Sunday, 28 April 2013

Being too quiet and not Aspie enough

I feel bad for neglecting this blog, but finding a new topic to blog about which I haven't already covered/covering things that I've already discussed from a different angle can be hard. I sometimes go on about the same thing, so I'm told, so I'll try to not repeat myself.

I finished my two-month internship in the psychology department of a hospital - overall it was a great experience, had its ups and downs but I got through it and grew a lot. I learned a lot about the job, about being in a workplace, and I did my tasks well. While I got on well with my officemates, I had some trouble grasping workplace social rules - my officemates talk between themselves but do I join in? What can I contribute to a not-related-to-work discussion? At meetings, am I meant to contribute given that I've not yet met the patients being discussed? Can I say that I disagree with the professionals' opinions? What do you say to someone you'd not met before when you're both waiting for the kettle to boil? Being in a workplace was a situation that I'd not been in before - I've done a lot of voluntary work, but that either involved directly working with people so there wasn't much opportunity for social interaction between myself and staff, or I was on a team with other volunteers on the same hierarchical level so it generally didn't feel so intimidating and roles were more clear-cut in my mind. So that was a huge learning curve for me. I have an idea of how Catherine the volunteer is expected to act, and by now am fairly used to how Catherine the student acts, but Catherine the employee is a new one that I'm still learning about.

Since the internship took place in a city about 140 miles from my university town, I had to move away from my friends and family to live there alone. I learned that I can function in a new city, which is reassuring. That said, starting completely afresh was really difficult, and I'm not great at forming new relationships, which ended up with me not feeling that I fit in with any social groups that I tried out and feeling disheartened coming back from another evening where I didn't feel that I'd met any like-minded people. I tried to access local adult services for adults with Asperger, but was told that I'd need a referral from my GP. Given my experiences with disbelieving healthcare professionals (as I've previously written, one said I can't be Aspie because I have friends, another suggested that I wanted a diagnosis to fit in with family members on the spectrum), I never asked for a referral since I didn't think that I'd be seen as Aspie enough.

It's a bit of a catch-22 (I hope that I'm using this expression correctly): I'm not high-functioning enough to fit into the world without struggles and misunderstandings on my part, yet am often too high-functioning for people who don't know me well to believe that I'm Aspie. I think the main reason why people often don't believe that I'm Aspie is that they mainly see my 'unautistic-seeming' traits that I mentioned in my first post, e.g. eye contact, active imagination, seeing people as people and appreciating their thoughts and feelings. I still think that a lot of these behaviours are learned, as I remember explicit lessons from my parents and books on eye contact, relating to others, and being encouraged to be creative and to go travelling outside of my comfort zone. When I have 'Aspie-attacks', where my Aspie traits come out due to feeling overwhelmed (often from stress or high-intensity stimuli) e.g. rocking, feeling like there’s a glass pane between me and other people, lining things up so they have a pattern and being apprehensive about meeting new people, they're less obvious to others since a) I try to be by myself if this happens since I don't want others to think me too strange, and b) my thoughts and feelings can't be seen e.g. feeling separated by a pane of glass, so it's not too likely that others would know that what's going on inside is perhaps not so typical (unless a behaviour such as standing away from others or being more quiet than usual accompanies it).

It's easier for me to put this in writing than to say it out loud - one reason is that when I write, readers are given the choice to carry on reading or to stop. They don't have to continue reading, but if I speak then they have to continue listening even if they feel that I'm speaking either nonsense or being self-centered. Either that or they cut me off, which has happened a lot. It's been pressed into me that I mustn't ever talk over people, so I really dislike it when people speak over me. I also find it hard to find an opening in a conversation since I don't always know when a person's finished speaking, and don't want to talk over them if they still have more to say. Then another person starts speaking, and often if there's a short break then by the time I've formulated the start of a sentence, someone else has started talking or the conversation topic has moved on. Sometimes my spoken words come out clumsily and have unintentionally caused offence at times, while when writing I can think about what I'll put and thus run less risk of accidentally hurting someone. Sometimes I say things that have little context or that make no sense out loud, or I say things concisely since I assume that others will have followed my thought process, and then I trip over words when trying to explain what I meant. I don't like to hear my own voice, and hearing myself stumble over words or seeing others look confused by what I've said feels humiliating. There, that's why I don't often say much (not sure who that's directed to, at the moment I'm just remembering the countless teachers who've told me that I need to talk more).

Hm, writing this blog brings out things that I hadn't planned to discuss. I think that that's a good thing, though. When writing stories, I often don't know where they'll go, it feels a lot more natural to follow the words and see where they'll take me. I can do this when talking out loud to certain individuals who I feel won't judge me for going on a word-flow, but am scared of how most people will react. I've been told to shut up or to get to the point or to make some sense for once too many times to put myself out there easily, as it were. I don't want this to be an excuse for not speaking much, I do try to hold conversations and often succeed if it's with someone who I know or whose role I know, but I want to explain why it's not as easy as "Catherine, talk more!" I keep trying, and have improved a lot since I started uni, which is why it stresses me when I do sometimes have issues speaking or go mute - I can talk well and have proven it, but it drains me.

It sometimes feels a bit lonely, not feeling Aspie enough to access services or to have truly 'earned' my diagnosis, but at the same time not being 'normal' enough to easily fit into a world where social interaction is such a vital part. I feel truly thankful to have found friends who accept me for who I am. I wasn't able to establish a support network in my new city and felt too alone, so when the internship ended and I had nothing left there I moved back to my uni town. When a new job comes up, I know now that I can cope with moving somewhere else as long as there's something stable that keeps me busy, and as long as I can come back to recover when things get too much. Having friends and family in close reach makes such a difference, I feel that I'm home again.