Autism and Socialising

I avoid socialising like the plague because I am socially challenged, phobic, whatever. However, on occasion, I’ve forced myself to be sociable in order to try and fit in, often with disastrous consequences.

This was one such occasion..

Sometime in the 1990s

I found myself agreeing to meeting up with my work colleagues for a drink.

Needless to say, NIGHTMARE!

I don’t remember how I got to the pub. What I do remember is feeling all those fight or flight symptoms that my body produces when it thinks it’s in danger.

The danger of having to walk into an unfamiliar building.

The danger of having to locate my work colleagues without the aid of a mobile phone.*

The danger of having to act ‘normal’.

I walked into the pub. I was possibly only standing there for a few minutes, but it might as well have been hours. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t see any familiar faces. I was aware I was being stared at. Plus, my shoes were pinching the shit out of me. I was just about to adopt the flight aspect of the stress response when I saw one of my colleagues waving at me.

Flight was no longer an option.

There were seven girls including me. I say girls – we were all in our 20s but I was the oldest. I was also the only one who was married and who had children so I was already on a different ‘page’, as it were.

I refused a drink. This was met with some funny looks. I mean, who refuses a drink in a pub, right?

I sat fiddling with stuff in my handbag and concentrated very hard on not throwing up.

No doubt somebody offered me a crisp. It was a pub. People offer crisps. It’s what people do.

I’d have said: ‘No thanks’.

I’d have thought: ‘I’m actually struggling to swallow at the moment, so I might choke on the fucking thing and one of you might have to do that humping me from behind move to get me to cough it up. That or phone for an ambulance.’

Not that I overthink things at all..

I just sat there trying to nod and smile in the appropriate places, as you do.

After about five minutes (which felt like five hours) a man appeared in front of me, smiling, and said, “Hi, (my name) you remember me don’t you?”

All I could manage was a vacant stare.

I’ve had random people approach me in the street and say stuff like, ‘SMILE LOVE! IT’LL NEVER HAPPEN!’ so I wondered if this was one of those times?

Or maybe he was pissed?

The difference was that THIS man knew my name and was coming out with details about me.

My brain was working overtime trying to place this person. Why couldn’t I remember? What was wrong with me? Was I having a stroke?

What happens when I’m stressed is that my words don’t come out right. I mix them up or say something I don’t mean to say. Or the words don’t come out at all. I need time to process before I speak in social situations. There was no time here. I was in a situation and my brain couldn’t handle it.

My body went into panic mode.

I could feel the stress response flooding my entire being. My face was burning and I could feel cold sweat running down my upper arms. You know those embarrassing sweaty patches that appear on the underarms of your shirt? That. With bells on.

My heart was thumping out of my chest.

My mouth was dryer than a camels hoof.

I wanted to vomit.

I needed a really BIG wee.

My eye tic kicked in.

My body was reacting as if a drooling tiger was standing in front of me. I was powerless to stop what was happening to my body. Nor could I run from it. I had no option but to endure it..

In the background, I that noticed the other girls were nudging each other doing that giggling thing that a lot of girls do. They looked at me, then they’d look away and giggle some more.

*confused face*

I wanted to run as fast as my size fours would carry me but I couldn’t move.

During fight or flight some people run, others fight. Some just freeze.

I froze.

I’m a freezer.

Freezing is generally a primeval attempt to stop a predator from seeing you. The problem was that the predator had not only seen me, but was tucking into my innards – theoretically speaking. I think this means that should I find myself in the direct line of an articulated lorry – I may quite likely be run over.

I don’t remember anything after that, as is the case with anything traumatic.

Some of you might read this and think ‘Traumatic? Oh get a grip you silly cow!’

I get that it sounds ridiculous but you’ll either understand this or you won’t but the definition of traumatic is deeply disturbing or distressing.

To me, it was traumatic and my body reacted accordingly.

Some days later, one of the girls confessed that they’d asked the man to act as if he knew me – for a laugh.

I was the joke.

Am I missing something here?

Were those girls being funny?

Or were they being mean?

To this day, I don’t know.

I never went out with them again.

Why would I want to?

I didn’t understand their language. They literally giggled at EVERYTHING, which I found irritating. I don’t giggle. If something is funny, I laugh. Sometimes until a bit of wee comes out. Granted, some of this is down to a compromised pelvic floor but mostly it’s because I laugh from my belly. Giggling to me is like water crackers, as in, what’s the point?

So, I was being publically humiliated and apparently it was hilarious.

I get that I am different. I’ve always known it but I’ve tried my hardest to fit in. The trouble is that the harder we try to fit in, the more we make ourselves stand out.

Back then I didn’t have a clue why I couldn’t fit in.

Now I know it’s because I’m autistic.

I’m the misfit.

The odd one out.

Or I was..

Then I found my ‘tribe’.

People who get me.

People who understand everything I say and do.

People who don’t look at me as if I am a moron.

People who will read this post and think, ‘Yeah, me too!!!’

People like me.

I go back through my life and wonder, could have done things differently? The answer is no. My brain will always react the same way because it’s wired up differently to the neurotypical brain. I am what I am and all that shit and as Gloria Gaynor says, ‘What I am needs no excuses’.

Me, the reboot, doesn’t push myself to socialise like this anymore. These days, I reserve my energy for people who deserve it. I no longer say yes to things I don’t want to do in order to fit in. I no longer make excuses, nor do I have to provide an explanation why I don’t want to do something. I politely decline the offers (not that there are many) and mentally high-five myself for putting myself first.

I bang my own drum
Some think it’s noise, I think it’s pretty

I Am What I Am ~ Gloria Gaynor