Whether we are ready or not, the holiday season is upon us. Some people do not look forward with joyful anticipation to all that happens between the end of November and the beginning of January. Many start dreading Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, long before they arrive. For some, the anticipation and dread are far worse than the actual day.
When my son was born and before he was diagnosed, I had “Hallmark” visions of how I hoped our Christmases would be. I looked forward to showing him all the elements of the holidays that had brought me so much joy as a child…but our reality, ended up looking very different from my fantasies.
Along with his many disorders, having sensory issues made him uncomfortable at family gatherings. The noise, commotion, smells, lights, etc., were too much for him. When he was very young, he was afraid to walk down the hall Christmas morning to open his gifts. During a good portion of his childhood, he found no joy in any celebration…they just proved to be another source of stress and anxiety that he wanted to avoid at all costs.
When my son was newly diagnosed, I was blessed to hear Temple Grandin speak. I listened to her explain what it was like to be at a family gathering during the holidays. She shared how the smells of different fabrics being wet bothered her… she shared how she was overcome by the combined scents from all of the perfume and cologne that filled the air. She talked about how overwhelming it was to hear so many people all talking at once… with their different tones and pitches. She conveyed how it hurt her ears to hear multiple people laugh and get loud at once… and she shared how physically painful it was to have everyone hug her. She gave me a perspective that my son, who was non-verbal at that time, could not begin to give me that explained why he was so miserable and upset at family gatherings. I am eternally grateful for her insight. Not everyone understands such things. I found myself having to explain and advocate for my son, even among family members… some got it and some still haven’t.
After years of many interventions and therapies, my boy started enjoying Christmas music playing quietly in the background, baking cookies, and looking at the tree. He learned to enjoy opening gifts and I take great joy in his delight! Most parents take for granted a simple thing like opening gifts …but I know for the majority of you reading this, you know what it means to celebrate the “little things” that just come naturally for most children.
Through the years, we came up with our own traditions that my son looks forward to… an example would be the ornaments that he receives each year that represent what his likes and passions were for that year…each ornament holds a special memory for him.
We had to miss many family gatherings through the years…the long drive, (one of his anxiety triggers that he has year round) combined with everything else he had to deal with at family functions, was often too much for him to cope with. As he got older and could communicate what he remembers from holidays from his childhood… it is the pain, anxiety and the trauma of events that he remembers more than anything else. Those things overshadowed any happy memories of holiday celebrations. In hindsight, I am very glad for the times I listened to my maternal intuition and didn’t force issues and learned to adapt to make him comfortable when necessary.
Here is a link from my website with resources that you might find helpful in dealing with the holidays. http://hopeforthebrokenhearted.com/hope-4-holidays/
Praying you have a blessed, stress and anxiety free Christmas this year!
Much love in Him,