What do you expect of your aspie at Christmas?

I've said it before, I love Christmas. The Spirit of Christmas Present would not have needed to sneak in my spare room with his cornucopia of goodies. In fact, if he did, he would probably have to move my own cornucopia first. I'd have no issue with the theory of goodwill to your fellow man (you notice I keep to the theory, practice is a little bit harder sometimes) and in general I would welcome Christmas into my heart, every day.

So, having sorted that out, yes, I am going to have a moan about Christmas. That is, about other people and their idea of it and how we should all fit in.

Let me be upfront: I do not expect others to be a rabid advocate of Christmas. I don't expect them to rush out with their lights, sticking them on spiky trees in the pouring rain or trying to figure out how to keep battery-operated lights on the dog while making sure he doesn't chew them off. I don't think everyone should deck the halls or have to lop the top off the tree just to fit it in the living room. I don't expect them to listen to Christmas music and have a little cry when Judy Garland sings (yes, I go insane this time of year).

What gets my goat after all this 'not expecting' I do (and I think I do far too much), is that other people then expect me to fit in with their view of Christmas. At this time of year more than any other, the old issues come out of the woodwork.

For the rest of the year, people in your circle can usually behave themselves and remember, as much as possible, that you have limitations and need some careful treatment, depending on the situation. In other words, the rest of the year they have much less trouble remembering you are an aspie.

Come Christmas, and all the Musts and Shoulds and the nasty, sneaky little Could You?s come out of the woodwork. It's as if, in honour of the time of year, you will leave your aspieness in a cupboard, possibly in the same box that used to hold the fairy lights, and do everything others think is acceptable, without a glimmer of awkwardness.

That waspish biddy you happen to be related to, who no one expects you to visit any other time of year, suddenly becomes a big spot on the To Do list. Yes, I know, goodwill to all men, and I guess this includes waspish old aunties too. But does the visiting make anything better? Does she become any less waspish? Is she likely to be pleased you came? Or is it an hour of chill-inducing stares and long, painful consuming of elderly mince pies?

The relatives and friends who suddenly must visit. Previously, on Life With an Aspie, it was deemed acceptable to see them away from the safe place, somewhere close to a bolt-hole or where you could see your car, waiting in the car park.

Now, they must come to your house or you must go to theirs. And you all must have a Good Time and be jolly and friendly and, oh, I'm sorry, I do sometimes have to include bad words here...sociable.

(I do hate the word jolly. I have a feeling it is the only thing I wouldn't like about the Spirit of Christmas Present. All that laughing and belly jiggling. The only person who is allowed to be jolly anywhere near me is Santa and he knows to keep the volume down).

The only thing that saves me on my Christmas visits is if people have children. Now you're talking! We can talk about Santa, watch cartoons, do some colouring and work out how the sleigh works, whether the reindeer will land on the roof or in the garden and just get so excited that it's best for all of us if we have some time out by the end of the visit.

Children are not the same as adults, you see. They don't expect you to be suddenly jolly at this time of year, when you haven't been jolly before. They know when you are happy on the inside, they see the twinkle in your eye or the subtle reaction you have that means you love their new storybook. They know, for certain, if you are really watching the cartoon with them or simply pretending and waiting for an adult to come and 'rescue' you.

Kids know the inner person and they don't expect false gaiety and the release of inner elves into the outer world, just because it's Christmas.

So, from now until the time when I get the burning oil stationed above the front door, I will be on my best sociable behaviour, for the sake of people who ought to know better. I will go out (cringe), be pleasant (I'll try), be nice to sticklers (I have limits) and promise not to vanish into the garden with the kids as soon as I've come through the door (I'm crossing my fingers).

I will be whatever I can be on the day, readers. If it means looking grumpy at Christmas-time, then so be it. The trick to not having me grump is simple enough, though each year this trick gets tossed to one side and replaced with brussel sprouts.

I will not soften if I am boiled enough, nor will I stop giving you wind. And I do not promise that everyone will like me. But, if you treat me right and don't have unrealistic expectations, then I can be very good for you and be a delightful part of the Christmas season.

Now readers, I am off to see how many lights still work and whether the dog can fit into his Santa suit. Be brave, 'tis only once a year!


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Aspies have no sympathy

Crazy, isn't it? The people who ignore your sage and logical advice are always the ones who come running when it goes belly up. This is the stage in life where you have to choose between smacking them up the side of the head or biting your tongue.

Luckily, this blog is typed so my poor, sore tongue doesn't have to do any of the work. I'm tested, though, I don't mind admitting it. I'm not really prone to smacking people, however much I would like to sometimes. But I am prone to a good sharp sentence or two, perfectly constructed and out of my mouth before I realise who said it.

Surprisingly, I have held off this time, most likely because I'm absolutely exhausted this week and was too weary to be caustic. Usually, I do say what I feel and think and then wonder why the person who ignored my advice is weeping on my front step, unable to gather the strength to go home.

I am ticked off, though. As a mistress of self-sabotage I can feel it hanging in the air with some people. For myself, it can be hard to spot - in others, it might as well be flying past with Snoopy at the controls. And again, for myself, if someone was to say, Do Not Do This Thing, well, sometimes I would listen as usually my self-sabotage goes right under the radar and isn't apparent to me or others until it is too late.

I would go as far as to say that professional self-sabotage always has an element of secrecy about it. As aspies, we are used to second-guessing ourselves so if we are to self-sabotage, we need to be able to divert our attention so we don't spot it when it happens. It's only looking back that you realise this step led to that and then the next step led to a trip.

With other people, it seems so simple. You see where they are going before they reach the first step, perhaps because they are better at expressing themselves and plotting things out? Or they are more likely to share how they are thinking and feeling? I know I'm not very open, in real-life at least, with my thoughts and feelings, often because I'm afraid of the usual criticism coming.

For others, sure of themselves and the way they think, it must be easier to express themselves, which then makes it easier for me to see it as it happens. And when I see where things are going and point them out, and am ignored, it can be very frustrating.

So, some time later, a sorry and sad person comes to me, surprised and horrified at how it all turned out, wanting to bend my ear with the details but not have any real reaction. I am supposed to be sympathetic and, possibly murmur 'there there' while I put the kettle on.

Oh, it's hard, you know? Having the right words to say, the logic to apply to it and seeing the whole shenanigan laid out bare and obvious in front of me. What is an aspie to do? How far can you stretch kindness and tolerance before it snaps back and takes your eye out?

Only so far, readers. Sooner or later, whether I like it or not, the comments I bite back at the wrong time escape and become a conversation, probably at what I think is the right time. It usually isn't the right time. Sometimes there is never a right time to tell someone they were a damn fool for not listening to you in the first place. They do tend to take it so personally.

Aspies have no sympathy; except that we do, we honestly do. Just don't expect too much of it if you will keep on running at the same wall and then wondering why you bounce right off when you hit it.


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Chaotic, disorganised or just aspie?

Yesterday was a simple day - on paper. Here is my to-do list, as it looked the night before:

1. Get RT Teen to college on train
2. Take IT Teen to volunteering job
3. Prepare for maths lesson and creative writing class (in school)
4. Collect IT Teen and take dogs for their walk
5. Go to creative writing class (and do not be late!)
6. Pop home for food then go to maths lesson

There. A nice, organised list with my time allocated so that I know what I'm doing. And then,

RT Teen felt a bit off, so didn't go to college, but by then I'd done my usual trick of laying awake half the night, ready to get up very early. Went back to bed and laid awake in daylight instead.

Took IT Teen to his volunteering job, but forgot about my eBay parcels so did them instead of lesson prep while he was out.

Collected IT and came home to do the lesson prep and creative writing whatnots. Forgot I hadn't factored in time for lunch, so ate that. By now, the clock was ticking.

Worked out where the school was for the classes, was told by lying heap of donkey-leavings that is AA Routeplanner that it would take 15 minutes to get there from my house.

Took dogs for their walk, got dog-leavings on my shoes (not my dogs' dog-leavings), hurried home to wash shoes and get changed for school class. By this time, I had just enough time for getting to the school with ten minutes to spare.

Set off, only to find there are massive roadworks set up along most of my route (thanks again Routeplanner) and I spent longer than the whole journey should have taken siting on one little stretch.

Divert off across country as soon as possible, get behind lily-livered people who don't know the road and am frothing at the mouth by the time I reach the general vicinity of the school.

At this point, my directions didn't help as they were based on my original route. Putting aside my usual habit of not asking, I begged help from a dog-walker and she told me where the school was.

Finally walk into the school, almost 20 minutes late for a class only lasting an hour in total. The class was being led by a woman I went to college with, so she was more willing to forgive than most (and is always late for things herself). She introduces me and I open my mouth, ready to give my own little presentation before handing out worksheets.

As I stand there, my hand slips down my side and finds the tag on my top, which I am wearing inside out, having been in too much of a rush after washing the shoes. I do a quick mental re-cap of the top and decide my hair will cover the tag at the back. I surreptitiously shove the side ticket into the waistband of my trousers and hope for the best.

By now, I'm meant to be speaking and the presentation in my head has fled. I pick up my book, The Boy Who Broke the School, and do a very hasty rendition of the plot, of how characters can be naughty and then, shakily but creatively, lead into the worksheets. Not a sure start!

It takes 10 minutes for an eagle-eyed girl to notice I am wearing my top inside out but she whispers it to me and thinks it's funny, so we're okay there. I then spoil it a bit by telling my old college friend, adding the unwanted details that at least I was wearing all my clothes, and that standing on the step, checking you're fully dressed is good practice for when we're very old and might go out without pants. She laughed, but apparently is never in danger of going out without pants (yet).

I leave the lesson only a little scarred and jump in the car to dash home, eat and go to my maths lesson. Halfway home, I realise my maths papers are back at the school, tidied away with the creative writing.

Once home, I do get to eat, but then ferret about repeating my lesson prep and set off again, into the dark, cold night, to my maths lesson. Get there, take a moment to discover they're not in. They got mixed up about the night (specially rearranged, I wasn't even meant to be out that night) and thought I was coming the next day instead.

I go to the shop and resist buying placatory chocolate and also resist having a meltdown at the self-service checkouts where the assistant and the ten-items-or-less woman had just shared a hilarious, amazing joke and were shrieking with laughter the whole time I was self-serving, quieting for a second before one of them added another 'mazing, 'larious joke and starting again. It's amazing and hilarious how much hate can build up in your body in a short space of time.

I went home, collapsed on the sofa, discovered the Sky remote had broken (our TV has no buttons) and was trapped with an Australian soap opera for too long while I worked out how to not press the Off button on top of the Sky box. Apparently, Josh is a bad boy and Kieran feels no one understands him - which is a pity, as he seemed pretty transparent to me.

You'll not be surprised to hear, at this point I just went to sleep on the sofa. That was it, no more!

I decided the day might have been better if I hadn't got up so early or had more sleep the night before, but I'm still dubious. I think some days are just sent to try us. I'm only glad that, as an aspie, I am used to winging it and playing it by ear and acting on the spur of the moment. All the things which mean when life suddenly descends into chaos, it only feels a little different from a normal day.

Today, though, I am staying in.


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The art of the mini-breakdown

The scenario is familiar: life becomes too much, you need to hide away and regroup but, this time, it doesn't work. You feel you need to burrow deeper into your hidey-hole, need to lock the door better, need to keep it all away so you can feel like it will never come back.

Sometimes, there isn't a small space small enough, there just aren't words comforting enough and the phone cannot be unplugged far enough to keep you safe from the outside world.

Every step along the road comes along your path, keeping your mobile on silent only means you check it more, the jobs you need to do stay undone but they bother at you, worrying at your leg like an impatient sheep dog.

How is it that sometimes all you need is a small period of hibernation, but other times, you feel like you need to shuck off the whole world and become a permanent hermit, just to stay sane? And then feel that you've left it too late for sanity anyway.

Days (if you're lucky), weeks or months later, you emerge out of the cave and take baby-steps to being a real human being again. Like magic, a switch finally flicked over and you were able to function again.

It is not a breakdown, most of the time. You don't need to cut all ties to your old life, or take up new therapy, nor do anything particularly drastic. What do you need, however, is to be allowed to breakdown in peace.

Readers, the mini-breakdown is truly an art. It requires the sort of finesse which comes naturally to aspies, as you need the ability to live at least two lives at the same time.

One or more of your lives follows a normal path and you do what you have to do, albeit at a muted level. But then, the main life, the one that matters and other people rarely get to see, is breaking apart while you watch. You are often the one doing the breaking, snapping pieces off, unlocking couplings, setting yourself off to float down river, never to be seen again.

You swear you'll not need those pieces of yourself again. You are done with it! (Whatever it is). You are going to keep yourself safe and warm and cosy until you feel able to cope again, and then you'll never pick up those pieces again, because they made all this other stuff happen.

Does it ever work like that though? In the end, I often find myself wading off down river after the life-pieces, dragging them back out of the water and onto the bank. Then, after all that breaking up and freedom-thinking, I have to wait for the pieces to dry off in the sun so I can link them all up again and have my life back together.

This process repeats so often, I get bored with myself - but am no better at managing it. I am rather more able to accept it, though. If this is what it takes to move on, at some future date, then I will let those pieces go, even if it makes things harder. I have to do it that way as the alternative is an onward struggle where life just gets worse and I am going past not-coping to never-again.

The mini-breakdown, readers, your friend and mine; always there for us in times of trouble and often in times of happiness too. Always at hand to help us shake away the burdens weighing us down and offer us the possibility of a life without constraints, where we can ignore everything and it will go away. No matter what.

I urge you not to feel bad when this happens, and not to be persuaded it is permanent. The only thing of permanence in our endless drama is the aspergers itself. The rest is malleable, transitory, a creative response to the world's dogged determination to make us reinvent ourselves in order to survive.

We are insightful, determined individuals with the ability to dissect and manipulate a confusing life where everyone else seems to know what they are doing. Dear readers, if we can work out real life, even a piece at a time, then we can allow ourselves a mini-breakdown now and then, as a way to recover from it.

You just have to become adept at putting things back to together, and at wading in deep waters. Having already learned so many unusual life-skills, I promise you, this you can do.


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