Gifts Are Better Than Presents

Something I am not sure anyone in my family ever understood is that I did not enjoy the performative aspects of Christmas or birthdays. I can’t imagine I ever mentioned it, because enjoying Christmas and birthdays is what people did.

The problem for me is that unexpected and unknown things have always caused me distress, whether or not I was aware of that fact at the time, and that’s been getting worse as the weight piles up on my life as I try to deal with an autism diagnosis that hit when I was forty-six. That’s a lot of life you suddenly need to re-examine and re-contextualize, because when you’re diagnosed that late it’s not just about the present (no pun) it’s about the past.

I hated the opening of presents. It didn’t matter whether it was me or someone else. It was all on public display, with attentions glued and expectations about the response waiting to be fulfilled. It was a nightmare.

Even later on, with relatives granting permission to just throw things out if they aren’t something I want, that’s all wrapped up in the expectations of typical society, topped off with guilt because you’re supposed to be graciously grateful that someone thought you might like this or that. No one is out there hoping you throw away what they have you. It’s taken me decades to shed some of the things people gave me.

I need control over things that are easily controlled, like what comes into my apartment, what literal, actual, physical things I own and are in my life and my space, because there’s too much else out there that I can’t have control over. I get the intent of presents but as with so much else impact often trumps intent.

Everyone loves presents! Everyone needs surprise stuff to open for Christmas! I don’t. I need predictability and awareness. I need to be aware of what’s coming into my life, and other people need to be aware that what I really need is for them not to decide or guess what I might want in that regard.

This is why the internet invented the Amazon wishlist. Gifts are great. But presents? The word itself says why I don’t want them: they are presentational. The stresses of that are too high.