And a Happy New Year

 

COOKIES2015

(image is of the Italian 7-layer cookies I made this year, which are layers of red, cream and green, covered in chocolate and with jam in the middle that you can’t see.)

Note:

I worked on this piece for the last week and a half, which is why it can seem a bit dated in terms of timeline.  I thought very hard about whether or not to post it, because I do not want to sound whiny or spoiled and also because this blog seems awfully gloomy sometimes, and here’s yet another sad post.  In the end, I did decide to post it, because I feel that it is important for people to know about how hard it can be to be an autistic adult in a world that doesn’t accommodate you in any way.  And also because I think a lot of people have had crappy holidays, and it is always nice to know that you are not alone.

And also: I had a fine Christmas, but I had a wonderful New Year.

 

How was your Christmas?

Fine.

How was your Christmas?

Good.

How was your Christmas?

I enjoyed seeing SmallOne open gifts.  Ze was really excited about This Thing.

How was your Christmas?

Hard.

My Christmas was hard. 

To be fair, I knew it would be hard.  I prepared myself for disasters.  There were no disasters, unless you count turning my ankle on the 23rd and a nasty cold I woke up with a few days later.  There were no fires, no ambulances, no meltdowns, no anything.

There was me, there was my family, there were friends, there was driving back and forth between houses, sleeping on couches, piles upon piles of useless, unwanted gifts, there were dogs, there were large amounts of meat and sugar, there were trees and stockings and everything that the traditional American Christmas is supposed to have.

There was also, of course, autism.  Because along with the almond coffee cake (good, a little dry) buche de noel (looked awful, tasted wonderful, ganache not as good as last year’s) and Italian 7-layer cookies (fantastic, better than a bakery’s, this year’s total triumph) that I toted to various festivities, my weird neurology was forced into coming, too.  And I did with it what I’ve done on nearly every holiday for as long as I can remember: I squashed it down, put it in a lockbox, forced myself to speak coherently and ignore the pain of eye contact, ignored my screaming nervous system as I hugged people I didn’t want to hug and said ‘I love it,’ to a scented candle I knew I’d never allow in my house.  I ate potatoes (and little else), I asked people questions about themselves, I schooled my face into what I guessed to be an appropriate expression.

                I did what I always do on holidays.  I survived.

                And now it’s a few days later, and the enormous knot of anxiety in my stomach is only just now beginning to uncurl.  There were good parts of Christmas – mostly involving the SmallOne – but I didn’t feel them.  I just felt numb.  My worries and fear and pain took over my body, made it impossible for me to enjoy anything even though I wanted to.  I was too busy trying to follow the conversation, trying to figure out what to do, what to say. 

                I am a person who takes great joy in anticipation, a habit that I have cultivated over the years precisely because I know that the day itself will most likely let me down.  I love the baking and decorating.  I hate receiving gifts, but I love shopping for others, picking out the perfect toy or doodad that they’d like but never buy for themselves.  I love giving to specific charities for specific people for specific reasons: for example, I gave to Doctors Without Borders this year in honor of a relative’s knee replacement.  I love the ridiculous pageant at church and I love, love, love the Christmas songs and carols, even if I solidly maintain, good atheist that I am, that axial tilt is the reason for the season.

                And so I anticipated, but I tried not to expect.  I worried, but I tried not to dwell on the worries.  I was absolutely terrified, but I tried not to let it show.

                “What are you doing with your hands?” a relative asked, minutes after I’d entered zis home.  “Why are you doing that? Stop that!”

                I was shaking – not flapping, simply shaking and twisting my hands out of nervousness.  The mindless stims that my friends don’t even notice and if they do, never remark upon -,

                “Stop that!”  my sibling hissed.  “You’re making me nervous.”

                There is a certain irony in that – that my picking and biting my nails made zir nervous.  I stopped, started, stopped again, trying, trying, trying.

                It wasn’t good enough.  It never is.

                I don’t know why.

                I don’t know why they expect me to be different, and I don’t know why I expect them to be.

                It’s nearly a week later, and five days of isolation have enabled my body to calm down and feel happy and excited over this week’s holiday.  For the first time in years, I’m invited to a party on new year’s eve.  I know that I won’t stay up until midnight, and I know that I won’t care.  I’ll go, I’ll enjoy myself, I’ll eat what I want to, I’ll leave when I feel like it.  And if I get nervous – if I startle or flap or if my grammar goes on a short vacation – I know that nobody will care, because the party is at a disabled friend’s house, and, well, she gets it.

                She – she needs a name, let’s call her Anna – Anna gets it.  But with two exceptions, nobody on Christmas did.

                Anna gets how much hard work it is for me to show up at a party of any kind.  She knows how my sensory system goes haywire and she doesn’t care what I do or do not eat.  She’ll answer my questions about social situations without making me feel stupid. She understands that she can accommodate my disability and not be resentful, just as I accommodate her without being resentful.  Because it’s not accommodating in either case, it is simply being a human being, being empathetic, being kind.

                I survived Christmas.  But I’ll enjoy the New Year.  I’m happy and excited, there is a warmth in my chest that bubbles up and out and I laugh, and I wish so very much that I could feel this relaxed and welcome among those who share my blood and name, but I can’t.  I just can’t.

                My relatives comment on how far I’ve come, how well I do now.  I’m not only making eye contact and small talk now, I’m living on my own, I’m finding a way to be happy.  Does it matter that a large part of my being happy is rejecting them and all they stand for?  That only by separating myself from my family of origin can I see that I have intrinsic value?  They cannot see that I am just the same broken person on the inside that I ever was.  I’ve only learned to cover up the cracks.  The extraordinarily enormous effort which I put into each social interaction I have is not seen, only the end result, and too often, the end result is lacking in some way.  I’ve disappointed them – again – and I don’t know why and I don’t know how to fix it.

                “They know how to push your buttons,” Matthew says, “because they are the ones that put them there.”

 

                How was your Christmas?

                Who am I to complain?

                How was your Christmas?

                Nobody in my family was shot.  Nobody died.  Nobody was arrested because of their skin tone because, well, we’re all white.  Nobody was harassed due to their religion because we’re all Christian, (or atheist/agnostic but living in a Christian family.)  Nobody was forced from their home, nobody went hungry, nobody cried except the small children and they’re supposed to cry.

                How was your Christmas?

                It was what I expected.

                How was your Christmas?

                Happy New Year.

 

 

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