Lonely in a crowd

Parties. Love them or hate them? If I know people who will be there, I’m happy to go. Once I’m there, I can expect one of the following outcomes. It’ll be a great bonding time with friends, and social energy well spent…or I could be watching everyone having fun together, wondering how they click so easily, and not knowing how to join in.

To start with, I have more friends now than I ever had growing up, and I’m so grateful for what they’ve done for me. But I’ve been to a few social occasions lately, and during one where I was watching the others talk, laugh, and have fun, it kind of hit me how lonely Asperger’s Syndrome can be. I can, and usually do, get on well with people individually, but it’s so frustrating still not knowing how to really get noticed in a group.

I mean, tripping over a step in front of over 10 people this summer got me noticed. But possibly not for the right reasons.

I’ve blogged about Asperger’s and groups. I’ve also, in a fit of uncharacteristic optimism, covered what’s good about the condition. What makes it so lonely at times?

Most of the time, I don’t even know what I’m not picking up on from – or communicating to – other people. Experts would say non-verbal signals. Or eye contact. Or me needing alone time when it gets too draining. I know. I’ve heard it all before. Whatever it is, it can make people think I’m not interested. And that’s really hard.

You know the saying “three’s a crowd?” Couldn’t have said it better myself. Threes always make me anxious. No two members of the group will have the same relationship dynamics, and you can bet two people are closer to each other than the remaining one. Fair or not, it’s only natural, and I don’t know how not to be that awkward third person. At least if you feel invisible in a big group, it’s understandable when there are so many others to talk to. When you’re one of only two people for someone to bond with and they still prefer the other person? Dispiriting, to say the least.

One of my biggest insecurities – no matter how kind people are – is the thought of being the one who always needs help, but has nothing to contribute. You need help understanding what’s happening. You get confused by too much going on, or too many instructions. Occasionally you’ll say something inappropriate that seems logical to you. It’ll always take longer for you to learn to read people. I’ve heard these things over and over, and trust me, it would be an easier burden to bear if they weren’t true.

I know it all sounds a bit negative. But hey, we all get lonely, and sometimes the best way to reach out to others is to share your struggles. I don’t sugarcoat these things. Or exaggerate. Nor am I asking for special treatment. I’m just being real. And if you have similar worries, I hope this helps.




Part of a group

How do you feel in a group setting? Last month’s Ukraine trip was just one of many experiences that demonstrated how I respond to being with a lot of people. I hasten to add that it was definitely one of the more positive ones! But it did come with its challenges, and right now I’m expanding on a point I made last week.

While we were out sightseeing, one of our translators asked me why I didn’t talk much to anyone else. I was a bit lost for words. I had been talking to people. Thinking about it, however, I’d chatted to several people for a minute or two, but not really at length. Why?

All I can say to that is, this is usually the case in groups, and always has been. Yes, it’s Asperger related, but beyond that, I don’t know why, any better than anyone else. Autism experts would say something about me not reading non-verbal social cues. I say I’m being normal in my way, the others are being normal in their way, yet somehow I’m at the edge of the group.

To some extent, this is ok. I alternate between a little socialising, listening to everyone else’s conversations, and zoning out entirely. But if I want to really bond with people, it’s hard when there are so many of them! My best friendships have been built on one-to-one time in a quiet, socially safe environment, often when the two of us have something to do together.

Group situations are different. You’ve got lots of people to choose from. And they have lots of people – who are not you, and are probably way more charismatic – to choose from. When there’s information for you all to take in, it’s going to get passed around, changed, and worded differently or incorrectly. When you put it like that, can you see why autistic people struggle?

When I joined the choir at uni, despite my love of music, my heart was never in it. I was invisible. I didn’t feel like I belonged. When I tried to explain my struggles to people in charge, they said I was doing fine because they hadn’t felt like they needed to help me with anything. At one point, we took part in a huge university choir competition in London. From about 4.30 am that morning to 2.30 am that night, I was surrounded by people, often to the point where I could barely move. There was a lot of waiting around, moving around, stuff happening all the time, and no-one explaining anything to me. I hated it.

But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: my friends on the trip were great. They made sure I understood everything, they stopped me from getting lost, and some of them had a fair bit of quality time with me. And that’s basically what a group member on the spectrum needs.

Life of the party, me…

DISCLAIMER: not my photo

Introverts, extroverts and the social world we live in

At university, I have been advised to be as sociable as humanly possible. Which brings me to this post’s main topic. I’ve noticed this year that many others of the Christian variety seem interested in aspects of personality, particularly the introvert v extrovert scale. I still don’t fully understand why, I’m sure there are spiritual reasons behind it, but for some reason this has rubbed off on me. Well it’s complicated and geeky so why wouldn’t it?

One link that inspired me to write this post is this: http://themetapicture.com/how-to-interact-with-the-introverted/. I came across it while procrastinating on Facebook, and it brought to mind how the concept of introversion v extroversion has become one of the latests “trends” on the internet (internet trends really are weird, aren’t they? I mean, LOLcat pictures, Gangnam style and introvert v extrovert wars…sorry, I digress.)

Anyway, as the article says, extroverts are the social types who gain their energy from being around people, while introverts find socialising draining and need regular time alone. I have mixed feelings about this article’s depiction of introverts.

For a start, I can definitely relate to the feeling of interaction being “expensive” and having to “recharge” when feeling drained. This may have become apparent to my parents on days when I would get home from school/college and, when asked how my day was, would just say “fine” before retiring to my room, only coming up with a more detailed account a few hours later.

Or in hindsight, this might have shown when, as a child, I would go into a quiet room to read during my own birthday parties. I don’t know. I also fully agree with the statement: Introverts get lonely, too! I spent a lot of time at school feeling both socially drained and lonely; it is not a good feeling.

What I disagree with is the bit about extroverts being “obnoxious predators”. In the social world it is the extroverts who do better socially, on the internet these days it is introversion that seems to be coming into fashion. My response to that: what is the point? We live in a world of trends, and however introverted or extroverted you are, you can’t fully change such a basic and fundamental part of your personality because the world says one thing and the internet says another. Besides, I know many extroverts who, I’m fairly sure, aren’t obnoxious predators. Or if they are, I clearly haven’t noticed it yet.

Another thing that bugs me is how the article implies that introverts need to be interacted with, and generally treated, in a special way. I know I am guilty of not responding well to small talk and keeping to myself when I could be talking, but that is for me to deal with – if I want/need to be more sociable I can, ditto if I really do need time to myself. As for “saying hello, being polite and relaxed and not pressing for gossip” – is that really introverted interaction, or just general good manners? No that wasn’t a rhetorical question, I’m really not sure.

Just a thought.