I really love holidays. Is that a surprising statement for an autistic? Perhaps “the holidays” conjures up connotations of stressful shopping extravaganzas and noisy, harrowing dinners with grossly extended families and too much alcohol. Neither of those has ever been a fixture of my celebrations. What I’m a sucker for is routine and ritual, and I actively cultivate traditions that are meaningful to me, which usual involves embracing the natural season, the comforts of home, giving handcrafted gifts, and food. So much food.
But usually, these intersect with spending the designated dates with family and close friends (translation: cooking for those people!) And at some point I realized that events have conspired to have me partaking in Thanksgiving dinner completely on my own this year. At first I was concerned. I worried that I’d have trouble finding meaning in a solo celebration, would be tempted to just ignore the holiday altogether, and would end up feeling depressed and isolated. But I soon started to reflect on how much I’ve come to appreciate time spent quiet and alone, and realized that all I needed to do was make the decision to have a simple, beautiful celebration on my own, and appreciate it for what it is. After all, if we choose a day to contemplate gratitude, gratitude for time to oneself and one’s own good company seems like an appropriate place to start.
So I have a plan, and one I genuinely look forward to. (Plans are my best friend.) I will start with a clean home, and prepare a simple seasonal dinner to my own tastes: spiced apple cider, a fake turkey roast, maple baked acorn squash, cornbread dressing, garlic mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, and roasted brussels sprouts. (Positive aspect of cooking for one? You don’t have to feel bad that nobody else loves brussels sprouts as much as you do. And dessert? Who needs dessert when you’ve got all the brussels sprouts to yourself?!)
I’ll avoid the trap of eating in front of the TV, because I do that pretty frequently and honestly, it doesn’t feel like a “real meal” to me when I’m distracted by watching something. Instead, I’ll light my oil lamp and put on some music; Vivaldi will probably be involved. After I clean up from the meal, I’ll take a stroll around the neighborhood and savor the autumn weather. Then I’ll put on my fuzzy cat pajamas and curl up on the couch with my two fur babies to reread some favorite poems and short stories, and end the evening with a couple episodes of Mushishi that I’ve seen approximately 1.3 bazillion times and love all the more for the repetition. Again, having no one else around means I don’t need to take different viewing pleasures into account.
Planning this alternative sort of celebration has helped to drive home for me how much intention and attention factor into creating comfort and meaning in my life, on “regular” as well as “special” days. I hope that others, whether on the spectrum or not, are also finding ways to enjoy and make the most of where they are in life right now, rather than accepting the impossible burden of societal expectations about how, when, and with whom we should cultivate tradition and invoke a celebratory spirit.
How do you all deal with the holidays as pertains to disabilities and mental health? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!