The other day mom and I were in the car and she mentioned a post by Charlemagne. The post talked about how the holidays can be especially challenging for those with mental illness. As someone with mental illness, I know this to be true. But I also want to add, as person with ASD, the holidays are also a difficult time for some of the same reasons.
Here is a list of 7 (my second favorite number) things that make the holidays difficult for people with mental illness and ASD.
7 Reasons Holidays are Hard for People w/ Mental Illness and ASD i.e.- Me
- Hustle and bustle. Around the holidays, life seems to be going at supersonic speed. Every day seems to be a countdown to Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, New Year’s, etc. Everyone is out. Everyone is in a rush. It can be a lot. Especially for those dealing with mental illness and ASD. It can be tough dealing with the crowds. It can be tough dealing with the overall excitement and anticipation when your thoughts and mood may subscribe more to a “take one day at a time” approach. Also, the pressure to engage in holiday cheer and excitement or feeling like you are missing out on it can be stressful to those who sometimes just don’t feel like it. For people with ASD, not only can coping with the amount of people around be difficult, but also understanding the motives behind their strong holiday emotions and traditions.
- Change in schedule. For people with ASD, schedules and routines are key. The world can seem chaotic and confusing; and therefore a little predictability can be super helpful. Often times during the holidays, special events are thrown in and schedules are thrown off and put out of whack. This can cause stress, anxiety, and sometimes leads to a greater likelihood of Autistic burnout, non-verbal episodes, meltdowns, etc. For people struggling with mental illness, sometimes it truly is about taking one day at a time. A lot of times that entails having a schedule and keeping to it. So holiday times in terms of schedule can be rough as things out of the ordinary happen and sometimes things are just go with the flow.
- New people/ distant relatives. People come along with the holidays. Sometimes these people are distant relatives and/or friends that are not seen or spoken to often. When you are dealing with mental illness, the stigma surrounding the struggle can make it seem as though everyone is judging you, especially people you don’t really know. Also, there can be stress associated with the type of questions that are asked during the holidays by those once-a-year type of relatives. What have you been up to? Shouldn’t you have graduated by now? When will you settle down and start a family? It can be hard determining what to share and what to keep private, and not feeling pressured to disclose things uncomfortable to share. For kids with ASD and their parents, it can be tricky dealing with possible judgements from family members who are not used to certain behaviors and traits. Family members might also have well-meaning suggestions such as following a gluten-free diet or trying CBD or whatever it is that actually come across as unaccepting and judgmental. For some adults with ASD, there can be pressure to suppress autistic traits and “be on their best behavior” for guests. I know this has been true for me at family gatherings; and in the end, trying not to be myself made me look more awkward than being myself would have.
- Dreary/cold weather. Simply put Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. For some people the shorter days and colder weather equate to decreased mood.
- Pressures of a new year, new you. We all know the mantra “new year, new you”. While it is good to focus on self-improvement, it is important to set goals wisely. Sometimes for those of us suffering from mental illness, our goals can take years to achieve or be unattainable. And we must accept both circumstances and be okay with our reality. Some goals like I won’t go into the hospital this year or I’ll stop needing therapy or I’ll stop needing my medication can be slippery slopes. There can be pressure from ourselves and others to achieve such goals that may prevent us from receiving the help we need. And in our social media society, once goals are put out there, it is difficult to admit they have not been achieved- especially when we see others achieving their goals. It is hard to remember that we all have our separate goals and that some are more achievable and timely than others.
- Missing lost relatives/ old memories and traumas associated with holidays. Everyone who has lost someone knows the achy feelings of missing and loss during the holidays. It affects us all, but especially those with mental illness. Sometimes deaths of certain family members and/or friends are triggers for mental illnesses. For some with ASD, it may be difficult to process and understand feelings and realities about lost relatives or friends. The holiday time can also mark certain periods of trauma or misfortune. Personally, Christmas is a difficult time for me as it marks the middle of my last major depressive episode. It fell right in the middle of two hospital stays which led up to my longest hospital stay. I was on a downward spiral all throughout the holidays and just trying to hang on by a thread. Knowing where I was last year and knowing where I am this year is cause for both gratefulness and fear. I am grateful to be in a better place. But I am so afraid of relapsing and returning to the place I was in last year.
- Lights, camera, action. Sensory issues are big concerns for people with ASD. What seems like a regular amount of light and sound can be jarring, let alone the bigger, brighter, louder vibes of the holidays. For those with mental illness, it can be difficult and exhausting dealing with all the pictures, decorations, and constant moving around.
And those were 7 reasons why holidays can be difficult for people with ASD and mental illness.
I hope this blog post was helpful in either understanding your own struggles or the struggles of someone you love.
Next up, 7 ways to make the holidays easier as a person/ for a person with mental illness and ASD.