Christmas Number Twos...or how to manage Christmas a little differently.




One of the difficult, unrelenting things about Christmas is that it only comes once a year, so if it doesn't go well, or well enough, you're left until the next time to make it right.

First, it's debatable whether trying to make it right is even worthwhile. Surely we should just be enjoying the day as we see fit and not trying to make it into something gloriously wonderful, as per the latest made-for-tv-movie showing on the backburner channels.

Christmas should be what you want and maybe sometimes what you actually get instead of what you think it should be.

Having said all that, after spending this Christmas in a paroxysm of discomfort and emotional fatigue, I felt particularly cheated. It is my favourite holiday! The thought of waiting a full year and hoping that chance might throw me a decent Christmas just seemed so...harsh.

That was when it hit me. I looked at our two little trees, bought in a fit of inspiration when the massively big one looked too unwieldy and I thought, Why not have two Christmases as well?

Yes, two Christmases, just because.

Imagine, if you will, Christmas without all the hype and the expectation. Without feeling the need to buy enough presents for people or to make lots of food in honour of the day. Most importantly, without the pressure to make it just exactly right.

Imagine instead a Christmas where you have a small amount to spend on each person (we're buying more presents!) and can decide on an economical meal of what you would like to eat, minus the extras. The lights are lit on the trees and the decorations are still willing from the day itself.

So there we are, tomorrow is Christmas Number Twos. To the rest of the street it will be the Monday between Christmas and New Year but to us it will be a special day.

I'm very much looking forward to a lack of presents and pressure, food and forced enjoyment and a definite, absolute lack of Shoulds. Let the sleigh bells ring, readers, even if it is for the reindeer as they trot out to play in the snow-skimmed fields.

Tonight I feel the glow of Christmas Eve and if we are doing this one without Santa, well, I have a feeling he would approve.

Amanda




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Do not behave like an aspie on Christmas Day




Christmas Day Meltdowns are unacceptable.

Do what you like, the rest of the year, you awkward, noisy, silent, clumsy aspie, but not at Christmas.

At Christmas, we behave like decent human beings. We pay out lots of money to make people happy and we put down an awful lot of time and effort in making everything look right. Most importantly, we pull out every stop to make it run like clockwork.

Clockwork runnings do not happen when someone older than 5 has a meltdown. Even the under 5s are greatly discouraged from acting like spoilt brats at this time of the year, so don't for the life of you think that you can aspify this Christmas Day!

...

And there it is, the unwritten, mostly unspoken ultimatum: do not behave like an aspie on Christmas Day.

The expectation that if you try hard enough, your Aspergers will be held in check, like a headstrong mule trying to get through the grocery store door. If you try, you can stop it. It's only a door and it's only a mule.

Except the analogy is only half-right because once the meltdown starts, the door doesn't matter: that mule will crash through the window, hooves flying, mane glossy and wild as the head is thrown back in angry, resistant triumph. And what do you do then?

What do you do when you tried your hardest and were sure you could keep out that mule, then you suddenly find yourself standing in the middle of broken glass, trampled carrots, mashed cabbage and all around you are shocked, fearful, angry faces, waiting to see if you will break them too?

Unlike the mule, who would likely start chomping down on the hard-won goodies, you sidle off, or storm off, but you go off, leaving the people who thought you were human to watch you leave, their mouths just starting to open so they can gossip about you once you're gone.

Be cheered, dear, post-meltdown, failed-social-butterfly aspie. Now that you have broken the glass, shattered the vegetables, destroyed all confidence in your ability to hold yourself in good standing, now you can do what you wanted to do all along and hurry off to a safe place.

This is when it starts to feel better. This darkened room, lit by a gentle light and hosted only by a purring cat or snoring dog or sleeping computer...this space so un-full of other people is where you can rest your weary soul and breathe that long-anticipated sigh of relief.

With a bit of luck, a cup of tea will be pushed through the door in a while. And maybe a little box of chocs. If necessary, you can slip out later, under cover of loud, other-room merriment, and get your own refreshment.

Whichever it is, if you have spent this Christmas trying to behave and failed - or outwardly succeeded but inwardly screamed - then here it is: Christmas Night is waiting to take you in its arms and make it all better.

Merry Christmas, readers.

Amanda




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How do you feel your feelings?




How on earth are you supposed to figure out what an aspie is feeling? What if they won't or can't tell you? What if they tell you everything is fine and then act like a monster - and still say they're fine?

There's often a disconnect between aspie feelings and aspie brain: your aspie knows they have a situation which requires feelings but the feelings don't seem to be there. Instead of experiencing the feelings and talking about them, your aspie is more likely to have the feelings independently, almost as if they happen to someone else.

"Yes, yes, of course there is a reason to be upset but just let me get on with my reading, will you? Yes, I'm fine!"

And then later, when the tin opener breaks and they cannot have special chicken-inna-tin pie for supper, voices will be raised, hands flailed, tears fall and those pent up feelings will come rushing in for something as stupidly simple and unimportant as a trapped pie.

The other situation, the really important one full of life-changing possibilities and endless worries is still not spoken of or cried for, you understand. Only the pie is cried for because your aspie wanted that pie, it was going to make them feel better and now it's stuck forever in the tin and it's all going terribly wrong and nothing can make it right.

Solutions for trapped pies are simple, so long as you have access to a shop. Solutions for trapped feelings are slightly more problematic.

This week, I have trapped feelings, readers. They are there, I know they are. I can sense them, bubbling away like bad soup, right under the surface. But do you know what I got upset about instead?

I bought new Christmas lights and I forgot to put them out and then it was dark and I went out anyway in the cold and the night and then it turned out the wires were wrapped in that special way and I had to undo them on the night-time path in my front garden and my hands were cold and I was struggling and it seemed so hard and if I pulled too much then the wires would pull and the new lights wouldn't work.

I undid them, my fingers twisting in the light from the street and me shivering in the cold and it was with no small amount of satisfaction that I wound them prettily around the Cotoneaster and then turned them on in their splendour.

I went indoors and looked at my feelings again, still having a sniffle about the lights but that bad soup was bubbling out of sight and I couldn't get to it.

Yesterday I went to the garage and had my front car light replaced. I sat in the waiting room and fretted over whether there would be other lights that had gone and whether my tyres would need replacing, right before Christmas and if my car was going to need more doing than I expected. All of this had my stomach in knots and I turned towards the bad feelings soup to see if it was ready, but it wasn't.

In the end, the garage man said to me, 'Merry Christmas! The light is on us, have a good Christmas.' No extra charge, no charge at all and I left with a smile.

Then in the car I thought of this small act of kindness when I'd been worrying so much and how it had made one tiny part of my life brighter and I cried as I drove home. There was no need to cry, but I still did, all the while telling myself off for it.

But I still couldn't see the feelings soup, only sense it there, while I cried over the kindness.

Then in the evening when I sat in my Christmas-lit living room, watching the lights sparkle on the trees and wondering if now I could think about everything, instead I thought about the long year since I lost my old dog, a week before last Christmas.

Readers, I can still cry over Tess, but other, more pressing sorrows leave me dry. Why is it, when I need to think things through, my mind will only let me feel these extra experiences, the ones which have no bearing on my problems?

Is it that the situations I face which are most difficult are just too much? I need to think only on those I can manage or process? Or is it more simple than that?

Feelings can be accessed accidentally or on purpose, but to truly feel something we have to connect to it and if we don't feel that connection then it has to wait. If it seems too complicated to make the connection, then the feelings are pushed aside.

And then another connection is made, a simple one, and away we go: tears, words, thoughts, movements, sighs, actions.

What we don't realise is that these small, simple connections which open the floodgate are actually bringing us into touch with the hidden feelings beneath. They are different, not part of whatever we need to think about, but they are still a part of us and if we need to connect, to experience emotion, then somehow or another it will be felt.

We may cry over the wrong things but we still cry. The feelings which seem closed off or seen through a glass darkly are part of a much larger, fluid state where we can dip a toe in this part and make contact with the whole.

Sometimes, feelings have to be viewed from overhead or from a distance. We need to look at the whole of a person and the complete picture of how they behave to understand whether or not they are reacting emotionally - and even then we may not be able to tell for sure.

Just be sure that somewhere, deep within or bubbling right under the surface, those feelings exist. The trick is knowing which moment reveals them and recognising that all moments flow together, part of one complete parcel of Time.

Amanda




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How to give your aspie a quiet Christmas




How on earth do you get it through to family and friends how to treat your aspie at Christmas time? The time of good cheer and all things sociable is a nightmare not waiting to happen but which happens in real time for at least the next two weeks. And that includes those of us who like the season.

So what do you tell people? How do you tell them. Let me count the ways.

Please note

Avoid the obvious tactic of painting a great big sign and sticking it outside your front door with your direction of choice written on it. If you want to do that, go ahead, but your family will still knock on the door and say,

'Did you know you have a sign saying Piss Off at your front door? You did? Oh, well, I guess it wasn't meant for me.'

With that in mind...

It's a simple method and it's mainly in the execution (no, not that kind of execution).

1. Tell people to stay away.

Yes, stay away. Right away. Presents? Post them. Cards? Made for posting, damn it. Too late to post? We don't mind them late. Too stubborn to post things? Determined to deliver to your door? Deliver to the door then, just don't expect it to open.

2. When your friends and family turn up at the door anyway.

Don't open the door, but if they peer at you through the glass and you don't have the face to continue standing behind the Christmas tree, come out and wave them away like you would with pigeons.

3. When your friends and family think you haven't recognised them because you appear to be waving them away and not letting them in:

Hold up a pre-made sign with YES I WANT YOU TO LEAVE printed on it. Hold it close to the window as they will scrunch their eyes up as if they have lost the ability to read.

(This part of the process includes some waiting time as they stand, mouth open, aghast, trying to work out if you are serious).

4. They knock on the window and ask if you are letting them in (having decided you really cannot be serious).

At this point you will be tempted to fling open the door and ask them if they remember the conversation you had only yesterday where you told them you were not having any visitors over the festive season because your aspie finds it too stressful. Please resist this temptation. Of course they remember the conversation, they just didn't think you meant them.

5. A discussion takes place whereby your relatives decide how to deal with this latest madness from you.

Take the opportunity to close the curtains while they are having the discussion. If you do not have curtains or your blinds are flimsy, lie down on the floor and pretend to be in a deep sleep. This isn't actually a very good tactic but it does confuse people.

6. Your phone will now start ringing.

It's strange how, having seen you only yesterday and had that whole conversation about keeping away and then having come today and been kept away by you, that people who are wanting to visit will then call you to see why you are not letting them in.

7. If you have a toddler, or can borrow one, let them answer the phone. If you do not have access to this age group, please make sure you have pre-recorded an answer phone message containing a small song about Not Today, Thank You. Singing answer phone messages are quite unnerving and should get the job done.

8. Be prepared, after all your effort and suffering, for your aspie to ask you why no one is visiting. The fact that your aspie hates these unexpected visits and detests having to open presents in front of people means nothing at the moment of asking.

9. Don't forget to spend at least half a day planning how next Christmas will be easier because (fill in the blank with whatever got past your defences this year).

10. If all else fails, refer back to the giant printed sign posted at the front door. This counts as a Christmas craft and can be decorated to suit the message. Use as much glitter as you like and don't worry too much about teaching passing children new words.

Above all else, do whatever it takes to have a Christmas to suit you and your aspie first.

Not today, thank you
I want to be alone,
Not today, thank you,
Please don't even phone.
I want to have my Me Time
I want to lock the door,
And if you keep on phoning,
I'll not answer any more.


Amanda




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A very aspie Christmas




'Come in! Come in! and know me better, man!' said the Ghost of Christmas Present.

And there, summarised by the spirit who wishes to enliven and embolden the hearts of all mankind we have the reasons most aspies hide from Christmas: we do not want to come in and we do not want you to come in and we really, truly, do not want to know you better.

Well, maybe at another time of the year, but at Christmas any comings and goings are likely to be from one safe place to another, with quick trips for absolutely unavoidable human conflict mixed in. And I actually love Christmas!

At least, I love the lights and the decorations and the cold, dark outside comparing with the warm gold of the inside. All that other stuff, where you get together with other human beings and are much more social than any other time, it galls me.

At Christmas we all love each other and our hearts warm up in ways we don't manage the rest of the year. We pat small children on the head and listen to their tales of reindeer; we help little oldlings across the road and stay for hearty good cheer as they tell us something or other, in oldlingese. We go into shops and are maddened to buy at the sight of all the staff in their Christmassy jumpers and the repetition of Christmas classics on the radio.

We are held up by the idea of Christmas, carried abreast as if it were a giant, tinsel-tossed wave taking us to untold shores of jollity and good humour.

Or rather, we take a look at all this and put that one foot back inside the door before anyone notices we have shown our face.

I have never quite figured out how this change in personality which signals Christmas spirit is meant to take place. I have plenty changes in spirit, I'll have you know, usually occasioned by other people and my inability to interact with them, but as yet none of those spirits has sent me out into the world in a fervour of reckless sociability.

But if I am confused by Christmas splendouring of hearts, then other people are much more perplexed at my apparent indifference to drawing them in and being drawn. I have no need to be drawn into anyone's heart, be it figuratively or (saints preserve us) physically. If you draw me in, you will be Dealt With - be warned.

I have never made a secret of my love of solitude so why is it so surprising that I wouldn't change my feelings for Christmas? After all, at times of change and great stress, do you feel like rushing out into the street and finding acquaintances to love? Well, maybe you do, maybe I shouldn't have asked, but I don't.

Keep your hugs, your mistletoe, your bottle of good cheer which I can't drink anyway. Keep your best cake and hand-made mince pies (I lie, give me those). Keep your expectations that I will join in and be one of you, just for the season.

I am not one of you, no more than I was in November or will be again in February. I am one of me instead and quite happy with it.

I have no Bah Humbug about me, though. I do love Christmas and am happy if you love it too. Just, let me be like the spirits as they take Ebeneezer round the snow-filled streets of his childhood and let me also tread unseen and unheard as others have their warm welcomings.

To me, the glow of the window in the dark street is far more welcoming than the sight of the door opening as you beckon me inside.

Amanda




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What we see by the light of logic.



When we feel we have no control, there is a helplessness born of terror. How can the world be a safe place if we are powerless? How can we step safely if the way is strewn with dangers? What are we meant to do to stay safe if other people seem to lead us constantly into cold, hard paths with no sunlight above?

At the age of 7, I walked into school with a box of matches and a plan: I would stop the bullying and the never-ending stream of fear by making the school go away. I was calm and I knew it would work.

I never meant to hurt anyone (and no one was hurt). I planned it so that the children would be out in the playground. I thought that meant the building was empty.

In the end, I burnt a poster and the edge of some books. And, finally, people took notice of me, but for all the wrong reasons.

I had no control over going to school and, after telling everyone about the bullying and nothing being done, I knew it was up to me to stop it. It seemed logical that with the school gone, I wouldn't have to suffer anymore. And I had suffered. My childish plan to solve the problem was never going to turn out well but I have finally forgiven myself for hatching it.

The trouble is that logic can be an untrustworthy substitute for real resolution. Logic is a soothing alternative to emotions, especially as logic seems easy to work out whereas emotions just kind of happen by themselves.

It can be very tempting to say to yourself, Today I will not feel this problem, today I will solve it. You don't know if you can solve your problem but approaching it logically is such a relief after all those feelings washing over you for so long.

Feel bad about a tricky situation? It's logical to walk away, as that removes you from the situation. If you let your feelings rule you then you stay in the situation and flail and cry and kick at stuff until you felt better or cry yourself out. Give it over to logic and you can depart without all the drama and be safe.

Feel bad about your job and don't know how to make it better? Normal logic says you can't walk away because you need the money and grown-ups don't walk out of paying jobs. But logic driven by the need to keep yourself safe wakes you up early one morning and says, You don't need to go back to work, there are other jobs and anyway, you know it isn't going to get any better.

Whether it would get better or not is not important to you at this point because the application of cool, undramatic logic has given you the excuse to leave and feel safe again.

It seems that logic can be manipulated to suit your own purposes; I guess it becomes self-justification when viewed from the outside. But from the inside, logic is safety and safety is a vital lifeline amidst the aspie maelstrom.

From meltdowns to major life decisions, selfish logic carries with it the promise of release from the latest anxiety and freedom from the inherent threat of more crises later on.

Aspie logic, when applied to aspie life, means this is what I do because this is best for me. It is a selfish logic built up over many years of not being kept safe any other way. If you are the only one who realises what feels safe and what is dangerous, then you are also the only one who knows when it is time to do something about it.

You see, in a lot of cases that faulty logic which has you making strange and impractical decisions is your only way to keep safe. It is what means you can go to bed and sleep, knowing in the morning it will be a new day and not just another dark, old one.

The light of logic is not always the most trustworthy one: it can glimmer and touch your life in a way that picks out strange aspects in the everyday. It makes you follow it, glittering along the dark path ahead. It promises you gleaming treasures which, when viewed in the daylight, are simply what you had already.

Logic is a beautiful light, though. It takes you on when your emotions would have left you in the dark. Who can help but love such a light, when it is the only one you see?


Amanda




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The long road to new shoes.




It's safe to say that many aspies get overly attached to certain items of clothing. They may not be beautiful shimmering garlands of fancy, but those favourite clothes will be worn and better worn until they fall to pieces or are stolen by well-meaning do-gooders who want to deny you any happiness whatsoever.

And then, damn it, you have to go shopping for new ones. Do these people have no souls?

As it turned out, I was one of these soulless demons when RT Teen's shoes breathed their last.

They've been sporting a hole for about six months. I lose track, it might have been nine months. I know that RT has been wary of puddles for quite a while and ran when it rained.

They lifted at the front in that peculiar way old shoes have where they start to look like they might sit and beg as you walk past. Also, they had A Smell lingering about them. You know what I mean.

They changed colour after the first few months of life and became a nondescript browny-grey beloved of elderly footwear everywhere.

Then the hole grew.

It grew to the point that the holey shoe looked like a Disney shoe that might, at any moment, start to sing about life on the road and the dream of finding a glass slipper. But even this did not persuade RT it was time to go shopping.

Things came to a head when he had to wear only one sock because wearing the sock somehow made his toes pop out through the hole in his shoe. (Perhaps they clung inside it, like Fay Wray clinging to King Kong and the sock made them lose their grip?).

I hurried RT into town before he decided his shoes were fine (again) and we arrived at our destination, hope in hand and in one piece.

Except it had been a cold day and RT said his ears were cold and they were too cold and did I not know how cold his ears were and they were actually so cold they were hurting!

I waited a couple of minutes while RT stood, a picture of despair in the middle of the shoe shop with his hands clapped over his ears, staring glumly at the floor.

Once his ears had let up with their whining, we started to look at shoes. At this point, the same as happens every time we come shopping, RT decided his feet were a size smaller than they really are. No, I have no idea why this happens, it just does. It doesn't matter that he has been the same (larger) size for the last few years - once at the shop, he has shrunk.

He tried on the first pair and they were okay, even though a size too small. Just like when he was little, I sent him for a walk around the shop. He took two steps - literally - then came back. They were still fine. I sent him away again and he took a longer walk, this time coming back limping as the shoes were strangely tight.

Having realised that his feet were bigger than he expected, we chose another pair which turned out to be fine, except they rose up on the heel and threatened to rub.

The next pair looked really nice and were fi - oh no, hang on, that one was tight so they were a no-go too but he would keep hold of them in case he didn't find anything else and they felt better later.

I should add that RT has a very particular taste in shoes. They have to look a certain way, be a certain type, usually be a certain, very limited, range of colours. We were fast losing choice.

Another pair presented and he liked them a bit, they were okay, they didn't look as nice as the others and he didn't like them as much but they were supremely comfortable. He begrudgingly took the shoe-shop-walk and discovered the rotten things were still supremely comfortable, even though they didn't look any nicer.

We chose those, in kind of a hurry, in desperation if I'm honest, as I was very, very afraid of going home with the same old holey shoes sitting forlornly on the floor next to the foot mirror.

RT put the old shoes back on to walk home in and we bought the new ones. Flushed with the kind of success not valued by ordinary shoppers we left the shoe shop and rejoined the throng. At this point, having refused to wear the new ones home, RT changed his mind and balanced on one foot and then the other outside the shoe shop window, his long hair swaying from side to side as he hopped to get into the shoes and then wobbled down to fasten them shut.

'I don't know why people keep looking at me,' he said, grumpily. 'Haven't they seen anyone putting on shoes before?'

'Possibly not,' I answered, then I pointed at the old shoes now in the glossy new bag. 'Are you going to put those in the bin on the way past?' I asked.

His face fell in shock, then he coloured up a little and answered  sheepishly, 'Maybe not right, right this minute.' He brightened as a solution presented itself. 'Maybe tomorrow,' he said and happily swung the bag as we walked away from the shop.

Readers, would it surprise you to know that the old shoes are now in the kitchen, keeping the cats company at night and keeping me on my toes during the day? They are closer to the back door (and the bin) than they ever were before, but these things take time. And a little bit of patience. And perhaps a few weeks of new shoes being worn in before the old ones are really ready to go.

I just hope it doesn't turn out like the pair he loved when he was six: those ones stuck around so long that they were 'accidentally' left in the car we sent to be crushed. I still feel guilty about those, and RT still hasn't forgotten them...

Sooner or later, all old shoes need to be replaced. And when that happens we all suffer, for life is full of horrors and some of them are small and come in pairs.

Amanda




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