Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. I hope the festive period is treating you well. I have such mixed feelings about Christmas. Years ago, I used to make a big deal out of it; the food, the drink, spending way too much money on gifts, and spending time with people. I’m not even sure why. It was just something that was expected, I guess. And there were times I convinced myself that this was the way to have a good time, to enjoy yourself. It wasn’t. It was horrible. I’m talking about the years before I knew I was autistic, of course. Last Christmas, 2020, I was drugged up to the gills on morphine, diazepam, codeine and paracetamol, having just been discharged from hospital, struggling badly with my spinal problem. That Christmas is a bit of a blur, although looking back on the blog post from then, I certainly had plenty to say about Christmas. The previous Christmas, 2019, I knew I was autistic, having received my official diagnosis earlier in the year, but I hadn’t come to terms with it, didn’t understand it, and was very much in the mode of thinking that being autistic – or “having autism” as I might have referred to it back then – meant there was something wrong with me. That Christmas appears to have dropped out of my memory banks completely. But in the years before that, Christmas was all about trying to live up to the ridiculous social pressures and expectations while pretending I was having a good time. I would blunt the anxiety I felt with alcohol – a far from healthy way to live. Things have changed since then, and this Christmas was bound to be different from all the previous ones, for various reasons…
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Regular readers of this blog will know that my marriage broke down earlier in the year. Just before my birthday, actually. I ended up spending a few nights in a cheap and nasty hotel, alone, having the grimmest birthday ever. And there have been some grim ones, believe me. We finally sold the marital home a couple of months ago, and now I live in a flat, alone. So, this Christmas would be the first one living alone, the first one after the breakdown of my marriage, and the first one since feeling that I have completely come to terms with being autistic, having found my feet in the autistic community. In fact, I’m proud to be autistic. When I first received my diagnosis, I might have thought it meant there was something wrong with me, but this was because of how autism is sold to the world in the media and popular culture. I had been sold a lie. I’ve never been someone who is comfortable being told what to think though, so I guess it was inevitable that I would soon find out that the problem is not being autistic: the problem is a world that does not understand and accept autism; a world that simply does not listen to autistic people and what we have to say for ourselves. This leads to all kinds of difficulties…
Like many autistic people, I struggle to form and maintain relationships. This does appear to have a lot to do with the disconnect between autistic people and neurotypical people. It has become clear to me that communication between the different neurotypes often goes awry. And personally, I find it difficult to cope with the vagueness of neurotypical communication, and the ever-shifting pseudo-rules of neurotypical interaction. I also find it difficult, if not impossible, to tolerate some of the bad social behaviour of some neurotypicals behaviour that they seem so willing to forgive in each other. I have a very keen sense of right and wrong, of justice and injustice. I’m tolerant of people’s behaviour to a point, because I try to put myself in their position and understand what might be driving that behaviour. But when people cross a line with me, there is no coming back from that. Now, due to the fact that, as a younger man, I made some very bad relationship choices, including choosing some very dodgy friends, I have found myself cutting people off when I’ve seen through them. I’ve also failed to maintain relationships with some thoroughly lovely people, simply because of those tricksy NT rules of socialising that I just can’t navigate. The net result is that I am now socially isolated. And this has meant, for the first time ever, I have spent a Christmas completely alone. But this wasn’t the plan…
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One relationship I have, that I know with 100% certainty will never fail, is my relationship with my son, David. I’ve mentioned before the incredible bond we have. Sometimes, people have tried to put a wedge between us, but they have failed.
The plan this year was for me to spend Christmas Day with David and his partner. Unfortunately, covid meant they had to self-isolate from Christmas Eve. To say we were pissed off by this development would be an understatement. We could have pretended to be Tory MPs, and just spent the day together anyway, but because we are decent people we decided not to do that. Thus, I ended up alone on Christmas Day. I expected to be very depressed by this, but the depression never arrived. I was sad about not being able to see David and his partner, of course. And I was also sad about not being able to meet Bobby, the cat they adopted from a shelter; the second time David and his girlfriend have done this.
Anyway, David and I talked on the phone on Christmas Day, which was cool. I had a visit to the gym, and was surprised to see about twenty other people there. After the gym, I went for a brisk, chilly walk around Graves Park, listening to an audiobook. I got back to the flat, made some food, had a couple of drinks, and relaxed. Let me repeat that: I relaxed. I had spent Christmas Day without inviting visitors around, without having to behave like a neurotypical for their benefit. It was just me. This is not everyone’s idea of a great Christmas – I get that. But I know I’m not the only autistic person who dreads Christmas, with all its activity, interaction, and changes to routine. In fact, I was just one of many autistic people who posted online in the run-up to Christmas, asking neurotypicals to understand how difficult it was going to be for autistic people, and offering tips to make the festive period easier for us. However, it’s not only autistic people who dread Christmas….
Every December, my social media feeds are filled with posts from people excitedly preparing for the festivities. I see photos of Christmas trees, decorations, and so on. There are a few families near me that light up the outsides of their houses so extravagantly, I can’t help but wonder about how much electricity is used. It’s all show, all extravagant claims about how good Christmas is going to be. And yet, the number of conversations I hear every year about how people are dreading Christmas really is remarkable. It runs the full range from stressing about having to accommodate family and friends, or having to go and stay with family or friends, to arguments about who is cooking the dinner on the big day, to worries about the expense, to worries about being lonely, to sadness about spending Christmas with a partner when the relationship is breaking down, and on and on it goes. A lot of people, though, seem to try to deal with the worries by looking for something to do to make Christmas more special, which – to me at least – seems like adding to the pressure rather than solving anything.
I was fortunate, I guess. In my flat, there was no noise, no Christmas tree with flashing lights, no shit Christmas movie on TV, no arguments between people with competing ideas about what to do to make things more special. Just the quiet, and mellow relaxation. Contrary to all expectations, it was a pleasurable day. And so I was heading into Boxing Day in a pretty good frame of mind, looking forward to getting close to finishing the third and final draft of my novel, Aberrations. Unfortunately, Boxing Day brought unexpected sadness…
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I received a distraught phone call from my son. Bobby, their lovely cat, had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. I’d never even met Bobby in person, but I’d seen so much of him online, and heard about his funny behaviour, like trying to catch mice on the TV screen, and so on. David’s pain was deep. He and his girlfriend loved that feline so much. We autistic people aren’t supposed to feel empathy, if you believe all the bullshit myths people try to spread about us. But I shed a few tears after that phone call. I’m so proud of David and his partner for how they have taken in elderly cats from the rescue centre, and given them happy endings to their lives. It’s a lovely thing to do. Maybe, when they’ve adjusted to the loss, they’ll adopt again.
David is also autistic. It’s pretty clear undiagnosed autism has run in our family. I’m certain both my mother and father were autistic. My father had immense problems coping with life. He was largely a stranger to me. My mother also had problems, but in her later life, achieved a level of contentment that perhaps she had thought would never come. She was always a loving and supportive parent, and as her life stabilised in later years, her nurturing, empathetic nature really blossomed, making a mockery of the myths that autistic people don’t know how to love or empathise.
David is also a very caring, considerate person, with great emotional depth. While Paddy McGuinness might think it’s okay to go on TV and publicly worry whether his autistic children will ever understand love, we in the autistic community are going about our lives experiencing love and all the other emotions, including grief, and empathising with each other.
I have been physically isolated this Christmas, for sure. But I’ve continued to have the pleasurable company of the autistic community online, and emotionally I’ve been in as close contact as ever with my son. Our bond remains. And right now, I really feel for him.
I’m looking forward to finding out what other people have done over Christmas., in a ghoulish kind of way. How many people will be full of seasonal joy, having had a great Christmas? How many will just be glad it’s over? How can I use this year’s experience to ensure future Christmases are less traumatic than all those of previous years? Of course, we’ve still got New Year’s Eve to come. This is a time of year that often leaves me emotional. At one level, it’s just another day. But we live in a culture in which we mark the passing of time with various rituals that add significance whether we like it or not. Every year of my life so far has been, at varying levels, traumatic. 2021 has been a really tough one, with the pandemic, my health problems, the breakdown of my marriage, and skirting dangerously close to being homeless. But I want to be optimistic for the future, even though I have so much work ahead. Next week’s blog will be a look back at key issues in autism in 2021. It will go live on Monday 3rd January, at 6pm, GMT. Until then, take care, be good, stay proud.
Why Do I Write This Blog?
When I first found out I was autistic, I was a middle-aged adult and I knew nothing about autism. I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resources for adults in my situation. With this blog, I aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn, hopefully helping people who are on a similar journey of discovery. Like anyone who writes a blog, I want to reach as many readers as possible; if you like what I’m doing, please share it with your friends and followers. I will never hide this blog behind a paywall, but running the website does incur costs. If you would like to support, feel free to make a small contribution at BuyMeACoffee.Com.
You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.