This is the 3rd and final* post about how I survive the holidays (read part 1 and part 2 here), and it touches on what, for me, is one of the most difficult parts: when my mother hosts a party. This post is less full of helpful little coping mechanisms I’ve developed, and more of a rant about my least favorite aspect of the holiday season – last year, my mother’s party had me in my closet, rocking uncontrollably. And that was WITH the coping mechanisms described here.
My mother always hosts at least one big party each year, and in some ways they are worse than the ones I have to go to, since I’m “on display”. There’s no place to hide, and everyone attending thinks they know everything about you. Often you have to sit through tens of relatives, neighbors and “friends” corner you and talk at you. For me, these situations are the worst ones, because the instant I’m cornered, I lose my words. Sometimes I can get out 1-2 word answers, other times I spend the whole day before the party starts rehearsing sentences to respond to people. Last year, I was cornered by a neighbor who spent the better part of 10 minutes telling me I was abnormal and bad because I was graduating college early and I didn’t party, and that she was going to have to tell my mother and everyone else at the party what a horrible, deficient person I was. And the worst part of these parties? I can’t leave. And there’s no safe space to hide.
Instead, I have learned to hide in plain sight. I spend the entire time in the kitchen, cleaning dishes, making sure the food is out and ready to be eaten, refilling cups, and generally staying busy. In my house, the kitchen is fairly isolated (though not completely), and relatively quieter than the rest of the house when we have company, and it’s smaller, so only so many people can be in there at once. Working in the kitchen allows me to wear something that I’m more comfortable in, because my mother won’t have me “ruining my nice clothes”. Washing dishes has the same sort of effect as the Rubik’s Cube – it gives me something to do with my hands, and to concentrate my eyes on. Usually people don’t come too close because they don’t want to get soap or water on themselves, and I am usually able to have a conversation with the person. And most people leave rather quickly because they want to get back to the main party, leaving me on my own to wind down. So my main survival mechanism for parties hosted by my mother is to spend hours in the kitchen. If I disappear to my room, she knows, because I have to shut the door, but to her, the kitchen is an ok place for me to be, because it’s both useful (less clean up later) and I often speak with everyone she wants me to have socialized with.
I do want to add, however, that I am NOT advocating for parents to stick their Autistic children in the kitchen during parties. This is something that works for me, but as the saying goes “if you’ve met one Autistic person, you’ve met one Autistic person”, and what works for me may not be the best method for you or your child. I do dishes and stay in the kitchen during these events because of my mother’s refusal to allow me a safe space in my home during parties. If I needed a safe space, I have always had to make one for myself, and if it didn’t meet her approval, then it was actively denied**. This just happened to be the best way for her to get her way while I was able to function enough to please her. Plus her dishes got cleaned, and it kept the party running smoothly, so it benefited her more than it was a detriment.
So how do YOU survive (and maybe even enjoy) the holiday season? What are some of your coping mechanisms when it gets to be too much?
*I was going to add a post on “Family”, but it got way too long and too personal and WAY too whiny. Maybe one day, but not this time around.
**My mother’s disdain of all my autistic tendencies has been miserable at best and abusive at worst, and is worthy of many other discussions and posts.
(Although this paragraph really belongs in part 2) As an adult, my friends have embraced me for myself, with all my quirks and craziness, and because of that, they are very accommodating to me when they have gatherings. They genuinely want to have me join them, and will go out of their way to make it “autism-friendly” for me, everything from a quiet place for me to go if I need to calm down, to food that I am able to eat, to nice quiet activities (puzzles, board games, etc.) and often smaller groups of people. As I have gotten older and more aware of how my brain functions, I have been better able to articulate what I need to function, and I have come across people who have bothered to listen.