The festive season is joyous for many people, however can become a source of pain for those living with chronic illnesses or is nuerodivergent. Here are some things you need to know about their experiences with the holiday season.
It’s coming to that time when everyone seems to start losing their senses and manners. The ‘hustle and bustle are now months in the making, and events start to pile up on the calendar. The ‘Festive Season’ has become a list of daily chores and stresses. However, when you are chronically ill or neurodivergent, it’s not a joyous time; it is a time of guilt, anxiety, stress, emotional damage, and chronic overwhelm.
Deck the Halls With Expectations
At its core, the ‘Festive Season’ is about family, whether blood or the family you have chosen. But unfortunately, this is where the weight of expectations comes in for chronically ill and neurodivergent people. Add on to this any friends and work colleagues planning events and Christmas parties on top, and the worry becomes ten-fold.
- The guilt and worry of letting people down if you can’t make it, and then if you can make it, what if you can’t stay for long?
- What if it becomes too much? What if you need to get out as soon as possible?
- What if you feel a flare coming on and have to be the ‘Killjoy’ again?
It is a mental health minefield.
Shopping for cards and gifts can be physically and mentally exhausting, especially with so many other people doing the same thing. Unfortunately, most people ignore your personal space while rushing into shops and barging into you without considering the area around them: the queues and lights everywhere, different store music, shopping centers, musical lights, the chatter, and general goings carrying on. This type of environment is a neurodivergent person’s worse nightmare.
Many chronically ill people can’t get to a shop and have to buy online, taking a gamble they’ll receive it on time and in one piece and hoping there will be no issues with the item and no returns needed.
A lot of neurodivergent people don’t respond well to ‘hints’ and can feel very lost when buying a present as no matter how well they know someone, the pressure of getting the ‘perfect’ gift makes them doubt their abilities to do the task.
Enter The Three ‘Wise’ Men
Another dread for the chronically ill and neurodivergent is those indubitable conversations at all functions, whether hosted by family, a friend, or a work-related event. There are always those who have to ask scathing questions but consider themselves to have more expertise than you. They suffer. They ask questions without thinking about the words used and the tone of the sentences and always have some ‘advice’ to share.
- “Are you not feeling any better yet? You were ill last time we spoke also, weren’t you?”
- “Oh, you’re tired, and they said you’re chronically ill? We’re all tired; we have to get on with it.”
- “Aren’t you too young to be considered disabled?”
- “Looking at you, there doesn’t seem anything wrong with you. Are you sure you are autistic?”
- “Have you tried *Enter the name of magical pill here*? My friend’s daughter’s boyfriend’s mum had that, she found these pills online, £49.99/$49.99 a month, and after taking them for two months, she’s a new woman. The illness is gone!”
It’s degrading and makes you feel like they don’t see you as a human being. Instead, you’re seen as something of lesser quality, branded as a diagnosis.
Rejoice and Reflection
It isn’t always easy for neurotypical and ‘abled’ bodied people to fully understand what those who are chronically ill or neurodivergent experience. It takes a lot of patience, and that is in even shorter supply at this time of year. In addition, everyone has different levels and needs, and what’s suitable for one or many isn’t necessarily the way for others.
The festive season is a time, more than any other, where compassion and kindness are crucial, and I’d like to offer up some ways of how you can give that to those in your circle that face chronic illness or neurodivergence
Allow them to say no: What we don’t need in a time of struggle is being shamed for that struggle. It may be hard to believe, but it is a rollercoaster of emotions for the person who has to decide to decline an invitation, especially when it is people they feel love and care for.
Chronically ill and neurodivergent people feel the most obligated during the festive season. It is a heavy feeling thinking you are being a disappointment, the immense guilt for trying to do the best thing in the situation for your mental well-being but knowing that requires possibly hurting others. If someone is honest with you and tells you they aren’t up to it, your upset feelings are valid, but please consider how much it has taken for the other person. It is not an excuse, it is an explanation, but many people forget that.
Ask them what they can/can’t have at social gatherings: Making accommodations for so many can be a challenge. Still, if you, for example, know someone has a chronic illness that flares easily with certain foods, someone or their child might need to have a ‘downtime space’ or muting Christmas light patterns, etc., may help to provide some solace, this would mean a world of difference.
Remember, it is not just about adults: A young person with chronic illness or neurodivergence can have the same struggles as adults, as they are still learning to adjust and communicate. Please do not force anything on them. If they don’t want to be in photos, allow them that choice without taking personal offense.
Please don’t force them to give affection. Ask them if it is something they want to do and respect that decision. If they need to rest more, let them do that. Try not to put too much pressure on them regarding gifts and their responses.
Offer help with Christmas preparations: The more people who can help with gift buying, food prep, card writing, sending, etc.
Ask them how they are and actively listen: It’s scary opening up to someone who doesn’t fully understand you, and if RSD is prominent, it can make you easily guarded. Please don’t roll your eyes or invalidate feelings, we’re trying our best, and we all have different ‘love languages and communication styles.
Chronic illness and neurodivergence can be lonely and overwhelming; daily life is a constant struggle as it is without the added factors of this time of year. Remove the expectations, talk with your ego and remind yourself your chronically ill or neurodivergent family member/friend is on a different road map from you, but that doesn’t make them any less a person. It doesn’t mean they don’t love and care about you if they aren’t doing things ‘your way.’ Your compassion and understanding are the best gifts you can give them all year.
Blogger and Advocate
Rochelle Hanslow is a ‘neurospicy’ and chronically ill freelance writer and self-published author. Rochelle is an advocate for mental health, chronic illness, and neurodivergence. She is an ambassador and writer for M.E. Support U.K. since 2015 and the sole contributor to the blog since the beginning of 2021. You can find her blog and features page on her website to read more of her work. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.