To many people who know me casually or through work they would probably tell you I have quite good social skills, I am friendly and join in with social norms. Its only the people who are particularly close to me or who have known me for a long period of time who see the social struggles I encounter every day.
Work is easy, its a role. I am meant to be social to the people there and we all have something in common. I absolutely love my job it is one of the most important things in my life. I can talk about it again and again and never get bored. Every day is new and I can fill my time discussing these things or my previous experiences. Ironically talking with children is something I find much easier than I do with adults, which is rather handy seeing as I am an Early Years Teacher. Within my job I go out and I teach other team members, I visit local colleges and give speeches about our nurseries but this is something I can do with ease. I can immerse myself within the role I am playing, the role I know I am good at, share knowledge I am extremely passionate about. Its different than trying to have ‘small talk’ or begin a conversation.
The social side which I struggle most with is small talk with people. I don’t understand it. I don’t know how to begin and then I panic and this becomes even harder for me. I will happily reply to someone and I try extremely hard to listen to everything someone has to say but I do not always know how to respond. I don’t know what someone wants me to say, what the correct response would be to keep the conversation going. I am fine when it comes to answering questions, ask me and I will tell you anything. I cannot lie, omit the truth but never lie. Once I know someone well and am comfortable then this becomes much easier and its harder to shut me up than to get me to talk. This is because I can talk about my interests, the things I love and I know a lot more about how a person will respond and what kind of response they want from me. There are still times where I get this wrong and mess up but then don’t we all occasionally?
My next issue comes when there are group conversations, even just three people. I can very easily become lost during these times. I begin fine, listening but if a conversation doesn’t directly include me and I am just a listening participant to the discussion then I tend to faze out of what is being said. I will end up being lost to something else such as the television or something else that is happening around us. Often I am pulled back in by someone trying to reinclude me for example with lines like “like when this happened hey Tam?” or “don’t you think so Tam?” and I genuinely haven’t got a clue what was being said. I don’t mean to and I know that this comes across as rude but there is just so much to process during these moments that sometimes fazing out is easier to deal with or I loose my concentration and I don’t realise I am even out of the conversation until it is too late. I apologise for all the times I have done this, it is not because I am not interested and I hate people thinking that.
Putting myself in the centre of a circle is my way of protecting myself when I am out with a large group. I do not even realise that I am doing it until I am already in the centre. This is a method I use particularly when I am out dancing for example for a work do or if on the odd chance I ever attend a night club (love the music and dancing, hate the crowds, over stimulation and anxiety it brings.) I always end up in the middle of the group. This helps to prevent other people touching me, getting too close and the sensory overload that can come with this. If this isn’t a possibility then I tend to situate myself very close to a person that I am friends with, it helps to level me keep me from freaking out, anchored.
Anxiety is something that I have always struggled with throughout my life and much of this is often bought on because of aspects from my autism. This is something that I will be discussing further as we go through this journey however it does effect me socially in a couple of different ways, like many with anxiety it can prevent me from attending events, include me creating excuses not to attend even if I really really want to. Mainly when I am anxious or worked up in any way I loose my ability to talk. This is very frustrating to me, I can know exactly how I want to respond to someone or how to answer a question but if I am emotionally worked up in any way be that anxiety, upset or anger then I just physically cannot do it. The words are there on the tip of my tongue, running through my brain and I am pleading with myself inside to just say the words, any words so that I don’t look like a complete idiot or emotional wreck but I physically can’t. I just cannot do it, no words will come out. Sometimes this only lasts a couple of minutes and then I can bring myself back around but sometimes this can last for much longer periods. Makaton helps me. I have been fascinated with it as part of my career in early years and have found that it helps me to express myself during these times, as long as I have someone who understands what I am doing. I have also learnt to write down what I want to say. This may take some time but it is much easier than trying to verbally communicate,. maybe its the reason I am doing this blog. Verbally I struggle to express myself at times but writing allows everything to flow freely. No blockage.
I am sure there are more things which I could write about but I feel like this is long enough. I hope you enjoy reading and stick with me through my journey of expression. Over the coming blogs I would like to focus a little more on some of the day to day feelings I encounter and some of my coping mechanisms for the days when everything is a little too much.