Twas the nightmare before Christmas and all through the house not a present was bought not even a ball that bounced.
That was the story of my life for so many years even as recent as last year. I hear all the time that people start buying in July (which I just can’t I would hide it and forget I bought it that is just too much) what if the person gets what ever you buy them between July and December? Too much pressure?? Some not so over achievers start buying around October/November and are finished presents wrapped and under the tree weeks in advance. Then there are others who await the magical black Friday to do all of their shopping, but no not I. Historically I have been a Christmas week/Christmas Eve shopper.
You see since I was a little kid I could never ever keep secrets about gifts. I would always sneak downstairs when my parents were sleeping and stealthily (or maybe not so stealthily) undo the tape peak at what was inside then put the tape right back where it was as perfectly lined up as I could. Because you know that tape that takes the paper print off so you can see where it was? Yep we had that tape. I remember one year I found a pound puppy. I can still remember the tinsel strung on the tree (you know in the late 80’s early 90’s when people still strung/threw tinsel all over their trees. For those that have no idea what I am talking about I am sorry you didn’t have as awesome as a childhood as I did. That stuff was a hot mess! Imagine silver foil easter grass but all over a christmas tree. We also had the multi colored lights and a silver star on the top also with multi colored lights. It was awesome, I digress. I can almost remember the paper the pound puppy was wrapped in but not quite. What I do remember is that he was brown with his big floppy ears and I loved him. We were so bad about presents we had the tradition of opening a couple of presents usually 1 or 2 on Christmas Eve to try and calm the excitement of Christmas we had. I am not a morning person but Christmas is the one day of the year I am up and ready to go.
So to take it even a step further my parents would show or tell me what they got for each other or my brother and sister and I had the worst time EVER keeping the secrets. I was just as excited for them to get their gift as I was to see what mine were. Eventually they quit telling me so I wouldn’t ruin the surprise. I also have/had a really bad problem with wanting to give gifts the minute I got them whether it was in the mail or from the store. I love getting gifts but opening them makes me feel uncomfortable and awkward. For some reason ‘Thank you’ just doesn’t feel like a strong enough sentiment. I don’t know why but it doesn’t. I LOVE LOVE LOVE giving gifts and seeing people’s faces when they open them, especially my family. Some gifts I am really good at buying but most of the time I struggle. So when I get something I know the person is going to love I get so overly excited about it. My husband will attest to the fact that I can’t wait and he hates it. He always wants to wait until Christmas day or the day of his Birthday to open presents and I hate that because I want to give it to him right then. I feel like over the past few years I have calmed down in this respect immensely. Not sure what caused the change if anything or if I am finally growing up at 39 if that is the case……I don’t wanna grow up I’m a Toy’s R Us kid’ lol sorry I couldn’t help myself. I think the reason is more related to the added pressure and stress of an ever growing family. See I love, love, love Christmas always have it is my second favorite Holiday after Thanksgiving. The only problem is what used to be just me, my siblings, and parents that I had to buy for became for example this year 7 nieces, 3 nephews, 3 kids, husband, in-laws, etc. not to mention the parties I have had. 1 secret santa, and 2 white elephant parties and my husband had 1. You also have the potlucks where you have to make or buy something. Kids have school parties I have to remember to buy things for them to take in. Sports are still going on for my son and work is entering the busiest hardest time of the year. Another part of the problem is procrastination and time blindness because I would always think I had plenty of time and would just do it later to try and avoid the thing in the first place. There is just so much stress and anxiety that comes with Christmas. Did I mention I have ADHD?? Oh and that means I have poor executive functions to start with so I am taking Concerta right now which fingers crossed seems to be working so I am going to stick with it for a while. What are executive functions and what do they have to do with any of what I have been talking about? Well see not only do I have all of these people to buy for, food to make, dates, times, and places to remember and work to do but I have all of the extra stimuli and bad memory, procrastination, and impulse control issues to deal with as well.
So chances are if you are listening to me right now you have ADHD or someone you care about does. Likely you have heard the term executive function before maybe even on another episode pretty sure I have talked about it once or twice. Anyway here is a quick refresher of what they are and what they do.
According to Harvard’s Developing Child site: https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/executive-function/
- Working memory governs our ability to retain and manipulate distinct pieces of information over short periods of time. IE completing a shopping list of 4 items or so without having to write it down
- Mental flexibility helps us to sustain or shift attention in response to different demands or to apply different rules in different settings. When you need to ‘focus’ on one thing but get distracted this is the ability to easily go back to that other thing without missing a step
- Self-control enables us to set priorities and resist impulsive actions or responses. Being able to want something and not buy it just because you want it
Individuals with executive dysfunction often struggle to analyze, plan, organize, schedule, and complete tasks at all — or on deadline. They misplace materials, prioritize the wrong things, and get overwhelmed by big projects. So pretty much the holiday season is hard. Can’t find that gift you hid, misplaced your name tags, forgot to buy that gift your spouse asked you to pick up for the holiday party tonight because it was more important to get the food you needed for the appetizer you weren’t making until Friday. Buying the new iPhone because you just can’t live without it and now don’t have money for all of the gifts you wanted to buy. All of this means guilt, shame, frustration, disappointment. Really is it any wonder this Holiday season makes us more symptomatic? I think not. It also means we have to be even more diligent about all of our systems and structures. We need a Jiminy Cricket now more than ever you know someone to offer us advice or just a friend that can help calm our enthusiasim when shopping to keep us on task.
So remembering all of that plus the fact that when the ADHD brain is overstimulated you could also have what is called sensory processing disorder. I am not a doctor, obviously and have not been diagnosed with this but I tick every box so I am pretty sure this is me. From the ADDitude article Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Sticky! By Terry Matlen According to Lucy Jane Miller, Ph.D., director of the Sensory Processing Treatment and Research Center, in Denver, Colorado, found that “more than half of children suspected to have ADHD had SPD or both conditions.” What are some things that cause overstimulation, well here are the ones that do it for me. https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-sensory-overload-spd-and-adhd-in-children/
- Food textures, think yogurt with fruit in the bottom, fat on meat, etc.
- Bright, flashing, strobe, bright sunny days (I used to get headaches as a kid in the summer) or other lights even the fluorescent lights at work trigger migraines
- Loud noises like fireworks or thunder will do it for some people for me it is more like multiple sources of noise all going at the same time that overload me. An example is the TV on, an instrument playing, my kids talking to me, the fan in the oven, the washing machine or dishwasher running, all of these things going on at the same time scramble my brain and make me want to run away.
- Odors so for me this is Yankee Candle or Bath and Body works or the perfume counters at the mall. I can’t deal with Yankee Candle Bath and Body works is ok in a short spurt of like 15 minutes or so beyond that I can’t take it and will run away.
- Tight or itchy clothes, turtle necks feel like they are suffocating me and wool makes my skin crawl so I try to avoid both like the plague. I do have a couple of merino wool sweaters I regret wearing everytime I do but for some reason continue to do so. Rabbit hair or other animal hair even the fake kind it feels like it’s up my nose in my eyes and I am again suffocating in it so again I stay away.
- Sticky fingers…can’t stand having anything sticky on me anywhere especially my hands. I had to get over this alot since I have kids but sometimes if I touch a substance and it is slimy or sticky I want to vomit. However slime I am ok with for whatever reason but only after it’s been handled for a while and isn’t so slime like.
- Crowds I hate crowds or crowded places the number 1 for me is the Mall on a weekend or anytime between Halloween and Valentines really. Even congested roads make me feel like I am crawling out of my skin. I go to the mall and all I want to do is get from point A to point B do what I came to do without all of the people and get out.
- Medication oh my gosh taking medicine as a kid about killed me especially the family favorite Robutussin that stuff was evil. I would gag and cry and throw the god’s awfullest fit anything to get out of taking it.
Taking the issues with Executive Functions and the Sensory overload into consideration try to imagine what all of this is like at Christmas given what I said about my Christmas this year. Previously my Christmas would go something like this:
Black Friday: Mall with family looking for deals on gifts but having no clue what to get anyone because the stress is too much, I can’t remember anything anyone wanted because I didn’t write it down, and oh look those sweaters are so cute and on sale I need one. Where did everyone go, drop sweater look around frantically through the hoards of people until I find or hear my family somewhere. I make it over to my family only now I feel like a deer in headlights and can only nod and say one word replies to what do I think about this blank for so and so? At this point we are only 20 minutes into the marathon typically 5 hour or more shopping spree. Next store this is the electronics store I wanted to go into because they have the game gear I want in a bundle for sale. Still not bought a single gift for anyone on my list. Many hours later after many loops of the same instances over and over again. I am done and all I want to do is sit in comfy pajamas wrapped in a blanket and watch tv like a vegetable because I can no longer do anything else. My family are all laughing and talking about all of the great deals they got or didn’t get and how they got x amount of there shopping done and maybe would should have a wrapping party. I just want to take a nap. This was about 15 years ago and before having kids and all of the added extra stress.
More recent Christmases looked something like:
Making a list of who I had to buy for what I wanted to get each person and how much I was going to spend. This typically happened 1-2 weeks before Christmas and usually I would only know what to get about half of the people on my list. For a while I made it easy on myself and just buy people clothes from the store I used to work because I could find something for everyone. Others I would get gift cards. I love getting gift cards personally but feel weird and judged giving them even if that isn’t the case. I guess I feel like I have failed because after all it’s the thought that counts right and well how much thought goes into a gift card? (I still love gift cards for anyone listening that wants to know what to get me). I would go overboard on Christmas sometimes too and spend way too much money it actually got me in trouble once or twice. I have toned that down significantly as well. I can’t help it, I just want to make others feel special at Christmas to see their face when they open their gifts, again, it’s about their joy and the look on their face. It’s also about feeling like I did something right for once, something that can make up for maybe some of the things I do wrong all of the time. Like see I do care please don’t hate me because I can’t remember anything, I am always late, distracted all the time, and seem like I don’t care because I promise I do present.
Since getting diagnosed and learning strategies and being on medication I feel like things have gotten better around Christmas. I write everything down in the bullet journal all of my dates and times and places I have to be. I then back that up by putting them in my electronic calendar this helps tremendously with my working memory. I have started shopping earlier so as of today December 15th I am mostly done shopping. We still have a few more presents to buy but we are mostly good. I still have to wrap which I am famous for waiting until Christmas Eve to do. I plan on starting this weekend and doing some every night, wish me luck. I still have stocking stuffers to get as well but I will be doing that this week as well. I was on top of it with all of my parties and kids parties and I had/have everything I needed early. I just have to get the item for my son’s party Thursday but it is on my calendar to do so I am confident I won’t forget that. Probably the number one thing that has helped more than anything is Amazon if it weren’t for amazon and I had to go into these actual stores to buy things I would be way more stressed than I already am. Sometimes I think I have PTSD from my time in retail and many Black Friday trips. I just straight refuse to go black friday shopping anymore I don’t care how good the deal is. My sanity is worth way more.
So I guess to sum it up Christmas as much as I love it is HARD it is STRESSFUL it is OVERWHELMING for a neurotypical for someone with sensory problems, and ADHD, it is crippling at times. So if you have a friend or loved one that seems like they are way behind or struggling or even freaking out whether they are neurotypical or not tis the season to help each other out. Even if it’s something as simple as helping someone think of gift ideas and where to get them.
I wanted to give a few tips that have helped me immensely in hopes that they may help you.
- AMAZON Prime: I can not say this enough it is a wonderful thing for the procrastinator, the person who can’t handle crowds or both. There is literally something for every person on Amazon and with Prime shipping you really can’t beat it.
- Bullet journal: or any planner you will use get one. I tried just using my phone calendar it wasn’t the same. There is scientific evidence that says writing something down helps with remembering it. I firmly believe this. Not only do I use it for keeping up with obligations but I write all of my important things in it. Everything goes there. Christmas lists, everything.
- Write things down throughout the year people mention wanting or liking you know they won’t get for themselves. I just started doing this in the last few months because well like most people with ADHD I think I will remember something if it’s important and then don’t write it down and forget. This has made some of my shopping for a few people easier.
- For white elephant gifts I like to mix things up so for some I say alcohol is good as long as you know there isn’t anyone in the group who doesn’t drink. Coffee, chocolate, gag gifts. I literally found a white elephant at Target a few years ago and took it as a gift turned out someone else had the same idea so there were 2 white elephants at the party.
- Cyber Monday shopping versus Black Friday shopping. Honestly a ton of places seem to still be offering great deals weeks after Black Friday.
- If all else fails, gift cards and don’t feel bad about it.
- For potluck’s I used to want to impress people and make something fancy. Now I have finally started listening to my husband and stick with the same 3 ingredient appetizer for just about everything and everyone loves them. No I won’t tell you what it is because you might steal it so get your own…lol simple is better then stressed.
- Bags with tissue paper: I used to want to wrap presents all fancy like my mom always did but I just don’t have the patience or creativity so unless it’s a pretty straightforward box it is going in a bag with some tissue paper. Yes I will ask you for those bags back too so don’t mess them up. (What? Don’t make that face gift bags are expensive ok?) Also, don’t rip that clothing box because I will reuse that too.
- Don’t wait until the last minute to wrap presents either because then you get no sleep on Christmas Eve…still working on this one.
- If you have to go into a store don’t go alone try to go during the week in the middle of the day more than a week before Christmas. Regardless of when you go though take someone with you. They can keep your mind off some of the stimuli, redirect you if you are not able to focus, and keep your impulses in check. Make sure you have a game plan before you go too. Get your list and write down the stores you need to go to and the quickest route to get things done then stick to it. The structure will help you from stumbling around aimlessly and will get you in and out. My husband and I are going to attempt this when we finish shopping this week. Go Team!
For now I think that pretty much sums it up for me. Apologies for being all over the place but I think you know what I mean. If you have some Christmas stories you want to share or tips, tricks, or Christmas hacks let me know and I will share with the class..lol
The next episode will post December 30th and i will be discussing the dreaded New Year’s Resolutions!! I am toying with a fun idea and will share with you then, can’t wait!
until next time
Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Happy Kwanza, Hanukkah Sameach, Merry Pancha Ganapati, Merry Yuletide, Happy Dong Zhi forgive me if I have mispronounced or left anyone out, Happy Holidays to all during this season!