December is a very significant month for me because of a few things. Firstly it contains Christmas on the 25th. Though it also contains two other significant events for me which include welcoming in the New Year and celebrating my birthday on the 11th.
Every event of my life that is most significant to me occurs in the month of December. As a child the month was a massive treat for me. I’d open my birthday presents by the Christmas tree, and indeed it felt like I was having an early Christmas. Then once the day had ended, the excitement didn’t disappear because in two weeks time it felt like I had an even bigger birthday. Then a week after Christmas I say goodbye to the current year, and look at the new year with hope and anticipation.
Though I must say that it feels strange when the calendar winds all the way from the 31st of December back down to January the 1st; and to constantly hear on and around midnight that we’ve gone forward in time, rather than having gone back in time. New Year’s Resolutions aren’t something I bother with, because there are so many other dates of a year when opportunities and/or challenges arise, and most aren’t yet visible on January the 1st (nor do they have to have a December 31st deadline).
December has always clearly been an exciting month for me. Yet at exactly the same time it is also the most stressful month for me. I have more meltdowns during December than I do any other time of the year. My birthday may be a fortnight before Christmas, and I have friends and family with their birthdays much closer than that (some actually being on Christmas Day). Yet from the beginning of December everyone wants to get their Christmas shopping done before it’s too late. As a result of that it’s never been a good idea for me to go out to most public places on my birthday, especially due to me having autism. However as it’s a family celebration it’s never 100% avoidable, and every other family member got those kinds of treats on their birthday. So at the end of the day I’ve often (though not always) had a meltdown, or at the very least a high degree of anxiety.
Christmas has always been generally enjoyable. As a child my biggest excitement was getting up in the early hours of the morning to open my presents. Thus by the time breakfast came along I felt like the main part of the day was behind me. Christmas lunch is very much like a Thanksgiving dinner in the US. Mum makes a huge buffet of gourmet food that’s not like the food we have any other day (even on family birthdays). I enjoy the delicious food, yet by the end of the day I can feel tired and full of food and sugar.
New Year’s Eve gives me anxiety because of the fireworks and firecrackers which people let off in our neighbourhood (it’s illegal in a suburban area but some people still do it anyway). Earmuffs block out the noise somewhat. Yet my ears do feel sore and/or irritated after wearing them from 6pm to past midnight. Much of the annoyance comes as a result of it being summertime in Australia, and sweltering weather isn’t good for wearing earmuffs. Also, I’m too scared to take them off that night because someone could let off a firecracker at any time. The sound that firecrackers, fireworks, guns and bursting balloons make is my absolute worst fear.
There are methods however that help enable me to experience pleasure and joy from those celebrations and festivities. As a child on my birthday and Christmas I would get excited at the very beginning of the day while opening my presents. Then once they were all unwrapped I’d feel overwhelmed, and I also felt like the excitement of the day was over. But a useful method that has worked wonders on birthdays and at Christmas has been to stagger the present opening throughout the day. This extended the excitement beyond the morning, and enabled me to not grow anxious about the day slipping by me.
Certain stress provoking experiences we have on special occasions are inevitable. Yet by doing my best working on mindfulness exercise, I’ll at the very least get less anxiety than I would otherwise have had. Also, the simple fact of accepting my anxiety (and not feeling ashamed about having it there) enables me to reduce the actual sensation even further.
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