up out of that chair until it was time to eat. Lilly asked me several times to come mingle and every time I said no, I could see her frustration and even anger growing, even though she had been forewarned about this on multiple occasions.
Sorry, but if I didn’t want to be there in the first place, there was no way I was going into the kitchen and the main part of the house because that’s where most people were. At mealtime, Lilly fixed me a plate and brought it to the table I moved to, a mere eight feet from where I had been sitting the past few hours, mostly alone, while she hung out with her family in the rest of the house.
In the three or four hours I sat there she checked on me once or maybe twice. By this time, it was crystal clear that in her mind I was an ass and she wasn’t happy that everything I warned her about was taking place. And it was my fault that it was taking place.
After dinner, the room I was in started filling up and I began to panic. I took Tye out for a short walk and when I came back inside, there were even more people in the room and the panic attack went from Code Orange to a full-on Code Blue.
I told Lilly I was done, was going out to the car and would not be coming back in. I was trying to be polite about the situation and told her she could come out whenever she was finished spending time with her family, but the reality was that I wanted to get the heck out of Dodge—not the real name of her hometown—ASAP.
“Whenever she finished talking with her family” turned into close to two hours while I sat in a freezing car and fumed that the woman I was dating didn’t care that I was having a major panic attack. After a half dozen texts from her, “demanding” that I come inside and spend time with her family (and me responding that I was staying put because of the panic attack) she finally took the clue that I wasn’t coming back in and stopped texting (though she stayed inside with her family a while longer).
When Lilly finally arrived at my car, she told me that her family wasn’t happy that I didn’t come in to say goodbye. She also informed me that she told her family I had stomach issues and that’s why I was in the car.
I was upset that she hadn’t been honest and didn’t tell the family I was having a panic attack. In my mind, she was embarrassed about me. I’m not saying this to make her feel bad but it genuinely hurt that the woman I was dating was ashamed of who I really was and couldn’t share that with her family.
Also, I was hurt that Lilly was genuinely upset at me for having the huge panic attack I had warned her about for weeks and which could have been avoided if only I stayed home.
On the drive home, she kept badgering me about how I acted towards her family and how I was an embarrassment. She didn’t realize, though I voiced it several times, that reminded me how upset she wasn’t making the panic attack go away any faster.
That three-hour drive back home was extremely awkward. I was literally shaking and she couldn’t understand why. That was pretty much the end of J.R. & Lilly and Christmas last year was relaxing and calm, with me relaxing alone with Tye.
Thanksgiving 2018 will be much quieter and have much less drama than 2017, for which I’m both relieved and happy.
If you have a friend or loved one on your life who is on the spectrum, please keep in mind their needs over the holiday season. This can be an extremely stressful time of year for us and any help we can get from our support system is much appreciated.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
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November 22, 2018 at 06:09PM