The Mute Button

The British writer, Alis Rowe, frequently writes about autism. One of her quotes that hit close to my heart: “I can be talkative and expressive when with a single person, but the more people there are around me, the less interactive and more introverted I become. Inside a group of people, I can’t contribute/function, and tend to ‘shut down’ because I find it all too overwhelming.”

I lived that quote during a recent episode where I was in a group setting in a hospital waiting room.  I had been in hospital waiting rooms before but it was the first time since learning I had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). One thing I did differently with the knowledge of my diagnosis was preparing for this gathering.  I had my fidget toys like my spinner and cube. I had my smart phone with its many apps. I had no idea how long I would be there and if it went longer than expected, I had my comfort toys with me.

The group consisted of mostly people I knew but there was a dozen of those I hadn’t met before. My typical role in gatherings of three or more is to be the “silent” one. It doesn’t matter if I have known them most of my life or it is my first time to meet them.  As soon as I arrived, there were almost a half a dozen people already there.  Although I knew them, I immediately went silent.  It is as if a mute button is attached to me and it always comes on by itself when I’m in a gathering of three or more.

As more came in, the social chatter and laughter picked up, but I wasn’t a happy camper. None of my topics of interests came up. Except for the one I came with, no one hardly spoke to me beyond the “hello, nice to meet you, or how you are doing, or nice to see you.” I guess maybe I send out “don’t speak to me” vibes without putting effort into it. On the other hand, I was fine with just the greetings. I secretly feared someone might ask me a question I couldn’t or didn’t want to answer.

That old lonely feeling of being an alien from another planet came back.  I wanted to “stim” to soothe and comfort myself since I felt like a tea kettle about to boil over.  I got out my smart phone and tuned into my favorite apps.  I was the only one with ear plugs in their ears.  I know it gave off the impression of aloofness but unknown to them, I was in survival mode.

The apps were not enough to soothe the “pain” I cannot describe.  I whispered to the one I came with that I was going to take a walk. I used the excuse I wanted to stretch and exercise. Well, that was partly true, but it was far less about exercise for my body and more for my mental state. When I walked outside, I took a deep breath. It was like I had been drowning and managed to come up for air.

I started off my walk with tears rolling down my eyes. If I had let myself, I could have cried like a baby. I didn’t know why at first. I just was overwhelmed with sadness. After a few laps, the tears dried up. My batteries were recharged as they always are after a walk by myself.

When I returned, I saw another person had joined the gathering. The person wasn’t someone I was close to, but he was a sight for sore eyes. I knew he had ASD too! I made a beeline to sit next to him. We exchanged few words and that was okay. It was just having someone else besides me on the Spectrum there. One in a crowd is tough, but two in a crowd is less so.

I think I know why the tears. My ASD is a constant companion and there are times when it slaps me right in the face. This was one of those times when it let me know it is there and it isn’t going to leave my side. There is no cure for ASD. I can’t be like the others. I can’t join in on their chatter and laughter and enjoy it as they do. For me, such gatherings are draining and that isn’t going to change. The mute button will always come on.

Not wanting to end on a sad note, there was a moment during the gathering of an example of how I copy others’ behavior in social gatherings.  It was an eye opener because I didn’t realize until after learning about my ASD and being in group settings that some social actions don’t come as natural to me as it does to others.

The room was big but low on chairs.  When others entered the room where we were, the one I came with stood up, shook hands, and offered her chair.  I first thought, “You mean I have to stand up?”  If I had been the only one there, I wouldn’t have stood up.  I would have thought, “Hello…” was sufficient.  Offer my chair?  I didn’t do that part at all.  It wasn’t until after I got back home that I thought maybe I goofed on that one.  You see, I was operating on the rule of “first come, first serve”.

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Me and My Shadow

British author Alis Rowe, who writes about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is quoted as saying “I’m just not really that fond of ‘socializing’. I’m not saying that I can never have fun being with other people but I just tend to have more fun when I’m on my own!”

I echo that quote.  I have oodles of fun by myself. Since I don’t live alone now, I am not lacking in human interaction as I was when I was living by myself.  I confess when I have the house to myself, it is like being in Disneyland without being at Disneyland.  It has nothing to do with those around me that I prefer my own company.  It’s just the way it is with my ASD.

Parties are hard for me to have a good time at, but not impossible. The more people I know, the better the odds of enjoyment. I once had fun at a party get-together with mostly total strangers but I can only recall one of those. I managed by eyeing an introvert who perhaps was just as or maybe more introverted than myself.  One of my party coping mechanisms is looking for an introvert at the same party too.  If I’m the only one, it’s going to be a long night.  I can’t recall feeling sad when the party guests started leaving. That’s usually the best part.

Dating and fun? There are folks who admit to having had both at the same time. I just have to take their word for it.

I confess I have the capacity to chat for an hour or longer with someone where the topic is one that sustains my attention. If the topic ventures to something I know little to nothing about, the fun is over. It’s nap time. I will not nod off, though, because if someone gives me an inch and lets me talk, I should do likewise when the person is on their soap box. That is only fair!  I may not hear every word, but I’ll try to keep up the pretense that what is going in one ear isn’t coming out the other.  The least I could do for someone who listens to me.

I have another confession. I have actual memories of having honest-to-goodness fun with others. It’s just I don’t have as many of those memories as I have of “me and my shadow”.

 

 

 

The Tip of the Iceberg

Long before I knew I was on the Spectrum I knew I was an introvert.  I took the Myers-Briggs multiple times and although the results would sometimes vary, the score always started with an I (Introversion); never an E (Extroversion).

I’ve heard some folks question whether Asperger’s is just being an introvert.  If someone asked me that, I’d have a hard time keeping a straight face.  I’d be hard pressed not to roll on the floor in hysterics.  Why?  Because there’s a heap more to my living on the Spectrum than my “I”.  I sometimes wish introversion was all there was to it but take my word for it, it’s not in my case.

I don’t think being introverted causes me to require wearing an eye mask to bed to block out the light that’s hard on my eyes.  I don’t think it has anything to do with needing to turn on some white noise device at night to block out sounds that can put me in a tailspin.  It isn’t shyness that’s behind me sitting on a bathroom floor with my hands over my ears trying to block out the sound from another room that’s driving me to tears.  My being an introvert doesn’t cause me to overreact to some pet peeve to the point where I feel like a rumbling volcano inside set to blow off.

Not all that long ago I was in a place where a music video came on.  The music was a solo being performed by a man who had a loud, strong bass voice.  Nothing against his singing, but his bass voice threw me into meltdown country.  I retreated as far as I could from it into a corner.  Tears rolling down my face.  I stimmed by moving my legs back and forth.  In my thoughts, I was begging for whoever to finish his song.  Once the singing stopped, I went back to where I was sitting.  I took some deep breaths.  The indescribable pain had vanished as quickly as it had come over me.  All was well again until next time.

I admit I am an introvert, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.