I feel like in the last week or so, I have seen more holiday lights than I ever have in my life. Ever since developing a photosensitive migraine condition six years ago (right around the holiday season), I have often dreaded going to see different light displays. However, I have enjoyed being included in these activities by my family and friends, and today will be sharing some of my tips for surviving holiday lights with photosensitivity.
What do I mean by photosensitivity?
Photosensitivity or photophobia is an aversion to light, either bright lights or flashing lights. Some conditions that may contribute to photosensitivity include epilepsy, ADHD, sensory integration, PTSD, seizures, and other neurological conditions- read more about flashing lights here. I happen to be sensitive to both bright and flashing lights as the result of Chiari Malformation- read more about Chiari here.
Go during the day
When my family and I went to Christmas Town at Busch Gardens, we went during the day and got to see all of the decorations there were, and didn’t have to worry as much about flashing lights. This worked out well…until we were there after the lights turned on and started flashing, and I got a migraine. Whoops.
Call ahead and ask about flashing lights
After hearing about what happened at Christmas Town, my friend invited me to another light display and called to check if there were flickering or flashing lights. Luckily, there were none, and we had an awesome time walking around.
Ask what sections have flashing lights
Most places know their light displays inside and out and can point to specific areas where the lights are blinking or flashing. Marking these on a map or with landmarks can help people enjoy the lights, without the flashing lights.
White vs colors
I find that I am more sensitive to blinking colored lights than I am to white lights, which is why asking for color is important. For me, my biggest triggers are red, green, and blue lights, especially alternating red and blue lights. Red and blue flashing lights paired together are more likely to cause seizures, as seen with a Pokemon episode where the light sequence caused several hundred seizures in children.
Do sunglasses help?
While sunglasses helped with decreasing the brightness of the lights, I found it extremely difficult to navigate, given that it was nighttime and I was in an unfamiliar area. Instead, I just wore my normal tinted glasses.
Drive-Thru light displays
One of my friends who has photosensitivity suggested that if someone in the car has photosensitivity when going to a drive-thru light display that the person should close their eyes, and have someone else check the displays before having the person open their eyes. That way, the person can at least see some of the lights.
Don’t wear clothing with flashing lights
It appears wearing clothing and jewelry with flashing lights is popular with visitors to light displays. My family and friends would alert me to passerbys dressed in flashing lights and I would close my eyes until they passed.
Understand you might have to leave early
As soon as the flashing lights started getting intense in Christmas Town, my mom and I had to make a beeline out of the park and go to the car to rest. Similarly, I had to rest at times from walking through the garden of lights with my friends. Find the nearest rest places and exits when attending events like this.
I appreciate that my family and friends were able to include me and my photosensitivity in their plans to celebrate the holiday season. I hope that you are able to find people just like them this season.