At the end of the 1992 Christmas classic film A Muppet’s Christmas Carol Scrooge, superbly played by Michael Caine, arrives at Kermit the Frog’s house with a massive turkey and half of London. Kermit acts happy but inside he must be screaming. How is he going to cook that massive turkey? It takes ages to do one anyway let alone one bigger than his favourite child. Worst of all Scrooge brought with him half of London all wanting to be fed and seated. There is no way on earth that a poor Victorian family has that many emergency chairs so they’ll have to ask next door who, of course, will want an invite as well. Scrooge may have learnt the true meaning of Christmas, but he has not learnt social manners. He has just rocked up unannounced and said, “cook this massive bird and have a raise in pay”. The polite thing to do would be to send a fully cooked meal to the Cratchit family.
Why am I mentioning this? Apart from an annual complaint second only to the removal of a narratively important song, well the point is Scrooge did not comply with the rules around socialising and then dumped half of a metropolis on the Cratchit’s doorstep and sang a reprise of a song that no one would have heard because it was cut out of the film. How can you celebrate the Love Is Found if you never have the Love Is Lost? How? You cannot, that’s how. You need to see Scrooge get dumped by Belle or he doesn’t explain why he finds love almost as ridiculous as Christmas. You need to see Michael Caine sing along to the song to understand that he has never moved on from that moment. I am being side tracked. The most difficult time for someone who does not register social cues is to be placed in an environment where everyone is giving you social cues. Does this person want you to keep talking or do they want you to go away? Is this person joking or are they taking the piss? Is this lady being friendly or does she want something? Added to this is the loud music, access to booze and being surrounded by people who have access to booze.
This year’s work’s party was different for me for several reasons. Firstly, due to various reasons the party last year was cancelled so this is the first work party that I have had since my diagnosis. This meant that I was aware of how unaware I am, kind of like “the only thing I know is that I know nothing”. I told the ladies in admin that I am likely to say something and to rescue any one I am talking to. I spent a bit of time talking about the diagnosis as one of the ladies’ children has Asperger’s. Maybe I spent too long, I don’t know. I was made to sing “The One and Only” by Chesney Hawkes which I could take one of two ways. Firstly, it could be a joke as it is an old song and one that is not in my key at all. It could be like me setting someone up to sing Wannabe by the Spice Girls. A joke. A little prank. Or, secondly, it could be a piss take used to point out that I am different to the people I work with. They are all manly men doing manly men things and sports whereas I am not. I also spotted them wearing my coat, a lovely three-quarter length thing which I get a bit of stick for wearing but I love and won’t stop wearing. This again struck me at the time and obsessing over it since as a piss take. They didn’t know I would spot it so it wasn’t a mutual bit of banter. It was a “why does he wear this” and what would I look like in it, type of thing. Not being able to see whether you are boring someone or if you are the object of ridicule and assuming that you are, can be an issue. People are confusing.
Another issue about Christmas and one that we, thankfully, managed to avoid – unlike the Cratchits – is socialising in my own house or at all on Christmas Day. In previous years we have had people over and it has descended into a row – strangely rarely between me and my wife. One particular Christmas we went to a pub in Liverpool, I ended up walking away and finding a quiet spot to watch Speed on silent. People were bickering and everything was too loud. I was eventually joined by my wife and that was good. Then I was joined by everyone else who carried on arguing. The need to find a quiet spot in and around festivities is something that I have often attempted. I don’t know if I just couldn’t be arsed with all the drama or if, on some level I was overwhelmed, either way it was not a fun night. Since that night we have stayed at home and if we have had had people over it has been a few people and not for the whole day. Just the evening or for Christmas dinner and then the evening. I know you should spend time with others during this time of the year, but I don’t want to. Not because I am Scrooge – I would never turn up with a turkey the size of a crippled child and expect the woman of the house to cook it and feed me and half of London. Let alone give me the head of the table as everyone sings a song that makes no narrative sense. No, I am not a Scrooge I just find it hard to muster the energy for all of those people. I am not sure if this is because masking can be exhausting or if I consciously mask but it is hard work.
Another factor that can be hard for people with Asperger’s is the need to be alone. As explained above: people can be exhausting. Sometimes I need to be alone. It is not on an existential level but just a small time to recharge and to do something linked to a current hyper fixation or to stop masking. I am not sure if this is common among people living with Asperger’s or ASD, but I have always craved time away from people. In my life now, my wife and child go to bed around the same time, and this leaves me with two or three hours to myself. I can play the Xbox or read or whatever and do not feel obligated to do anything. This you cannot have if you are surrounded by people.
This need to be on my own quite often seen as a fundamental aspect of Asperger’s Syndrome. The person with Asperger’s is highly introverted and happy on their own or in small groups. As mentioned above, I love a Christmas that is, essentially, just myself and wife and child. Too many people and things get uncomfortable. Though, there is a contradiction in this. For example, you want to be left alone but want a partner or feel jealous of people with large friendship groups. When you are in a larger social group then you do not feel like you belong. You feel like the outsider and that you are there on sufferance. This can explain how I felt at the work’s party and how I immediately framed events in a negative light. I think this aspect of Asperger’s feeds the above need and that reinforces that being alone is safer or, in the very least, more comfortable. My older brother was described by an ex-girlfriend of his that he “cannot stand his own company” and always wants someone around. I would guess, at the risk of generalisations which is intellectually lazy, that all neuro-typical people ever would prefer the company of others than themselves. It is common knowledge that humans are a social species. That is why we developed speaking, tribes and clans, football teams and television. We want to be around other people for safety and procreation (it is notoriously difficult to procreate on ones own). People have hundreds of “friends” online that they rely on and spy on. When they change jobs, they keep in contact with some of their work friends who lose the work prefix and become friends. They meet up for a pint or coffee. They will go to loud pubs and swap excruciating anecdotes about their friends or partners or children or some banal aspect of their day. They have different groups for different reasons. They text each other and engage in “banter” and never say something that either kills the conversation or makes people cringe so hard their children can feel it. More often than not, I want the opposite of all of that. I don’t believe I do anything anecdote worthy, nor do I want to be in hundreds of chat groups. Mainly because the relaxed rules of grammar and spelling irritate me more than you can possibly imagine.
All of these are amplified at Christmas. You are expected to be social; you are expected to get a funny and knowing Secret Santa gift; you are expected to be ok with your boss turning up unexpectedly with a large turkey and half of London with him; you are expected to be surrounded by people all day, every day. For people with Asperger’s or on the spectrum this can be extremely difficult. Especially New Year’s Eve. I loathe going out on New Year’s Eve. A year’s worth of being social within an evening.
People start to prepare for Christmas from September or the end of October, so you have months of anxiety in the build-up. You have the looming Christmas party and seeing people getting over excited about it. You wonder why you aren’t as excited, and you start to seek a way out. You know that you aren’t meant to be there, you know that you don’t belong, but you said you would be there and people looked happy. You go and while you are there you are texting your partner with a running commentary: they don’t like me. So and so said this. I am not like these lads, am I. I want to leave. I have done the karaoke. I am very drunk. I lovhwieihwiey oqwhdq you.
From a personal point of view, I love Christmas because my child is still in the Santa years and seeing him believe and get excited is amazing. Just leave me be and let us enjoy that and it’ll be a good Christmas.
Happy Christmas and New Year and if there is anything you want to comment on or see me write about leave a comment below and tell at least fourteen other people about this blog. Like a pyramid scheme without the long term financial ruin.