My Tips for Surviving the Holidays With Asperger's and Fibromyalgia


Holidays at this time of year are difficult for me as someone with Asperger’s syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety. The weather, social situations and money all play a part in making the holidays hard, and I will try to explain each of these aspects further here.
The Weather
As someone with Asperger’s syndrome I actually prefer the darker weather that comes with winter, as due to my sensory difficulties, I find bright sunlight uncomfortable, not to mention that there are usually more people out and about in the summer and this doesn’t help my social anxiety. However, winter brings cold, damp, weather that makes the aches and stiffness of my fibromyalgia even worse. Therefore warmth is very important at this time of year. Things that can help are obviously warm clothes, blankets and a nice pair of slippers, but also heat packs you can apply directly to the skin (these are especially great if you need to go out as they aren’t visible under clothing) or microwavable pillows. Failing these a good old fashioned water bottle never goes a miss either. I have an electric blanket that goes under my sheet on the mattress of my bed that is wonderful for when I go for a sleep or for a nap.
Aside from this, help from your friends or family can help a whole lot in the cold. They can pick things up for you from the shops, offer to help warm you up either with the things mentioned above or with massages or cuddles. Moreover, understanding from those around you can also be great. You’re not faking it or over-exaggerating in order to shirk helping out during this time of year, nor are you doing it for extra attention or presents. Some times people’s attitudes can be upsetting, especially at this time because of the extra pressure everyone feels. You are not immune to that pressure either and if people understand that, it can be of great help. Some people will never understand, but I’ve attempted to get people to by explaining it in terms they can relate to, compare it to something they themselves can experience, such as pain from the cold they’ve no doubt felt before and say you feel that so much more easily or to a worse degree.
Social Situations
Parties and get-togethers litter our calendars this time of year and the social anxiety that comes with Asperger’s syndrome gets into full swing. At these gatherings people often want to drink alcohol, but being on anti-depressants for both my fibromyalgia and my social anxiety, this is generally isn’t wise to do. So I don’t partake in that, and it can feel extra alienating because of it. Just make sure there are some soft drinks there for you, and if in doubt take a bottle of a drink you can enjoy. Moreover, don’t cave to any peer pressure and politely explain to people that you don’t drink or feel you can’t.
Another popular activity this time of year is party games; I find being put in the limelight when it is my “turn” terrifying and humiliating. Of course, join in if you feel comfortable, but try not to feel pressured into doing it if you don’t. Again, try to explain as best you can if you come up against intolerance of your inactivity. It is meant to be enjoyable and a break for you too, but your needs and desires are different, that’s all. Take a book or a handheld game console so you still have something to do while others are distracted with their group activities.
Once again, your friends and family can help you out with this. Firstly they can recognize the anxiety that comes with social situations during the holidays, and not put expectations on you to be the life and soul of the party. They can stay by your side if you feel intimidated by people you barely know and help stand up for you in an awkward situation. If you feel more comfortable with one or two people, you could just play some games with them on a smaller scale.

Knowing the comings and goings of people can be really helpful in mentally preparing for social situations, who is going to be there, and when, so if you can get this information from others, it can make things much easier. It can take away some of the unpredictability and anxiety that comes with sudden social interactions, making you more able to enjoy your holiday.

Money
Many of us with disabilities cannot work and therefore have rather limited incomes. Holidays can be expensive, putting us in a difficult situation. From higher heating bills, to food for parties and of course presents the extra expenses can really build up. In the U.K. the government counts household income for benefits, which means I do not get very much, and often feel bad for not contributing the year round let alone at this time of year. I try to help in other ways, though. I am often the one who comes up with ideas for presents and does all the wrapping. My input has been very clear to some in my partner’s family, and it means a lot for them to say that. It is meant to be the thought that counts, after all! This however can come with a stigma, I have been accused of not getting anyone anything because of it, even though I do contribute monetarily as well, and it is often a large portion of my small personal budget. This is very upsetting and I hope no one comes into contact with this attitude, but I guess all I can say if you do, is “sod ’em,” they’re really not in the “spirit” of things at all.
Just because we are poor monetarily doesn’t mean we can’t give in other ways. One way is through creativity — you can produce cheap presents with a lot of thought. I have given presents such as drawings, memory books, poems and origami before, and the people seemed to have liked them, maybe more so than anything I might have bought them! Have a think about what you’re good at and see if you can do something with it. It is often hard to see value in our own creations, but it is one of the most genuine and best gifts you can give someone.

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Thinkstock photo by Ryan McVay.

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