When Manon Legault realized her holiday plans would be halted, she jumped up and down like a little kid. It’s what she does when she gets excited. The Montrealer is autistic and has multiple sclerosis — and Christmas takes a lot out of her.
Her holiday panic attacks typically start in mid-November, a limitless list of worries piling up.
“I’m thinking, ‘Who are we are going see? Who is going to be there? Is there going to be an escape I can go to while I’m there?'” she said. “All the lights, all the screaming of little kids, all the colours, all the commotion. I sleep for three days after like a three-hour event.”
As COVID-19 cases soar, politicians and health officials are begging people to cancel large-scale holiday plans and to not visit extended family or friends. While many are bummed, it’s a relief for Legault.
“It means that I can be comfy at home, we can watch movies and cuddle my boyfriend,” she said. “I don’t have to just pretend I’m something I’m not for hours on end. I can just be me in my PJs and it’s just perfect.”
Legault has been revelling the lockdown lifestyle. She and her boyfriend were already introverts but now they have an excuse to stay in, watching TV and reading good books.
“I am not looking forward to going back out there,” she laughs. “[You’ve got to] learn to love yourself and to be OK with yourself alone.”
Family gatherings ‘a little bit daunting’
Jase Cole lives alone in Toronto and won’t be seeing anybody on Christmas Day. And like Legaut, they don’t mind. They have social anxiety, made much worse at holidays with a large extended family.
Normally, Cole’s holiday strategizing would start early, with a plan to get in and out of a family event at the right time, something they don’t have to worry about this year.
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“I love my family but just myself and my personality with large groups of people, even if I’ve known them my whole life, can be a little bit daunting,” they said. “I identify as non-binary as well. Having to navigate misgendering, even within my family … it is a triggering experience.”
They’ve plotted out a plan to keep busy over the holidays — Cole calls it a “mental health safety plan.” That includes Zooming with family, ordering dinner and watching the new Wonder Woman movie, which comes out Christmas Day. They are a mega DC Comics fan.
“[Wonder Woman] just set up my whole day a little bit. My mother even called and said, ‘Well, you’ll be fine now!'”
They feel a sense of relief about not having to gather this year.
“It’s important for people who live with anxiety … to be as authentic as possible,” they said. “I think [that means] acknowledging those feelings and trying to not have guilt around them.”
‘No pressure and no guilt’
The holidays are typically one of the busiest times of the year for Erinn Delorenzi. She and her husband run a bakery in Thunder Bay, where the rush starts in November.
The business has long gotten in the way of the holidays — in the past, she’s found herself putting up the tree on Christmas Eve. So she’s eager for this year’s change of pace.
“We just decided this is a year with no obligations and no pressure and no guilt. I mean, every Christmas should be like that,” she said. “This is a big deal.”
She and her family are keeping to themselves, destined to keep COVID-19 out of their business. They are hoping to start some new family traditions too, making lists of things they hope to watch, eat and do together over the holidays.
She wants to sleep in and go cross country skiing, two things that wouldn’t happen over the holidays if it weren’t for COVID-19.
“My rule is as soon as we are closed on Christmas Eve, I don’t want to talk about business until Boxing Day,” she said. “I need to recover … I’ve decided already, it’s non-negotiable.”