It is the morning of Christmas Eve, and I am working on building the New Years Eve performance, glad that the stressfest that stretches from Halloween to Christmas is almost over, and I have survived. When not performing, I find the changed social demands of the holiday very difficult. I neither give nor receive gifts well, don’t understand why everyone changes, and the extra hours of work on small things insist on overtaking the large. I am Scrooge. I can fake it, and actually love the holiday performances and music, and I do give gifts to children and close family. I used to do more. The tree and cooking and costuming and giving my all to those in my path, much more, along with holiday shows. And I would wind up in bed, sick, sacrificed on the alter of Merry and Bright. One particularly demanding year, I finished the 30+ hours of work, what it took to perform our New Year’s Eve Show at New York City’s famous Rainbow Room, already exhausted from the stretch of holiday weeks, went to bed…and didn’t, couldn’t get up for eight months. I don’t recognize the internal signal to slow down and pace myself. If there is a job, I do it. I simply work until done.
While I do many things very well, or give the illusion of that, I find it difficult to set needed systems in place to protect myself, or find ways to explain my needs. Friends who know me feel bad that I find holidays hard, so invite me over, to share their holiday celebrations. This is hilarious to me. Their attempt at being understanding is sweet, but attending a gathering is the exact opposite if what I need! Sometimes I go, because I love them, and it would mean so much to them. Sometimes I just cannot. Sometimes I attend so my sweet husband, Doc, can share in the fun, and it brings him joy to have me with him. He is fine with the avoidance of the falderal at home. We continue to focus on our joyful work and love. We need little else. He does not want me sick again.
I am an autistic woman. I take in too much. It takes far more for me to maneuver in the world than most people. My sensory system reads every image and sound in the environment all at once, at the same level as the person talking to me. I am a sensory athlete. I fight with incredible focus to stand calmly and hear what someone is saying while the tsunami of other signals overwhelm me. I smile, act sweet, and share simple thoughts. It is hard to think and talk then. So I smile or babble boorishly, self absorbed, instinctively protecting myself from all the too much. It hurts. And I do it because I love my friends. It makes me happy to see them, but it comes at a price, and I often don’t have the extra to spent. I watch in wonder, as friends maneuver in joy, relaxed and commune. I am in a pool of swimmers and can’t swim.
Autism is invisible and hard to relate to. It is not just a more intense version of what is more commonly experienced. It is a different experience. I understand. It sounds like I just don’t want to do things, am an introvert, or have social anxiety. It is not psychological. It is neurological, genetic, giving me gifts and challenges in turns. It is my blessing that comes with a price, and I must pay that price or suffer the consequences. It is so very sweet and funny, as I watch all the swimmers, enjoying their happy fun, splashing in the pool of holiday frivolity, and they see me, love me, and want me with them. I say I can’t swim. So, with all love and great caring, they either feel sorry for me, or throw me into the pool saying it’s easy and fun. And I drown.
If I could give the gift of sharing my world, my beautiful, crystal, pure world of my true Merry and Bright, my beautiful sensory experience, intense love of the entity you are, my hyper-focused calling and ability to find logical order and detail, if I could have you taste all sound, see when touched, and understand what it takes to shut out all that amazing input so I can see you, make you happy, listen to the small talk and acknowledge the unwritten social script (whatever that is). If I could give you that, oh, how much you would love it! It is such a beautiful thing! Because, where I am, who I am, is merry and bright and good. I am part of humanity, and so part of you. And I choose to make that part goodness. I am a sensory athlete. I am a social marathon winner. I am a holiday olympiad. And I do not posses the natural ability to swim in the holiday pool. So it is hard, if sweet, to be obligated to jump into the pool. I know it makes you happy when I do. And I will smile and splash, because I want you happy, and I struggle to not drown. And sometimes I drown.
If I could have my friends give me one pure gift, it would be to have them remind me to take care of myself, and that they look forward to seeing me in the new year, or at a show when I am performing. They would be happy for my joy of being alone. They would understand it is luxurious joy, not depression, in the sparkling bright solitude. There is always social media for reaching out when I can. Let me avoid what hurts me, if you love me. If I am part of humanity, you should love me, correct? For that is the true one message of the holidays, if I have that right. To love all humanity. And, oh, I love you. Beyond the Merry and Bright. Merry Christmas, my loves. May you be Merry and Bright. You are much more. May you know this and see what I see in you. Have fun in the pool. I’ll be ready to wrap you in a big fluffy warm towel when you are done. And, oh, won’t that be nice, too!