Madeleine and Bec are AuDHD and sat down to talk about surviving the Festive Season.  Below is a transcript of their conversation.   You can listen to the full podcast if you click here.

Bec: Yes, oh, well, congrats! And I hope that it makes this year a bit more enjoyable for you, because yeah, it can. It can feel a bit like just trying to survive through it. And if you don’t know yourself, and you don’t know what kind of strategies might help you. I mean, I can definitely relate through many years of not knowing that I was neurodivergent. So, you can definitely be a bit more patient I think, if you know, you know. Too much socialising is definitely not going to be great so yeah, I think it’ll be interesting to see how this Christmas looks different for you.

Madeleine: I can’t tell what it’s going to be like, but what I can tell you is I’ve stopped forcing myself to do things that are extremely challenging and don’t work.

Bec: Yeah. And that, I think, is one of the most kind of powerful things about diagnosis and about knowing who you are, and it just allows you to be gentle and support yourself a bit better, and not force it because you feel like you should, or you feel like you have to, or the expectation is there. Just saying like, actually, this is not right for me, and I want to enjoy my Christmas.

Madeleine: I thought it would be good to just try and talk about some of those things to do. In the neurodivergent world a lot of people are posting about it at the moment, like various things you can do. And what’s going to make a difference, either for people who have no idea or people that we may support. What are some of the things you would say about the festive season that can make a difference?

Bec: Yeah, I think a lot of my struggles with Christmas and the whole period is quite like multi layered. Some of some of the things that I struggle with may be quite unique to my situation, as I don’t have any of my own family here.  I am often spending Christmas with my partner’s family, or with other people’s families, who all have different ways of doing Christmas, I mean, I think everybody’s family has different, unique kind of ways of doing Christmas. Some people do it on Christmas Day. Some people do it on Christmas Eve. Some people do Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, you know, and the flow of the day seems to be different, depending on, which culture you’re part of.  For me, the first thing is Australia is hot at Christmas that I just cannot, still, after 8 years, I’m still like, it’s not Christmas. One of my biggest challenges around Christmas time is the food element, I find it very, very difficult to go into a situation where people are spent a lot a lot of time, money, effort, love cooking, beautiful meals, and I can’t eat any of it. So, I think that’s one of my biggest struggles. I tend to just sit in the corner with my bread roll and feel guilty as well. Because, people like want to feed you and you have to keep saying, ‘Oh, sorry no thank you’ So I think if people can always make sure, have some of those safe foods around.  I won’t eat if I don’t have safe food around, and there is nothing worse than a hungry Bec, and I’m sure that is a very common thing for many neurodivergent people.  If you’re hungry you’re going to be way, way more prone to getting overwhelmed, really, really, quickly.

Madeleine: I have particular things about food like I don’t want to mix food, and it’s got to be separated and stuff like that, but I don’t deal with a real sensitivity to it. What I do have are very rigorous ways that I eat, and it really takes something to deal with everybody else about that, because people are like, ‘I feel bad that you’re not eating something nice’, and it’s like, well, it’s nice to me, and what I want to do, or ‘you can’t eat with the rest of us’, and I’m like I am eating with you, I’m sitting at the table eating with the rest of you.  Then there is ‘when will you be able to eat normally again?’ I’m like maybe never. If what you think is normal and what I think is normal are different. I love what you said about the love and the time, because it is an expression of love for people. So yeah, I think it’s very emotionally connected like it. It occurs like a rejection to them.

Bec: Yeah, yeah, it really does.  Then I guess the other element as well is like the social element of eating together. That’s something that I find really, really difficult. I don’t like eating in front of other people. Oftentimes I will go out for like drinks, and then go home so that I can eat in private, like I just I don’t want people looking at me while I’m eating. I don’t want to have to try and time my bites in between talking. It’s really quite difficult to actually like socially to eat a meal, and I do not enjoy it. So, there’s definitely that as well.

Madeleine: And then, like the other stuff, cause the I think the other stuff is all the is also related to love. Which is presents, kissing, hugging, touching, all of that world.

Bec: I love getting presents, and I love giving presents, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about receiving a gift from someone and the pressure of how you react when you open that gift and how to react in the right way, or like, if you don’t make the right facial expression, and you know you don’t want to offend them. That’s something I find really difficult. So I tend to try at least open gifts in private. I’ll just sort of be like, ‘oh, open it later’ but people want to see your reaction as well, so that can be that can be quite challenging. Giving gifts as well, sometimes it’s quite tricky to know what to give to people. There’s a lot of social nuances in that even you know, how much you’re expected to spend on a gift.  That is not always very clear, so I think gifts are beautiful and wonderful, and I’m not by any means saying that I do not want to receive gifts, I definitely do it’s just that there is quite a lot of social nuances attached to it that I don’t think people often think about.

Madeleine: Yeah, I mean, look, I was even watching myself on this zoom. And here I am with my, you know Christmas bauble headband that I’m wearing, and I was thinking, you know, I like wearing them. Then people might say, ‘Oh, you’re such an extrovert, you’re so social’ but when I look at some of those behaviours like my glitter Christmas bauble headband, I go that’s part of the masking, like part of the showing I’m involved showing I’m into Christmas having something to talk about, so people can go. ‘Oh, look! You’ve got Christmas bauble. I like headband.’ It’s all part of the survival.

Bec:  You know I do love the headband by the way, Madeleine, it’s fabulous. I feel a little bit under dressed. But yeah, it is tricky. And another one I have only really been exposed to since I moved to Australia. Christmas games.  Australians do a lot of Christmas games, and I like my, I don’t know if it’s just my family back home, but we didn’t do that. That wasn’t a done thing. So, this whole like Secret, Santa, not so bad, because, you know, you’re buying a gift for a person, and then you can, buy something that you think that they will like if you know who they are, which not always the case. But it’s a straight exchange. There’s not really a heck of a lot of like social complexity in the exchange of the gifts. But then this game Stealing Santa, have you played this game before?  It’s terrifying, I cannot begin to describe the level of anxiety that that game puts on me. So, if anybody doesn’t know basically everybody buys a gift to a certain, you know price and then you pull numbers out of a hat, and you go in that the order of that number, and everyone gets to choose a gift. Once you open your gift you can either keep it or you can choose to steal someone else’s gift.  I don’t know why people find that fun.  What if you offend someone?  I don’t want to take someone’s gift if they really like it.  So, games like this I find particularly challenging, and that the pressure to participate as well.

Madeleine:  I just hate being competitive, and it felt competitive to me.

Bec: I do actually think that it’s quite a common thing for autistic people to struggle with competition. So maybe a lot of it does lie in that realm. And maybe, like the reason we struggle with competition is because of all those things that we’re just talking about, like I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. I don’t want someone to miss out, I don’t want someone else to lose, basically and what that might then mean for my future interactions with this person.  I think there’s a lot of traumas there as well around not wanting to do the right the wrong thing in case there are repercussions later on

Madeleine:  If we were going to talk about, then what would make a difference during the festive season, because that we’ve obviously talked about is for us very much neurodowners and what occurs like completely forced participation in most things. What would you say would make the festive season really great for you?

Bec: Genuine choice around participating? On many occasions with my partner’s family, they have kind of given the option, not participate, but then there’s something there that feels like, you know, the odd one out.  So I think if if society normalizes not participating a little bit more that would be really helpful. Then making sure that people have access to safe foods is definitely important. You can have a conversation with the person beforehand about what are some things that we could make sure that are available for you, or letting people know to bring something from home, if that, is a is an option as well. Outside of that chicken nuggets, chips, cheese, pizza. You know the standard goodies for us.  Allowing headphones at the dinner table. I think a lot of people have a reaction to that, you know. Having headphones on it at the dinner table, especially at the Christmas dinner table.  I don’t know anybody’s family who would not have a reaction to that. I mean. you know, you want to seem to be participating in the conversation. But often, you know, you’ve got 18 different conversations, all happening one after another, and you’ve got the people pulling the Christmas crackers and Christmas music playing in the background there’s just a there’s a lot of auditory stuff going on and wearing headphones to kind of minimize some of that definitely would be helpful.

Madeleine: I would say the biggest thing for me in any social situation, but it’s really amped up at this time of year, is the freedom to actually leave the room and go, take a breather and go be in another space. And not be judged for that, you know everybody then comes in to check on me and go, are you okay? I’m like, yes, I just need a little space for a moment.

Bec: Yes, I tend to use the bathroom, It would be nice to have a nicer space, but I use it because you can lock the door. I’m sure you know; people wonder why I’m spending so much time in there.  I just take 5 and then I can go back into it energized.

Madeleine: I think the only other thing I would say is, look, I don’t want anybody to be in in the kind of world where they are worried about everything that they say.  I always try to say to people, if you want to know, just ask me and I promise I’ll be okay.  We’ve all grown up with particular, social etiquette. The thing I say to people all the time is, I really do want you to be able to be yourself, and I want to be able to be myself, and we might do things differently, but if we can just talk to each other, it’ll all work out.

Bec: I think that’s such a such a perfect message.  I encourage people to reflect on why this thing important to you. Know this this particular way of doing it, or this particular activity. Who is this most important, too? I think we place that expectation on other people. And I think if we, if we’re a bit more aware of who is this important for?  I think people would definitely have a better way of just being more flexible and understanding, and you know, making it fun for everyone.

Madeleine: I guess our final message that would delight us is our tagline at the A list, which is ‘be social your way.’  That’s my wish for the festive season, to have just great compassion for the people around you and the world. You know the world has a lot going on, and there are many people right now who would think any celebration of Christmas is not something that there is to be doing right now.  There are people that will not ever celebrate Christmas, because culturally, they just don’t. So, take all the pressure off all of it and allow people to be, and at the same time, remember the heart of it, enjoy each other’s company and express love your way.

Bec: I really love that, and rest as well, I think, we forget to actually rest at this time of year, because it’s so, you know, frantic. And there’s so much going on. But everybody needs rest at this time of year, it’s important. I know all my colleagues, all my friends, everyone, has just been exhausted by this entire year. So definitely make time to just slow down and rest. Read a book, do something that makes you feel good.  Enjoy loved one’s company. That’s definitely a good message.

Madeleine: I hope you have all those things over this time period, and you get to 8 as many cheese pizzas and chicken nuggets as you like, and nobody tries to steal your Santa and you actually get lots of rest.



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