Caregiving: Hogswatch Special

With just eleven days until Hogswatch, it seemed like the time had come for a Caregiving Hogswatch Special. (Yes, Hogswatch. I’m attempting to avoid The C Word.) Hogswatch is a wonderful time of year. A time for gifts, good food and decorations galore. A time for stress, anxiety and meltdowns.

In the Juniper Household, Hogswatch is the only “big” holiday that there is. We enjoy birthdays, but they aren’t a big event and being in the United Kingdom, there aren’t the likes of Thanksgiving to contend with. But any “˜event’ has the potential to be difficult, and ours is usually Hogswatch.

Stability is a big part of Mr. Juniper keeping well and Hogswatch does a fantastic job of disrupting that stability. That it happens to fall on the same day each year is one thing that Hogswatch does have going for it. So in light of that, I start talking seriously about Hogswatch in November. It means being able to help Mr. Juniper prepare. This goes for anything big. Preparation means fewer surprises, and if there’s anything that’s going to bring on a meltdown, it’s a surprise.

Hogswatch is a time when people are given licence to make the world as visually and aurally overwhelming as they can. Whenever Mr. Juniper has been thrust into a situation where the likes of decoration and noise have been ramped up, I don’t need him to tell me he’s struggling, I can see the effect it’s having on him. For instance, being out on the high street amongst Hogswatch shoppers. It simply gets to be too much. Mr. Juniper isn’t able to cope, and we end up heading towards meltdown country. This doesn’t just go for the outside world, it goes for home, too, and is more significant when home is meant to be a safe haven.

The talk of decorations began when I told Mr. Juniper I was ordering snowman bunting. I think he knew that come hell or high water, the snowman bunting would be going up. There is balance to this though, in that Mr. Juniper knows I’m not going to push him. The only other decorations would be a wreath and our Hogswatch tree. From when the tree went up, I could see Mr. Juniper having a small moment to himself and having to take deep breaths, but we took things slowly. Without fanfare, just fun, Juniper Junior and I put up decorations. I had dried orange slices and brought more ribbon a couple of days earlier. It’s partly preparation for myself, but also a means of gently easing Mr. Juniper into the Hogswatch spirit. It was a couple of days more before Juniper Junior and I were finished baking and decorating the gingerbread for the tree. It was long enough, that with Juniper Junior asking his Daddy for help, that Mr. Juniper was able to help Juniper Junior put the gingerbread on the tree and enjoy doing so.

As part of managing the stresses that arise during Hogswatch, I suggested we have Hogswatch dinner on Boxing Day, instead of trying to do gifts and a big meal all in one day. It was like seeing a weight lifted from his shoulders. It meant we could take the day gently, and taking the day gently is one of our priorities, even with a four-and-a-half-year-old.

December is a difficult time for Mr. Juniper anyway, due to his past, but December lends itself to being difficult anyway. The world at large is that little more overwhelming and right after Hogswatch, there is Hogmanay to contend with, too. This holiday period means that the health centre is closed for two days around Hogswatch and again for Hogmanay. We’ve already had the medication discussions and know that he isn’t going to be left without when the pharmacy is closed, otherwise there would have been a visit to the doctor before Hogswatch to get medication organised. The health centre and pharmacy may only be closed for two days, but psychiatric medication (like so many) can rarely be stopped and started suddenly. Two days without medication could be horrendous.

Two days without ordinary access to support has the potential to be hard, too, and, unlike a difficult weekend where it’s a case of making it to Monday, holidays mean waiting that little bit longer or having to consider accessing out-of-hours support. To have this happen again a week later? It’s all the more reason for trying to take things gently, though alongside that, trying to be a little more aware than usual of how Mr. Juniper’s doing, so that if things aren’t great, we can do something about it as soon as possible, before it snowballs.

Then there is December 25th itself. As already mentioned, the aim is to take the day gently. Mr. Juniper and I have talked several times about how the day will hopefully go, again, in an attempt to avoid surprises. Juniper Junior will be waking up with a present at the end of his bed but the presents under the tree will be left there until late morning. To be greeted by gift giving happening all at once, and first thing in the morning, would be too much for Mr. Juniper. So my family tradition of not opening presents until late morning has been carried on, and with good reason. Mr. Juniper has a chance to wake up and get his bearings, and I have a chance to make pancakes so that Juniper Junior has plenty of energy for all the present opening later on. If the weather holds, my family will join us, but, in turn, that means more people in the house. Our way of dealing with this is Mr. Juniper knowing he can take time out if things get too much, and disappear for a couple of minutes before joining us all again.

Given there have been rather a few mentions of gift giving, perhaps gifts themselves warrant a few words? I would love to say that gift giving itself is nothing but loveliness, and to an extent it is, but it remains something that Mr. Juniper does struggle with. Not in the most noticeable of ways, but I can see little surprise after little surprise take a toll on him. I know he loves getting gifts, and giving gifts, too. But it is, to put it simply, a lot for him to take in. There is wrapping paper and ribbon everywhere. There is Juniper Junior bouncing around with his presents. There is my family, too. Opening gifts, giving gifts, and giving thanks. Like being out on the high street, in the midst of Hogswatch shoppers, it can be a little overwhelming with all that’s going on around him.

A lot of this comes down to two things: knowing limits and accepting limits. I know Mr. Juniper’s limits pretty well and accepting them means having a better Hogswatch than if I ignored them. The difference between whether or not I accept them is massive. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, either. It’s being aware of all that our Hogswatch entails and finding what works for us. Finding what helps our Hogswatch be a happy one.

By Juniper

Rarely to be found without herbal tea nearby. Team Unicorn. Often in pyjamas. Also: TEAM KATNISS!

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