It’s not social anxiety, it’s Aspergers. I don’t have social anxiety, I have anxiety about being social. To me this is not a matter of semantics. My reticence about social gatherings is not a phobia, it is quite rational. For me my anxiety is not about dealing with a social situation of and in itself, it’s about having to deal with my Aspergers. All the hard wired bits of my brain called perception (the organization, identification and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the environment), that work differently than people who do not have Aspergers, such as sensory overload, awkwardness, difficulty in interpreting other peoples physical and verbal nuances (mindblindness), these are the seeds of my anxiety about being social. I’m not afraid to be social, I’m challenged by it.
If well prepared I sometimes look forward to a social event, like a wedding reception. However, I try to preperceive and practice my behaviors to appear more conventional, like my responses in a conversation, how I’m going to smile, try not to stimm, consider how I’m going to break eye contact without appearing “shifty” (I got the eye contact thing down to a science . I do this because I am aware of and in agreement with what is considered socially appropriate.
Such hyper vigilance and self containment over my idiosyncrasies has a price. In a high sensory social situation I can keep up appearances for about an hour and a half to two hours, tops. However, once I’ve reached or exceeded my threshold, my resolved irrevocably starts to disintegrate. It’s not like I’m watching the clock and I think to my self, “Times up, the glass slipper can fall off now”. My dis-integration manifests physically. Usually, it starts with me slurring or stammering my words. Then suddenly I can’t understand what another person is saying to me, like they’re speaking another language. Sensations become intense, the light in the room becomes brighter, everything sounds louder, smells (even good ones) are unbearable. People’s conversations, their words, itch and scratch against my skin. All these sensations become an uncomfortable pressure against my body.
I start to hold my breath and steel myself against the onslaught, I try to hold out just a little longer because I want to be part of the crowd. I want to be socially graceful. I want to be just like those well sensory integrated people whose brains do not perceive the world’s stimuli as chaos, discordance, dissonance and cacophony. Wanting and trying to be like other people past my tolerance is always a mistake.
From there rises irritability, physical clumsiness (proprioception), and the potential for shutdown, or worse case scenario, meltdown. Through many years of adaption (I was diagnosed at age 34), I’m self-actualized enough to know when I need to seek a quiet room for a time-out, or to start nudging my husband. Time-outs are preferable, but not sustainable. A 15 to 20 minute social hiatus can extend my resolve for maybe another hour, but depending on where I am, they are not always an appropriate method. If I’m visiting my mom, and she has friends over, it’s okay for me to take a break in her bedroom. If I’m at my husband’s coworker’s house for a Christmas party, not okay to use the bedroom. There is always the bathroom, but people start to wonder either about why I disappeared for 15 minutes or about why I was in the bathroom for 15 minutes, so not a good idea. In unfamiliar territory, retreat is the better part of valor.
I’ve already started prepping myself for a big event I attended last year, a convention for my favorite show “Supernatural”. For me to attend such an event, hours within days of exponential sensory stimulation is unmitigated masochism, or is it? Last year, within the sensory kaleidoscope, there was ample opportunity and place to break from the frenzy, but I mentioned for me time-outs are not sustainable. Last year I could endure because I only attended for one day. This year, it will be three days, but I have the advantage of the experience from last year, plus I’m staying at the hotel where the convention will be held. If time-outs need to become a retreat, I’ll be well prepared.
Christmas Eve and Christmas were wonderful, I enjoyed myself greatly, and stimmed happily. However, I was flooded with a tsunami of constant sensory stimuli that I thought I handled well until today. Back at work, and engaged in my routine, I experienced a type of listless dysthymia. I was aloof, achy, and I felt like I was hung over (which I was not). Every responsibility I engaged in was an arduous struggle, and mentally exhausting, although I was only doing my usual work which was not normally a challenge. I remember that I experience this sort of ‘crash’ when I come out of the movie theater after watching a movie. It’s like my mind is not processing properly the sensory information it is receiving. It was everything in my power to keep from face-planting into my keyboard. At home now, still feeling hollowed out and more numb than achy, I’m hoping a good meal and early bedtime will ease me out of my post holiday funk.
…Continued from “My Meltdown & Supernatural Con. that Almost Never Was”…
I was fully enveloped in the thralls of a meltdown, the best analogy to how it felt was something akin to the symptoms of shock, but the two physical events are not related.
So, I’m crouched on the ground, hugging my knees to my chest, shivering and rocking. My husband has now taken over, and I’m screaming at him every time he comes near me. He was informed that he needs to call the state police, and they will use their wrecker. Swell, but we’re in New Jersey, what are we suppose to do, have the wrecker take us all the way back to the Berkshires?
While we wait for the wrecker Husband finds out where the closest Hyundai dealership is so we can have the wrecker take us there. He calls them, and finds out that they close (just 20 minutes away), but will be closing at 6pm. We only had an hour and a half. However, even if we got there before they closed, there was no way they were going to fix (if they could fix) whatever was wrong with the vehicle right away. So I started to go into crisis panic mode because I could not rationally perceive how we were going to get to the convention on Sunday. We couldn’t even rent a car, all the rental places were closed until Monday.
So the clock is ticking, and Hell is mile marker 33 on the New York State Thruway. The wrecker eventually shows up, Husband and I squish into the front cab. Since I’m smaller than my Husband, I have to sit awkwardly next to the grizzly, hygienically challenged, racist (he said the “N” word), driver. However, we arrived at the dealership just in time, but they would not be able to look at the vehicle until Monday. Fine, whatever, but how do we get to our hotel? The manager had several business cards of taxi services on hand. I could have kissed him.
To be continued…
I so don’t do verbal well at all, giving, or receiving: as a favor my boss verbally asked me to simply make copies of reference guide A. I do so happily. I mean I just stand there, press a button & the copier does all the work, couldn’t get easier. Well, after 30 minutes of copying & collating the guide I deliver it to her office, & then go back to my desk. Well, after 10 blithe minutes go by, it hits me. My boss had asked me to make copies of reference guide B, not guide A. Doh! Fortunately, she has a sense of humor, & she knows I have Aspergers.
When I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome last year I promised myself not to use it as an excuse, but as an opportunity for self awareness and self improvement. Two of my major hurtles to overcome is my social awkwardness and sensory issues. So I joined the flash mob dance at work, nothing like hitting a challenge head on. Flash mob dance practice consists of all the dancers to gather in the same room and go over the dance steps in time with the music. Did I mention that I have poor body spacial awareness, and if I didn’t have lousy coordination I wouldn’t have any coordination at all.
I’m the only aspie in the room. How do I know this, because everyone is socializing in their respective cliques, and among other cliques with ease. I am the only one in the room that’s on the outside looking in. Watching people like I’m a stranger in a foreign country, swaying from side to side where I stand near the wall. So I’m already failing to address my social awkwardness, except for the fact that I remained there despite not being able to relate to anyone socially. My sensory issues also assault me, I’m a little unnerved by how everyone smells. Their breath, their body odor, their perfume. I’m trapped inside a mushroom cloud of olfactory chaos. However, I step up, and step into line.
Even though I’m surrounded by people, we’re not pressed against each other because we need room to dance. It’s taking me a little longer to learn the dance steps than everyone else, they go right I go left, I clap when I should be snapping, and I snap when I should be clapping, I also lose my balance a few times for no apparent reason. However, I do indeed learn all the moves correctly, except I can’t get the timing right. I’m going too fast and entering the next step on the wrong beat, or I’m going too slow and I scramble to enter into the next move. I also do not have any grace, rhythm, or groove to my movements. I’m wooden, stiffly going through the motions without any charisma. With all that I have against me, I don’t quit, as I use to do before. I even stay a half hour longer to rehearse.
Thursday is the big day, and I may not be the most socially adjust, or dexterous dancer out there among the crowd, but at least I will be there, and for me that’s a lot.
When I got diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome last year I made a promise to myself that I would not use the diagnosis as an excuse, but as an opportunity to make different choices in my life. One of them was, not to let me sensory issues, social awkwardness, or poor body spacial awareness (I’m clumsy) hold me back. So I did the most masochistic think I’ve ever done to myself, I bought tickets to Supernatural Con. Supernatural is a fictional television show comprised of rock music, classic cars, and prolific actors. It’s my escape from the dissonance and anxiety of everyday life.
For five months my excitement about going to the con. mounted, though everyday I had to make a concerted effort to stifle the impending trepidation that threatened to weaken my resolve. Finally, August came and with my husband, we were on our way. About two hours into a three hour drive to our hotel in NJ, the worse case scenario happened, our almost new very reliable vehicle broke down, and the advent of my meltdown began.
We were on the NY state thruway, a long way from home, in “no man’s land” when the vehicle lurched and sputtered long enough for us to pull into a truck stop. Not only was this an unfortunate circumstance, but it was hotter than Hell outside. I was prepared though, I had a fully charged cell phone, and roadside assistance. My immanent Chernobyl moment grew closer when the roadside assistance operator ask for the address of our location. Luckily, as I mentioned before, we were at a truck stop. So hubby and I trekked from one side of the 1/4 mile parking lot in the blazing sun made exponentially hotter by the blacktop, to the gas station on the other side of the lot. We went into the tiny gas hovel and asked the sales associate, a bleached white haired, black eye lined, dressed all in black goth looking woman, for the address. She was just simply mean. The first time I asked for the address, she just rolled her eyes, huffed and didn’t answer me. The second time I asked she snarled, “If you have roadside assistance, don’t bother, you’ll be just spinning your wheels.” Then I exasperated incredulously, “So you won’t give me the address!” Finally, the woman barked “Mile marker 33!” To which I replied, “Thanks for not helping!” and left. Sorry, taking the high road and being the better person were not top of my list at that moment.
Another scorching trek, we went into the McDonalds which was a vibrant discordance of people, smells, colors, textures, and a cacophony of noise. I had entered a kaleidoscope that was inside a nightmare. I felt the crack in my internal nuclear reactor grow wider. We asked two McDonalds employees for the address, before a manager kindly stepped up, printed one of their receipts that had the address on it because it was too loud to hear, and gave it to us. Grateful for the assistance, back out of the frying pan and intot he fire we went. Standing by the shade of a tree I tell the operator our address.
Now while I’m talking on the phone, my husband is talking to me, and I can’t hear what the operator is saying, so I bite his head off. From this point on, everything he does is pissing me off, because it doesn’t make sense to me why someone would talk to someone while that person is on the phone. The operator puts me on hold while she looks up the address and tries to find a tow truck. We walk back through the inferno to our vehicle, and stood off to the side where we found some shade.
Twenty five tense minutes later, breath bated with anticipation, the operator comes back on and tells me we are in a restricted area, and we would have to call the state police for assistance. At that point I went full Chernobyl. I handed my husband the phone, crouched down, huddled into a ball with my arms wrapped tightly around my legs, started shaking, while I rocked myself back and forth.
To be continued…
I was just diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome last year. It was hard growing up not quite like everyone else. Looking back, if there was a majic pill I could take that would make me more similar to other people, knowing what I know now, I would not take it. I still get frustrated with myself when I cannot connect with or relate to my peers, & I still have uncomfortable feelings of being out of place. However, I think awareness of my autism/aspergers has helped me to improve myself I think more than methods that would merely treat symptoms. Awareness has improved my self esteem. I’m almost 35 & now is the first time I can remember actually liking myself. I don’t think biomedical therapies can improve that intrinsic & fundamental part of a person’s psyche that needs to be nurtured. If I take an aspirin for a headache, it does make the headache go away, but it does not make me a better person. Only learning about & accepting who I am, practicing non judgment of myself & others, can make me a better person despite having Aspergers. I am making my peace with the characteristics and challenges of the syndrome. Choosing to integrate with my idiosyncrasies, rather than wanting to eradicate them. However, that is what works for me as an individual. If another individual prefers biomedical approaches, that is as a legitimate and good approach as any to manage their personal experience with autism. Autism/Aspergers or otherwise, everyone has the right to choose the treatment that they think will work best for themselves.
At work we are grouped into cubicles, with four people to a cube space. Our region is very chatty, except for me. I have no judgment about small talk, as a matter of fact I wish I had the ability to interact with my peers, but it is literally an excruciating exercise for me. The person who sits next to me has a comment for ever bit of minutia that takes place in a given day. Usually, people respond, but if those more socially adjusted people are away, there’s only her and me. I, of course, am not as responsive to her observations. So my silence creates an awkward space, which I do not have the wherewithal to reconcile. Small talk for me is physically uncomfortable, my body feels like it’s being squished and drained. Not to mention all the exponential variables of trying to understand their body language, voice inflection, facial expressions, are they being literal or facetious. Then there is the agony of being trapped in a conversation regarding a subject you just don’t relate to, how do you come up with the appropriate responses for that situation. I simply do a lot of nodding and um-humming. Of course there is the ever present problem of eye contact, which I think I got licked. I simply look up to the right or left as if I’m contemplating deeply what the other person is saying. Anyway, a simple less than 5 minute chat is exhausting, all I can think about is I would rather be anywhere than caught in the jaws of a trivial conversation, and the whole time my inner #aspie is screaming, “make the pain stop”!
I have wished not to have Asperger’s, but to be honest, despite having AS, the only person that ever held me back was me. Not saying being teased or bullied didn’t help my perception, but it was also “NTs” that encouraged me to grow. Getting diagnosed last year was not a means to give me an excuse, but an opportunity to improve. Though, I still sometimes wish I didn’t have Aspergers, I try not to wallow in my socially contrary nuances, but try to improve on the aspects of my being that are unique to my own special kind of grace (which is a work in progress).