Holiday Reform

Since about the middle of October, I’ve been getting increasingly anxious about the approaching holiday season. Like jittery, physically ill anxious. For the past few years I’ve been trying desperately to like Christmas (or to at least appear to) and berating myself harshly when I fail. But this year, which will be the first holiday season since I discovered my autism, I’ve been able to accept that I don’t like it. I just don’t. It’s a stressful, overly social, event with sensory attacks waiting around every corner. Plus, I’m an atheist. And going into autumn, I felt the tremors of an incomprehensible avalanche of stress hurtling towards me.

So I made a list.

I listed all of the things I find stressful about the holiday, by category. You can take a look at it here: Why is Christmas Stressful? (the rest of this post will make more sense if you do). Just making the list made me feel a lot better and more in control of the situation, which is definitely a good thing. I later went over the list with my boyfriend and then my Mom, and we came up with some practical solutions to make this Christmas not so bad. I’ll be straight up here: if I had my way, I’d simply forget about Christmas and never celebrate it again. But, my boyfriend actually does want to celebrate it (thankfully in a quiet, laid-back, autism-friendly way), and I’m going to compromise with him.

Here are the solutions we came up with:

  • We’re going to only have decorations up for one week, and we are going to keep them minimal and in one room only. This way, the decor situation will be contained and won’t overload me as much.

  • We’re going to eat the same food in the same amounts as we usually do. This will help keep things more routine, and avoid me feeling sick because of sweet foods or just too much food in general.

  • My boyfriend and I aren’t getting surprise gifts for each other; instead, we’re going to pick out something for both of us together.

  • We’re not going to wrap said something, in order to avoid the sensory issues giftwrap causes.

  • We’re also not going to leave wrapping, boxes, bags, or any other crap lying around the house. I need my space to be neat, and taking the time to put things away is worth it for me.

  • We’re getting gift cards or just Christmas cards for other people. This will help in both limiting the time spent in public, and in reducing the stress of picking out gifts.

  • Social events will be limited in frequency and duration. They will also be planned with rest periods in between them.

  • On Christmas itself, we’re going to mostly stick to our usual routine.

  • We’re not doing the whole “week of festivities” thing. It’s mostly going to be a normal week.

  • New Year’s will be acknowledged, but we’re not doing anything to celebrate.

So, overall, this thing is going to be much less of a big deal than it usually is. Keeping things routine and sense-comfortable is very important to me, as is having lots of time at home. I don’t ever expect myself to be all “yay Christmas!”, and it’s actually liberating to not have that expectation anymore. Still, it would be nice to not dread December so much, and to make it through without a meltdown or a lot of stress. I’m already feeling better than I usually do at this time of year, so that’s a good sign. Just knowing that something is being done, and that those who matter are supporting me and not thinking I’m a monster, is a big relief.

I know I can’t be the only autistic person who finds the holidays to be a stressful ordeal. So I hope my solutions (or just thinking about it in general), are helpful to others in some way.

It’s an Us: Aspie Love

Since I’ve started reading about autism, I’ve often looked for accounts of relationships in which both people are autistic. I haven’t found many. I have found a lot of information on Aspie-NT relationships, which does make sense considering the statistics. Still, I know dual-Aspie relationships do happen, and I think it would be good to have more information on them. So, writing about my own dual-Aspie relationship will be a central part of this blog.

When I first met my boyfriend, neither one of us had any idea we were autistic. Still, we pretty much instantly recognized each other as “the same”. The same in the very fundamental way in which we were different from most people. I remember when I first met him: he had a calm, serious expression that didn’t change much when he talked, his voice was even and would sound flat to most people, and all he wanted to talk about was computers.

We became fast friends, despite the fact that friendship was never easy for either one of us. Within a few months, I was closer to him than any other friend I’d had. There was a sort of instant, natural understanding that we had never experienced with anyone else. We spoke the same language. We thought the same way.

There were so many things we didn’t have to explain to each other; we just understood. At the same time, nothing was assumed; everything was open for discussion. I remember, fairly early on, asking him if I could give him a hug. He paused for a moment and then said that yes, I could. Everything in our relationship was like that – talked about, decided, planned. Before we moved into our apartment, we measured all of our furniture and made a detailed layout plan in Google SketchUp.


Each Other As Special Interest

My boyfriend is my biggest special interest, and I’m his. The first few months of our relationship were spent frantically gathering every bit of information we could about each other. We quizzed each other on preferences, listened to each other’s histories, learned about each other’s interests, and discussed our thoughts on everything. Even now, after 5 years, we’ll jump at any opportunity to learn something about each other.

As a kid, I was often told that I wanted more intensity from relationships than anyone could ever give me. That I wanted so much that I would inevitably overload anyone I wanted to be with and actually push them away. But that wasn’t true. I found someone with the same needs as me. We are quite literally inseparable – if we’re both home, we’re together, that’s it.


Together, Not Socializing

One of the most interesting aspects of our relationship is that neither one of us considers being together “socializing”. Socializing with other people is something that, for both of us, is a very draining and often unenjoyable experience. But being with each other doesn’t cost anything – it actually gives us energy. We’re still trying to figure out exactly why this is, but after mulling it over together for awhile, we’ve come up with some ideas:

  • There is an absence of small talk. Communication, for us, is about exchanging information, so all of our conversations have information-based content (even if the information is just “I think you’re amazing and I love you”). We don’t talk to “make conversation”.
  • There’s no pressure to respond instantly. Our conversations are marked by long pauses in which we both process information.
  • We don’t have to prime for heavy subjects, nor do we have to make sure our content is socially acceptable or appropriately timed. For example, I once asked him (quite early on, too), about his opinion on euthanasia, while we were eating sushi. It popped into my head right then, and I just said it. This didn’t phase him, and we were able to have quite an interesting conversation about the subject.
  • There’s no reliance on non-verbal communication, and there’s no pressure to have an affected emotional response. We both speak quite flatly, with very little use of tone or inflection. We also tend to have very flat facial expressions and little to no body language. So, there’s no pressure to manufacture or read non-verbal communication.
  • There aren’t any implied meanings, contextual jokes, or sophisticated sarcasm to figure out. And if we do need clarification, for whatever reason, we can just ask.
  • There’s also a lack of emotional energy output. This one’s a little harder to describe, but I find it fascinating. We both find that many people constantly put a lot of energy out into the atmosphere, and that tends to tire us out. Neither one of us have that kind of output (unless there’s a panic attack or emotional emergency going on).

To put it simply, we don’t need to have any filters up when we talk to each other. It’s quite literally brain-to-mouth communication.


Some Other Awesome Things About Being Autistic Together:

  • We can have entire conversations where we’re both stimming and not making eye contact. These are often really thoughtful, interesting conversations, too.
  • Most days, we follow pretty much the same routine. And we both like it that way.
  • He never minds my stimming, echolalia, or clumsiness. And I never mind his.
  • We have a lot of shared special interests, and can happily spend hours on them together.
  • Instead of calling my name from the other room, he’ll meow to get my attention. And I’ll squeak to get his.
  • He gets why I want to be squished sometimes.
  • We infodump to each other all the time, which means lots of learning. I’m fairly confident that I could explain what a RAID array is, and I imagine he could explain the evolution of mammals.