It's Christmas Day and he's opening the present you’ve bought him. The kids are excited because they’ve ‘helped’ wrap it. He opens it, looks at it, pauses a moment and says…
You know he has Aspergers - that he struggles to understand even his own emotions, that present-giving with all eyes on him waiting for a reaction is particularly pressured for him. But actually, right at that moment, you’re just p****d off. Fed up with having a husband who deflates everyone around him, fed up with having to pander to him and make excuses for him, fed up with him always being miserable. So, even though it’s Christmas Day and you’re in the middle of present-opening and all the kids are there and excited and you don’t want to spoil the day for them, you find you just can’t hold it back.
“What is wrong with you?” you say. “I know you’ve got Asperger's but there’s no excuse for being just bloody rude."
He looks awkward and does a kind of smirk, because he doesn’t know what else to do, and that makes you even madder.
“It’s not funny,” you shout at him, surrounded by wrapping paper and a now crying daughter who’s begging you to stop arguing. “It’s just horrible and rude and it’s now spoiled things for everyone. Why would you say that? Even if it’s not something you want. You must surely know that’s not the right thing to say when you open a present that somebody has brought for you?”
At which point your husband tells you to stop being so sensitive and walks out of the room. And you survey the scene before you of two suddenly quiet boys who’ve developed an intense interest in the game of wildlife scrabble that, two minutes earlier they had cast aside disdainfully as it wasn’t Lego or something with a screen and your daughter who is wiping her tears on her sleeve and you realise that, for their sake as well as your own, you have to come back from this. That you can’t let it write-off Christmas Day. That, actually, for a million different reasons, including the laptop, No.7 toiletry set, pestle and mortar and mini gifts from the kids that he’s bought, wrapped and got the kids to write the labels on for you and the many Christmas social gatherings that he’s come to and forced himself to perform at, you know he loves you and doesn’t mean to mess up so badly. So you kiss the kids, tell them sorry and that it’s going to be fine and you go and find your husband. Although you’re still mad and feel he’s the one that should be apologising, you apologise for your part in the proceedings; for having a go at him on Christmas Day in front of the kids. You tell him that you understand that his Asperger’s makes it difficult for him to know what to say but, of all the things he could have picked to say “Oh dear” was probably the worst. And the steam is taken out of the situation. He apologises too. Says he knows it was a stupid thing to say but that he just couldn’t think of anything else. He admits that he already knew about the present because Ava had given it away two days ago – so he was aware he had to act surprised even though he wasn’t and, it seems, this was too much for his mind to process, along with the pressure of everyone watching him and him being aware there was a kind of protocol that he should be following. He doesn’t know why it was that ‘Oh dear’ came out but you suspect it was an expression of how he felt under the pressure of the situation. After all, Aspies find it hard to edit themselves – what they’re feeling or thinking is generally what comes out while they’re busy trying to think of what they should really be saying!
Christmas Day was saved. Ethan came back into the room, we carried on opening presents. We even kissed in front of the kids to show we weren’t mad with each other. I actually ended up feeling a bit sorry for him – that, even in the relative comfort of his own home with just his family around, he still felt panicked and stressed when he had to play a part that he wasn’t sure of. Is there anywhere, anytime, anyplace that this guy can relax? Oh yes, that’ll be in the office in the dark playing computer games…until I come and have a go at him for shutting himself in there instead of being with his family. Hmmmm….
It ain’t easy! All we can do is keep picking ourselves up and trying again.
I wish all of you, AS or NT and despite the surface-level complications, highs and lows, tears and triumphs, a foundation of happiness, acceptance and peace this new year.