It’s Christmas time again, which means change, and lights, and food and drink. I am one of those autistic people who loves Christmas. This post is going to be a mix of musings and looking back at posts from the year. Which fits with my tangential mood.
I also wanted to thank you, each and every one of you. The readers who pop in and pop out again, those who’ve stuck with me from day one and seen my journey as I try to untangle which parts of me are shared and which are just me. The support, the comments, the kindnesses I have had from you all has been overwhelming.
I’ve often joked that my blog is my own private therapy session, and I’m amazed that anyone would take any interest in my streams of consciousness, but you have and I cannot thank you enough.
All the cries of “I do that too!” from other autistic people, all the moments of, “This explains my loved one!” from our allies: These are the paths to understanding and acceptance. Acceptance of not just others, acceptance of ourselves.
I am lucky to have people in my life who remind me to be kind to myself. It can be the hardest thing to do. Sometimes I give in and want to scream, “It’s not fair! Why is this so hard for me, when it’s so easy for other people?!”
And there’s no fair answer. It just is. There are things that I find easy that most find hard, but that doesn’t help in those moments of frustration. Especially since my easy things aren’t the small, every-day things that I have to butt heads with all the time.
Having someone tell me, “It’s not fair, but this IS hard for you, take your time, don’t compare yourself with others, do things your way” is an incredible thing. Being understood by someone who isn’t autistic, and understanding them back, is an incredible thing. Working to our strengths is the best and healthiest way of being.
Christmas looms. With all its expectations and social occasions and stresses. And I still love it. I have my Christmas routines that stay the same and they make me feel safe. I try not to feel guilty if I can’t do more.
For many years I would always be ill over Christmas. Headaches, aches and pains and exhaustion. I would push on through the pain. Everything was an effort. Like I was surrounded by melted marshmallow, and had to push through it to do anything.
I would rush from event to event, through pain and socialising. I would drink too much to reduce the social processing I could do, which had its own consequences. I would try so hard to keep up with everyone… it would always lead to a shut down. Days of needing silence and nothing. Days I did not have. “‘llness’ would drag into January and on as I pushed myself and whipped myself on with words like, “pathetic, lazy, useless”.
Now I slow down. I don’t do those things anymore. It doesn’t mean I haven’t had bad moments. Just last week, when waiting for a child’s concert to begin, in a crowded hall, with a low ceiling, surrounded and jostled, with jolting sounds and crescendoing senses, I suddenly found myself on the edge of meltdown in a public space for the first time in a very long time. A difficult moment. It cost me a lot of energy to stay and do what I wanted to do. I got through it. I don’t know if anyone noticed.
These days I make more space. I give myself more time. I haven’t been “ill” at Christmas since I got my diagnosis. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
What are the things I love about Christmas? I love the sparkles and the giving. I’m not so good at receiving, but that’s a part of my process too. How I show love may not match other people’s ways, as I explained back in October in this Blog Post
I love seeing people who used to be a part of old routines. I love the smiles. I love snow. I love the sensory effect of snow, how it muffles noise, covering the world in a layer of sound-proofing and monochrome.
I love the cleanness of the cold. I was the child running around in the snow in a t-shirt. I loved being able to feel all of my skin at once.
I love the patterns winter makes. The ice crawling across the windows, the wiry branches against the sky. I love the tree that I walked under yesterday, that I thought had kept all its leaves, but instead exploded into a flock of starlings as I passed by. Just for me, all those patterns and wings, just because I was there. I waved back at them all.
I love the peace of Winter. Fewer people out and about when I am. I don’t do shops or crowded spaces if I can avoid it – too much work for my brain when there are so many good things out there to feed it.
I was going to write a round up. That’s what this post was going to be, but instead it’s morphed into what I needed today. Musings here and there on this and that.
Last night was the longest night of the Winter here in the UK. From here on in we are on the home stretch for the Summer. There’s something about the change that pleases me. It’s the edge of a scent of distant daffodils. The dream of Spring growth waiting just beneath the empty soil.
When the days are dark it’s worth remembering the good bits. Or the bad bits that had a happy ending. Here’s a post from last January The Day my Autism Saved my Daughter’s Life: A memory of a hard time that passed. It’s one of my most important moments. One of the times I can say “Yes, small daily things can be so difficult, but just look what a difference my skills made when it mattered.”
My most well-read post of the year is the same as last year’s. Autscriptic still captures people’s imagination in a way that just explaining things can’t quite touch.
And this year I was asked to write a play, so I did. I’m not a playwright. It’s all new to me, but I love to play with words. Seeing those words come to life in the face and body of a wonderful actor, and seeing how the director guided her to find the moment from within was a real privilege. It was fascinating to realise how many acting techniques I have used in masking. Without realising that that was not how everyone else was doing it.
Next Summer we will take to the stage. A little bit of me, up there. Let loose into the world. An amazing thing.
It has been a year of new things and new opportunities. I began public speaking this year, after The National Autistic Society’s brilliant course on Public Speaking run by the ever-marvellous Sarah Hendrickx. Which I wrote about back in March in Finding a Voice
I would never have dreamt that public speaking would be something I could do. But I can, and I do, and (incredibly) I love it. It’s exhausting and takes planning, but the connection is wonderful. Seeing that light come on in people’s eyes when they realise what autism really is. Taking away that mystery and foreignness, and bringing us all back to shared humanity. Which is where we all are. Helping people see that autism is not this behaviour or that action, that those are consequences of how I process the world, is incredible.
And my favourite post of the year? Well, that would be A Perfect Day from March. It’s a little slice of peace that I have taken with me through the year. Seeing my boat sprinkled in snow, seeing it bursting with green, seeing it settle into the background as though it had always been there, seeing it belong and knowing I found its belonging, these things have carried me through the bad days. Small moments I take with me to hold when it’s busy and loud.
There are other posts that I am proud of; The four social rules every autistic person needs to learn says the things I wish I had known. Whilst Performing Pain says the things that I cannot express when I need to.
I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions or Christmas Wishes, but I’m going to finish on a hope. I hope you are understood. If other people don’t understand you, I hope that you understand yourself. I hope that you give yourself the kindness that you need. I hope that you can give yourself acceptance. Acceptance of who you are. Acceptance of how great that is and how much the world needs you in it.
It sounds Self-Help-Booky, but it’s Christmas time, so I’m going with it. If you can’t be soppy at Christmas, when can you be?
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, whether you hate it all, or love it to the last flutter of tinsel, I wish you acceptance. It’s been a year of change – and I’m not good at change – but it all started here, with you, with small kindnesses from strangers. Whether you’re autistic or not, I wish you acceptance. It’s the smallest and the most important of all my wishes. It is the Spring growth waiting beneath the soil. All it needs is the right conditions and it will shoot into life.
I wish you that.