Category Archives: Social Anxiety
Now that things have settled down just a bit, perhaps I can get back to blogging.
My family and I traveled out of state to my father-in-law’s funeral during my last hiatus. I have posted before about the experience of attending a funeral from an aspie standpoint before, so I already knew I was in for a slightly uncomfortable time. However, I was also very aware that I was going to have a very important job at this funeral – my FIL’s death hit my wife pretty hard. She handled it surprisingly well, but she was still emotional. I was there to support her, because aspies are superheroes when it comes to lending support during emotional times.
Able to not understand what the big deal is in a single shrug.
There were times where I found myself standing around with nothing to do, so I started doing what I enjoy doing in these types of situations: I began to observe human behavior for interesting patterns. It didn’t take me too long to find one. I started noticing how people were standing and talking together. I noticed that when two people stood together, they almost never faced each other. They stood with their feet at an angle to the other person, like a conversation deflection of sorts – I’m not really interested in talking to you, but I don’t want to seem rude and ignore you, so I’ll meet you halfway. It was pretty consistent no matter the age or gender.
I decided that I needed to learn this move, post haste.
Even more interesting was how this dynamic applied when there were more than two people standing together. The “angled feet” behavior was still present, with each person angling themselves to avoid directly facing either of the other people. And as the group grew, the people adjusted their angles to fit the group’s size, often positioning themselves to form a social semicircle.
It was fascinating. Seriously. I felt like Pavlov, only my subjects weren’t drooling dogs.
And my beard wasn’t quite as bitchin’.
The most interesting thing happened when…
Wait a minute…
That’s totally Robert Duvall with a humongous beard!
Ok, where was I? Oh yeah…
The most interesting thing happened when two groups came together to form a large “supergroup” of sorts. Each group would open up slightly to accept the merging group, and after a moment or two of jostling, the people would fall perfectly into the angled feet position! The supergroup would often be a fairly large circle at this point, with nobody talking or looking directly at anyone else, yet they were all having a conversation with everyone at the same time.
From here, the supergroup would break up and the participants would float around the room until they joined up with others to form smaller group chains. And this dynamic happened over and over again. It was like watching so weird social cellular cosmos, with people aimlessly colliding with one another over and over again. It was cool to watch. It was even cooler not to join in. Instead, in between consoling hugs for my wife, I was able to let my mind wander onto other meaningless things. Such as….
See? Didn’t I tell you?
Ok, so I’ve been stressing out a bit about next week. I have my first test in my online course next week, but that’s not the worst of things. The thing I’m stressing out the most about is a conference call that is scheduled for Sunday.
First off, I’m working midnights this weekend, so I’m going to be sleepish during the whole thing. Second, the entire class and I will be meeting on Skype to discuss… whatever we are going to discuss. I’m still learning the ins and outs of Skype, so I have no idea if it’s going to go well or not. I also have no idea what’s expected of me in this phone call.
I expected the learning and the work to be the hard part of this course. That stuff seems to me moving along pretty well. It’s all of this other talking-to-people stuff that is becoming a chore.
I’ve been busy the past week or two with a whole bunch of stuff. I just came back from a week in Indiana for the Orientation Week of an online course I am taking. I’m taking the course to become an SBB, or Specialist in Blood Banking. Basically, I’ll be learning every single in-and-out detail of my job. Hopefully it will give me better qualifications for promotion or a supervisor job someday, which means more responsibility for not a whole lot more money.
The orientation week was… interesting. The point of the orientation was to make sure we had all the materials we needed to start, as well as to get to know and interact with the other people who are taking the course alongside me.
What, what? Interaction with people? I paid $3000 for this?
WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?
Actually, it went pretty well and I had a great time! The beginning of the week was somewhat awkward. It felt like forced socialization, which I find almost as enjoyable as bathing my eyeballs in rubbing alcohol. But the classroom/learning setting allowed me to kind of settle in and focus on the information rather than being normal. By Friday I actually enjoyed talking with these people, which is good because I’ll be conferring with them on projects and stuff throughout the year.
I think what helped me warm up to these people was that:
a) I realized that these people were interested in and passionate about many of the same things I was. I could talk shop with them and not worry about looking like a dork.
b) Thursday night, the education coordinator took us out to dinner and paid for everything including alcohol, and I got a little buzzed. 🙂
But seriously, I was able to talk to these people because I realized they were like me – nerd-ish people who were interested in advancing their knowledge because they wanted to. And they wanted to be there bad enough that they were willing to pay for it. And talking about work with these people led to other conversations where I was able to actually share (gulp) personal things about myself. And it was fun!
Now the hard work begins – a full year of busting my ass to pass this course. Wish me luck!
My daughter goes to an ASD socialization group every couple of weeks. I usually can’t go because I work evenings, but tonight I had off so I was able to go. The kids break up into groups to help foster some social networking skills, and the parents are free to attend a special conference event, usually focusing on some ideas and resources for parents to deal with the difficulties of having a child on the spectrum. I thought it would be nice to tag along with the family.
I’m not so sure I want to go again.
The subject of the conference was helping your ASD child improve their social skills. As the presentation went on, I felt myself getting more and more stressed out. First of all, the presenter decided to go with an interactive format, which threw me off. I didn’t know we were supposed to be answering questions! I was ready to trudge through the boring parts by playing cell phone games. What happens if I get called on? Now I have to pay attention! It felt like I was back in elementary school, without the fun of gym class. And the worst of it is, they are asking questions that I have no idea how to answer. For example:
“What does it mean to you to be social or to have a friend?”
I have Aspergers. I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT.
As the discussion continues, the parents start offering examples of the difficulties that their children face. Many of these are greeted with chuckles or bursts of laughter from the crowd – probably from knowing all too well what the commenter has gone through. However, I experience a lot of the same issues that are being shared… and chuckled and laughed at. Now I feel like I’m being made fun of. Once again, just like elementary school.
It also bothered me that a lot of the conference seemed geared towards how to “fix” the problems of the ASD child, such as coming up with ways to get the child to socialize and make friends or “succeed” in social situations. This turned me off completely. Is Autism something that needs to be fixed? Am I a failure just because I’m not as comfortable in social situations as an NT is?
My wife says I’m crazy, and that’s not what it’s all about. I agree that I am probably oversensitive due to my unique viewpoint. I just think that parents focus too much on their expectations and what they want for their child. What they should be focusing on is what makes their child happy and help them achieve those goals. If the kid wants to be more social, then helping them along is a wonderful thing. But if the kid is happy playing by him/herself and wants to be left alone, forcing socialization skills on him/her is just a self-serving act to comfort the parent’s anxieties of failure and social rejection.
As if to underscore this theme, the conference ended with the parents breaking up into smaller groups to share ideas and solutions that worked for them. I snuck out the back door before our group formed. Thankfully, and this is why I love her, my wife didn’t force me to stay.
So I did something today that was VERY out of character…
I was assigned by my wife to pick up lunch while picking up my son from preschool. I ordered the kids food, then I ordered what my wife usually gets. In a moment of unexpected brilliance, I quickly checked my phone to see if she wanted something else. Lo and behold, she did. Only one problem…
I had already ordered.
My personal issues with the drive-thru have been discussed before. So she’s going to just have to deal with eating what I ordered, right?
NO!!!! Surprising myself – and my wife, who later said she thought I was making it up – I corrected my order and got the food that my wife wanted!
I’m not really sure what got into me, but I was able to admit that I was wrong and change my order, ignoring my fear of looking stupid in front of people. I did make a self-depricating-yet-truthful comment about me being a pain in the ass (I couldn’t help it), but I still go tthe job done! And my wife truly enjoyed her Big Mac.
Now maybe she won’t nag me as much as usual for the rest of this week.
I don’t think she reads this blog. Whatever you do, DON’T TELL HER I SAID THIS.
Being an Aspie, I find it very difficult to decide when is the right time for “full disclosure” when meeting new people – by which I mean mentioning my Aspergers. Bringing it up too early may seem weird, or it may even sound like I’m trying to make an excuse. Saying it too late may leave a lot of odd behaviors unexplained.
My wife and I were talking with one of the other moms while waiting to pick my son up at preschool, which means my wife was talking with one of the other moms while I stood next to her silently nodding my head every so often. My attention happens to tune in when they begin talking about the challenges of parenting a child with Aspergers – her son, who was in the same preschool as my son, has Aspergers. Almost immediately and without thinking, I nearly blurt out “I have Aspergers, too!!!”
I somehow managed not to make myself look silly, and once I figured out that my Aspie-ness has nothing to do with parenting and Aspie, I figured I was better off not opening my mouth. But it got me thinking about how to approach the issue when meeting someone new. I guess it should just come up naturally in conversation, but (unless this is your first time visiting my blog) you should know by now that the words “conversation” and “naturally” don’t play well together in my world.
To those who know me from this blog or follow me on Twitter, I’m sure it’s clear that I suffer from a number of social anxieties. While a lot of them may be trivial to most people, it’s pretty much standard fare for a person who has Aspergers. One of my fears that I am reminded of on almost a daily basis is my fear of looking stupid.
I’m a pretty smart guy. I like being smart; it makes me feel good. I like knowing how to use semicolons correctly. Somewhere deep inside, part of me believes that my intelligence is all that I have. So when I look stupid, I end up losing respect for myself and I get pissed off. A good amount of my tantrums have been caused by me doing something idiotic and getting mad at myself for it.
I hate trying new things because of this. Trying new things means learning something, and learning starts with not knowing something. The “figuring it out” phase is the worst part because I feel like everyone is looking at me, knowing that I don’t have any idea what I’m doing. And don’t even say it – asking for help is out of the question because it shows just how clueless I am.
This all comes up today after I went to go work out. My family got a membership to an indoor activity center, with a pool for the kids and a fitness center/gym included (think YMCA, only without the Village People). With the membership I got a free fitness assessment, which was just as much fun as it sounds. The results showed that I needed to improve my upper body strength, a result that even a legally blind person could have come up with just by looking at me.
Now, as you may have guessed, I’m not a “gym guy.” I never even set foot on a treadmill before the fitness assessment. I feel completely out of place, and I think everyone can tell that I really don’t belong there. So you can imagine how comfortable I am with using all of those complicated weight machines. I can picture it now – standing there looking dumbfounded, scratching my head as I try to decipher the instructions; the snickers and chuckles I’d have to endure as I struggle with the machine, looking more like I’m trying to have sex with the machine than exercise with it; the crushing humiliation when one of the trainers puts their hand on my shoulder, as if to say, “You’ve entertained us enough for today, you can go now.”
I figure that’s the best case scenario.
I know eventually I’ll get annoyed enough with myself where I’ll go all drill sergeant on myself and FORCE myself to do it. Or I’ll wait until nobody’s around so I can have my accidental weight machine intercourse with nobody watching.
One interesting trait that I notice a lot of people with Aspergers show is perfectionism. The perfectionism usually goes right along with one of the Aspie’s main “passions” – if the Aspie is interested in doing something, it MUST be done perfectly, otherwise what’s the point in doing it? Note that this is not the same as OCD, although Aspies can show that as well. No, this isn’t excessive handwashing or hyper-organization I’m talking about. It’s the overwhelming need to NOT BE WRONG.
My daughter is having so much trouble with this right now. She has been absolutely tearing through her home school assignments. She’s learning stuff so quickly that she’s now getting deep into Grade 2 assignments even though she is only 7. As she comes across subjects that are more complex, it’s natural for her not to have all the answers right away.
Try telling her this.
When she doesn’t know the answer to a question, she does everything she can to avoid making an incorrect guess. She will whine, cry, overdramatize… ANYTHING to avoind giving a wrong answer. Even after I tell her to take a guess and that being wrong is okay, she still won’t give in. She has had full on, hour long tantrums simply because she could not spell the word “bounce.”
Although my reactions aren’t as extreme, I definitely have a perfectionism issue as well. While it’s an asset professionally (I work in a place that pretty much demands perfectionism), it is a drain on my psyche socially. My perfectionism manifests itself as a fear of looking stupid in front of people by doing something “wrong.” That’s why I’m constantly second guessing my behavior, which accounts for a great deal of my social awkwardness and anxiety.
The good thing is I have learned to cope with my perfectionism to a degree. I’ve learned that being perfect is pretty much impossible, and that my best effort is all I should be looking for. If I’m wrong, so be it, as long as I tried my hardest to do the right thing. In essence: the best I can do is the best I can do.
Now if I can just get my daughter to believe that bullshit.
I had a rough day yesterday because I had to go to the dentist. I knew it was going to be tough; I even told my wife the day before that I REALLY didn’t want to go. But I knew I had to go, so I sucked it up and went and got it over with.
My Aspergers presents me with advantages and disadvantages when it comes to dealing with the dentist. On one hand, my Aspergers has blessed me with a well-above-average pain tolerance. I actually have the ability to unfocus my brain on what’s going on in my mouth and focus on tiny details around the room (a poster, the fluorescent light above me, etc.). This makes the actual dental work that needs to be done a piece of cake for me.
The hard part is the social aspect, of course. I can hear you asking, “What about going to the dentist counts as a social interaction?”
The first thing you must know is that my teeth – for lack of a better description – are fucked up. I have major crowding issues, teeth squished into places where they don’t belong, and in general I just have a major mess going on in there. It’s not pretty. The whole situation makes brushing and flossing very difficult. Although not horrendous, my oral hygiene could be much better. This whole situation is embarassing for me, so it’s obviously uncomfortable for me to be poked, prodded, and evaluated on how disgusting my mouth is.
But I got through it! My back was all sweaty, and my head hurt a little, and my wife had to order a pizza as comfort food for lunch… but I made it through! To be honest – and this is a little embarassing to admit, but what else is this blog for? – I was proud of myself for doing it. Maybe I can use this as inspiration in the future when I’m facing a difficult situation; I can do it if I just grit my (horribly disfigured) teeth and go for it.
The family went to a kids’ music concert yesterday and had TONS of fun. Lots of dancing and jumping around in the aisles, and my little aspie really enjoyed it. A great time was had by all.
Talking to my wife afterwards, I found out that she was a little concerned that I was having a problem with the crowd of people there (the theater was packed with people). Contrary to normal aspie behavior, I’m actually pretty comfortable in a crowd, only because there is very little focus on me as an individual. If I’m allowed to blend in and be part of the scenery, I’m okay with that. Being part of the background is a nice feeling.
(I also think that since I had the opportunity to sit in a corner and avoid sitting next to anybody helped me be comfortable a lot.)
The problem I have is when I get together with a bunch of people and I’m forced to be social with them. If there was some sort of Q&A discussion after the concert, I would have been a nervous wreck. But since everyone else’s attention was on the stage, being in the crowd didn’t bother me in the least.
I think my biggest social fear is not of being in crowds, but instead it’s sticking out in a crowd. It’s being that one guy that everyone else is looking at and thinking, “What’s that dude’s problem?” I’d rather nobody look at me… or even be completely alone.