My Dad loved Christmas. The moment the calendar changed to December the Festive music cassettes would be unearthed, and he’d start a Mexican stand off with my Mom about when he was allowed to put the tree up. The sounds, the smells, the cooking, the build up – he revelled in all of it, and he passed that same sense of enjoyment onto me.
There’s never been a Christmas yet where I haven’t felt at least some excitement, some sense of anticipation.
Until this year.
This Christmas, the impact of Autism has been far more apparent than it was last Year. Melon’s anxiety levels have been far higher, her need to order and arrange toys (a sign that she is processing life events) has been all consuming. Since May, even with melatonin, She has been waking for long periods during the night. With the added disruption of Christmas, she now frequently doesn’t even get to sleep until after 11pm.
Our little girl is struggling, and we are exhausted.
So much of her anxiety stems from the changes associated with Christmas – disrupted school routine; more social events; different music, foods and smells leading to sensory overload; her struggle to grasp the passage of time (“everyone is talking about Christmas so it should be Christmas already. Where are the gifts and the food? Have I missed it?”).
As a result, I’ve approached Christmas differently. We haven’t decorated yet, and I’ve kept Festive activities to a minimum. Treats, sweets and candy are being strictly limited (sugar makes Melon irritable and emotional). I haven’t even contemplated getting out Christmas CD, which she used to love so much.
Those memories and experiences that made Christmas such a magical part of my own childhood – I wanted to pour into my own children’s experiences. But, I’ve had to let go of them to an extent this year. And this season – Christmas – it’s always been a time where I’ve been able to reconnect with my memories of my Dad. That hasn’t happened yet.
It’s all affected me, more keenly than I expected.
My spirit is at a low ebb, I feel like my core reserves have been emptied. The days have become things to be gotten through, where giving anything other than the bare minimum required in any situation feels like climbing a mountain. The very thought of trying to orchestrate Christmas with the gifts, cooking, visiting….of navigating the disruption of the school holidays – it feels overwhelming.
At the same time,we are in the process of searching for a special school placement for Melon. Taking her out of mainstream feels like a huge decision, one that we’re navigating with little direction and support, guided by gut instinct. The choices we make will have implications for her social contact, for the logistics of our lives, for Melons future life chances…
It might (hell, it DOES) sound like I’m hosting my own pity party. Complete with a lacklustre buffet and no DJ. But there it is. I’m exhausted, I’m overwhelmed. All I want to do is eat and sleep. I am far from being the wife and Mother I want to be and should be. Christmas cheer has been in short supply round here.
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
One thing sparked a Christmassy feel inside me, and funnily enough it’s all thanks to autism. I have made some very dear friends online since I began blogging about autism. Other parents and families where autism and special needs are woven into the tapestry of their lives. Like they say – We are none of us are alone on this journey.
So, this year, I sent out overseas Christmas cards to people who I will likely never meet in person. Our relationships exist solely through photographs and typed words. These people are in my life every day, and the humour, companionship, encouragement and support they have bought to me simply can’t be measured. I found happiness in writing those cards (there is something so personal about handwriting), in sitting with Melon as she drew pictures to put in the envelopes. I chuckled as I filled one of the envelopes with glitter, I covered my kitchen in flour in the process of filming a collaborative christmas video….
Today would have been my Dads 72nd Birthday – Happy Birthday Dad. In light of that, I’m going to pull my head out of my ass, channel some of your legendary Christmas spirit and give my family back the me they deserve.
Starting right now.