If you’re like me, the holidays and resulting plunge into winter leave you feeling far grayer than the weather. I know it’s natural for many people to have the holiday blues, blues that only get worse after the holidays end, but as autism parents we get a few added dimensions thrown in.
Our kids are out of school. We aren’t quite sure what to do all day. The weather may shut us up in the house, and then we all get cabin fever and start climbing the walls. Snow days out of school may start piling up. We don’t get much, if any, mental breaks during the bleaker days of winter.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real for a significant percentage of people, most of whom don’t even realize they have it. They just think they are ‘kind of down’ a bit more than usual, but may lack the perspective needed to fully appreciate how depressed the winter days make them.
As the days remain short and we get so little sunlight, our moods may turn more and more toward a deeper depression. Never discount the effect this lack of daylight can have on you.
It’s a long winter ahead, and we need some ideas. So, what do we do about it?
First, just accepting that we feel this way is a good start. We generate a lot of self-judgment and loathing because we often don’t have that holiday spirit we want to have. It’s supposed to be a time of hope, expectation, and magic. Instead, it can easily end up a time of super-stress, hyper and overloaded children, people expecting things of us they have no right to, and our inability to meet the demands life places on us.
But there’s nothing wrong with us for feeling this way. The added stresses just make everything more challenging. So it’s natural for it to be hard. Understand that a great many people feel this way, whether they are autism parents or not. Hopefully this makes you feel like there’s not anything defective about you.
Talk about it among your close friends and family. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of people feeling the same way, many of whom have been reluctant to admit it themselves. Feeling like we’re not alone but connected to others who share our experience is always a great first step.
But it’s a long break from school for many of our kids, then throw snow days on top of that, and this adds a whole level of stress to the house regardless of what combination of autistic and neurotypical kids you have.
This is where you really need a support network. In winter, when we’re often shut in the house for longer periods of time, we need ways to reach out to people. This is why many of us have worked very hard to build our networks any way we can. We often joke that our best friends live inside our phones and computers. There’s absolutely no shame in this.
Screw the stigma that some people seem to want to put on us for having so many digital friends we’ve never met. I probably have 25 close friends online who have helped me in untold ways for every one person I know in ‘real life’. We live in this amazing era where such a profound level of connection is possible like never before.
Take advantage of all the electronic communication tools you have at your disposal. Spend the winter building up your support networks. For many of us, it’s Facebook groups and friends we can be open and honest with. If you can’t find a group, create your own, make it private, and invite the people who mesh the best with you. If you just can’t make Facebook your thing, there are also some groups on Yahoo and Google for autism parents.
Regular e-mail contact with close friends also makes an enormous difference. We also make it a habit of having a handful of people we can text any time for an understanding ‘shoulder’ to lean on.
Create or join a network of people who are willing to make a covenant with each other to be there by whatever means of electronic communication you each want to communicate by. Then, don’t be shy about reaching out to your network for help. They will keep you sane. They will be the people who stand beside you through the hardest hours and days.
You can’t do this alone. These allies will help keep you together, and you will do the same for them in turn. If you don’t have much, or any kind, of network yet, it can feel daunting to reach out to others. Don’t be intimidated or shy. So many of the parents I know want nothing more than to help other parents. You are neither a bother nor a burden.
We are in this together, and together we are stronger than we are alone.
[One important note: If you ever start having thoughts and plans of harming yourself or others, seek professional, emergency assistance immediately!]