The holiday season is upon us once again. The holidays are seen by many as a time of great joy, family, friends, and a last hurrah before winter. Some revel in and love the holidays. For others, it comes as a mix bag, while some dread it altogether. Each holiday brings it traditions and rituals, joys and annoyances. In some respects, this year will be no different. But in many aspects, the holidays will bring new challenges and experiences as we continue battling COVID-19.
In any given year, the holidays mean a lot of different things for different people. They can be a religious celebration; a festive time of year full of merry and wonder; an opportunity to gather with family you don’t usually see or with your chosen family.
The season can also bring anxiety, loneliness and stress. Getting everything done, cooking that big meal, budgeting for gifts. Let’s be honest, sometimes it includes spending time with people you may not like who have prodding questions, are quick to judge or disagree with you on a number of subjects. For those who have seasonal affective disorder, the change of pace during the holidays makes it even tougher. Some people still have to work on holidays or cannot be home with family. It will also be the first year without a family member for many.
For me, the holidays are a mixed bag. I love my family and the time spent with them. I won’t lie though – the change in routine, especially on the days off like Thanksgiving and Christmas, throw me off. While I enjoy the excitement, sometimes the days don’t always live up to the hype and feel a bit slow or quiet. I’m also anxious to get the right gifts for others because I want people to know I care. New Year’s and my birthday soon after mark the passing of time, getting older, and the good times, but also missed opportunities from that year and throughout my life. Like many others, I experience seasonal depression, and experts are predicting this will be amplified this year.
This year also brings the added stress of safety and extra planning. My family hasn’t seen my sister and her husband for over a year. We all really want to gather for the holidays, but to try and do this safely requires is a lot more effort, planning and time. Time to quarantine. Time to drive versus flying.
The hardest part for me though, as a person who doesn’t love change, are the precautions we will take to stay safe this year. It will be quite different from past years if family members stay somewhere else or, if staying with us, keeping distanced and potentially masked around each other. And there is the lingering worry of our risks: my parents are both over the age of 65, I am a cancer survivor and, as someone with a disability, may be at the back end of getting care. We also would never want to pass the virus on to someone else. Because of these factors and because COVID is spiking right now, potentially even more during the holidays, it is quite probable that we will end up having Thanksgiving and family activities over zoom.
These decisions are facing all of us this holiday season and especially impact people with disabilities. The effects of COVID-19 have been tougher on people with disabilities and concerns about rationing of care can put people with disabilities at the end of the line. Those who live with others and have support staff have had to work even harder to stay safe. This is true this holiday season too.
We should all be able to see all families or visit someone’s home and have happy holidays. But to do that, we must take precautions and make sure we are safe not only for ourselves but for those who we live or work with. It’s also okay to say no to gatherings and choose what you are comfortable with, even if that means having Thanksgiving dinner and other holiday activities over Zoom. On the bright side, this could be the year to create new holiday traditions and, for some, have a relaxing holiday without all the hustle and bustle.
Whatever your holidays look like this year, try to make space for something new and give yourself and others some grace.
Jason Harris is Director of Strategic Operations at LADD. He is also founder of Jason’s Connection, a non-profit and online community for individuals with disabilities, mental health, aging and diverse abilities and needs. As a neurodiverse individual on the autism spectrum, Jason knows firsthand the challenges faced by individuals in finding supports to assist them to live their lives in a way that meets their needs and goals. Jason has a master’s degree in Cultural Foundations of Education and a Certificate of Advanced Disability Studies from Syracuse University.