I haven’t blogged for a while. Life is pretty good overall. My husband and children have had many fantastic achievements to their names over the past few months, and I started a great new job earlier in the year, which is taking up a lot of my time.
I’m lucky in my new workplace. I love the work I’m doing, and I feel as if I fit in. I work in an IT based environment, and cliche though it is, I think my colleagues are more used to, or at least more tolerant of, people who sometimes get it wrong. There are people around me who to my eye, appear to have some autistic traits, even if they would never think of using the A word about themselves. And most of the time, I’m very happy and comfortable in my work, and with almost everyone around me.
But sometimes I still get it wrong. I have a tendency to categorise everyone into those who are ‘easy’, and those who are ‘difficult’. This doesn’t reflect what kind of people they are at all – it’s about how I react to them. Those in the ‘easy’ group are easy to talk to. They’re easy to start a conversation with. They seem more forgiving of my weirdnesses. I don’t have to watch every word or force myself to make eye contact when I’m interacting with them. And most importantly, they tend not to react in ways I don’t understand.
I’ve learned how to talk to people in a polite, friendly and helpful way over the years. It’s not false at all – I am a polite, friendly and helpful person. This is essentially my true inner self, minus some of the more bizarre quirks that come with my autism, and minus the paranoia and depression that have, in the past, come with it as well. I guess the last two stem in part from the constant feeling of not fitting in, and not understanding why. It makes sense that as I realised that I’m not neurotypical, that there are other people a lot like me out there, my depression would lift and my life would become easier.
So easy people are those who respond well to my translation of who I really am, through a kind of filter which adds some of the social niceties I’ve learned over the years. Easy people react, to some extent, predictably to what I say and how I behave – or if they don’t, it’s obvious to me that it’s them and not me. Or, they just plain tell me – other people also have bad days.
Difficult people are those who can become hostile or dismissive. They respond with rejection to overtures of, not friendship, but a friendly and informal relationship. They are those who are rude. They are those who try to undermine me or cause arguments with me, or to agree with me one minute and disagree the next. A very wise friend of mine describes it as ‘someone standing on your head to make themselves six inches taller.’ They cause instability in my mental processes, and eventually in my mental health. I don’t know if they do it deliberately or subconsciously, and I don’t care. I’ve learned to avoid such people in my social life – they drain my energy and cause me to become exhausted very quickly.
This isn’t always possible in all kinds of non-social situations. I’ve moved dentists because I couldn’t cope with a receptionist who was constantly rude and dismissive. I’ve changed jobs because I was having to work with a majority of people who were inconsistent and blamed me for the problems that those inconsistencies created. They may have had a valid point – rigid thinking is an autistic trait, and maybe NT people just adapt to inconsistency without any problems.
I’ve had to think hard how to work with such people when I have to, and I now have a plan of action, which I work my way through systematically. Some people respond well to it – some don’t. The ones that don’t, those who fall out of the end of the process with no resolution, probably wouldn’t notice. I remain helpful and friendly toward them – but I avoid them as much as possible.
There is a term – Social Story – which is a trademark originated and owned by Carol Gray. It has a very specific meaning, and a social story has to adhere to many criteria, so the things inside my head helping me cope with the world are probably not, strictly speaking, social stories. But they are something similar – they’re processes that I can select in any situation which let me know what I should be doing, and what some likely outcomes will be.
This vast set of processes serves me well in most of my life. But sometimes, I still get it wrong. Recently there have been a couple of occasions where someone I had previously categorised as easy, suddenly reacted in a way I did not understand. I’ve felt that I’ve annoyed people, and I almost understand why, but I don’t quite see how I could have reacted differently. A few days ago I was at a social event with many people that I feel comfortable with – and suddenly I couldn’t read the situation, couldn’t read the people around me, didn’t know how to start a conversation, who to talk to, what to do. I felt I was pushing in where I wasn’t wanted. And along came that all too familiar feeling of being the weirdo on the bus. It didn’t last long, because a couple of kind people saw my ‘rabbit in the headlights’ look, and invited me into their conversations – and overall I had a great time. But I don’t know why it happened.
I’ve been looking back over my life, and looking at some of the many many times I got it wrong. When I copied people because I didn’t know what to do, not realising how creepy and annoying that can be for the people on the receiving end. When I pushed myself into situations where I wasn’t wanted, because I missed the signs until much much later – sometimes decades later. When I became needy and demanding because I needed reassurance that I was actually just like everyone else – and of course, even when it was forthcoming, it was never enough, because I’m not like everyone else (in the NT world at least).
It’s humiliating. It never stops being humiliating. It is not the fault of the people who rejected me – they can’t help how they react any more than I can. If they try to be kind, I miss the signs. If they try to be harsh, I’m devastated. It’s a lose lose situation.
I think I’m doing it less often now – I’m learning the signs (I’m sure I only get things wrong about half of the time!) I’m happy enough with myself to carve my own way without that desperate need for the approval of others, so I think I copy a lot less often. But I still have times when I feel absolutely lost. When I’m living in a foreign country, where I think I understand the language, but in fact, the words don’t mean what I think they mean.
I’m lucky. I’m about as certain as I can be that my family and a few true friends love me and accept me for who I am. So I will rely on them on my lost days, and try to be the best I can be without compromising who I really am. I guess that’s my overall, lifelong, social story(TM).