Ever since I found out about my Asperger’s my life has really changed… Or better said, my perception of life changed. Suddenly everything started to make sense, all the answers I never thought I’d get were just coming and I even found lots of people that spoke my language who were looking for the same answers. It was very enlightening and liberating as most of you who are reading this are already are very much aware of and have gone through the same (or a similar) experience.
After feeling engulfed by this wave of energy and excitement, that only such a life changing experience can bring, I moved on to my “second phase”, that is, trying to fill in the blanks, to explain and classify differences of behaviors and needs between us and the neurotypicals. Doing this mostly through metaphors. And oh, I do love my metaphors as they became my voice when I needed to explain things that were too complex in a way everybody could understand.
Inside this need of mine to “metaphorize” things (yes, I also love to make up words, apparently there are not enough in existence to express the nuances of my feelings), I started to think of a better way to describe what social interactions represented to me. Why are they so puzzling and hard but leave me so exhausted afterwards, even when I’m interacting with people I really like. Even if I’m enjoying their company.
After a lot of thought, I realized that at different levels plus considering the different requirements of a social interaction, everyone will feel the same way as I do at some point in their life. People from different groups will usually feel lost and overwhelmed when alone and interacting with other groups who are different from themselves. These groups could be defined by income, cultural backgrounds, hobbies, political views, eating habits, geographical localization, you name it… That brought me closer to a good metaphor, but inside these group differences, what situation would be more universally familiar to neurotypicals, and would really help me explain my predicament?
After a lot of thought, it hit me: formal events! They usually:
- Require a lot of preparation
- Are full of rules that you absolutely need to follow (dress codes, how to behave, the kind of language that is considered appropriate and so on…)
- Make those who are not so used to formalities very anxious and self-aware
- Are much easier to endure with good, trustworthy company.
Just to add an extra layer of requirements, we could narrow the type of event down to a more specific one: formal dinner parties, as these bring a little more stress to a formal event. In this case, you have to consider the specific table settings (special cutlery, glasses), table manners, the possibility of having to eat some very exotic food that might be utterly disgusting or just too weird and having to share your table with strangers that might be really annoying.
Well, mostly everyone would agree that these kind of events are stressful and require preparation, even when they are interesting and you end up enjoying yourself. Neurotypicals can relate to that. So now, I can make my point: I live in a never-ending dinner party. My autistic brain is always anticipating, preparing itself, stressing over all this interactions from daily life that are just not natural. My life is a formal event full of rules for which I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t get the memo with the formal requirements. I didn’t read “tips to bliss through the event” (or anything along those lines) in a magazine. Nobody taught me the rules to be able to go through the “life” event without feeling so clueless (and often embarrassed). And that’s because it’s all natural to others. There is no need for them to be prepared. It is the nature of their brains, but not mine.
So that list we went through above when talking about formal events are my list for “human interaction events”. Again they:
Require a lot of preparation
- Are full of rules that I should follow (and nobody explained to me)
- Make me very anxious and self-aware
- Are much easier to endure with good, trustworthy company.
It is hard and more often than not very frustrating, because it’s basically every interaction, not just a formal event that happens once in a while. I do not know what to do, how much of it to do. “Am I being too bland? Too intense? Am I using the correct words? The correct tone? Are people understanding what I wanted to say or did it just come off in the wrong way? Are they enjoying my company? Am I amusing? Boring? Oh my God, I think they hate me. What was it that somebody just asked me that I could not process on time because my mind was filled with all of these questions…?” It is all of that and it is hard work!
So now (I hope) it would be easier to understand why all of this is so demanding. But that raises an important question: Does it mean I cannot enjoy it? That I cannot cherish the company of other people or have moments of real fun in between? No. Just like any person that would be stressed out with all the extra requirements in a formal event but enjoy it nevertheless, I can have fun and be happy while attending it. It might be just stressful but it might as well be stressful and fun in alternate moments. I am just not naturally aware of social requirements. They are too strange, too alien… So I have to memorize them, try to understand them. The same way somebody would have to research table manners, dress codes and trendy topics to go through a formal event, I just might have to do my research for any interaction.
And I will keep doing it. Sometimes it will be hard, others a little easier. Because I still love my friends and my family. I want to make contact. When I try to explain all of this to other people, it comes off as if I don’t want their company. But it’s not about the desire to do it; it is about the difficulties that it presents. It’s not about not liking to be there, to share experiences. It’s just about experiencing it all in such a wildly different (and overwhelming) way. And in the end it is very important for me that others understand that having to go through all of that, just to be able to be with them, is the ultimate proof of how important they are to me.
About Renata Jurkevythz
I’m a 35 year old recently diagnosed Aspie. Married to a neurotypical for 14 years. Mother of three – a 9 year old Aspie girl, 3 year old classic autistic boy and a little baby boy. I found out about my neurology last year after my son was diagnosed and I started to dig deep into autism. Then my daughter’s diagnosis followed. We are a unique, happy bunch and try to make the best of what we have. We see different brains as just different, all with positives and negatives – there isn’t a wrong one! We are from Brazil but now we are moving to Germany. My special interests are writing, learning languages, games and movies. I also love forests – they bring me peace. Things that make me instantly happy are the sound of singing birds (specially Seagulls) and children laughing.