Putting In The Effort

I’ve written before about how much I’ve been enjoying my sociology class, and that enjoyment has continued as the semester has progressed. There are only three weeks left of classes, and while I’m looking forward to having a break, I’m going to miss this one. The readings were well chosen, and we’ve had some great discussions about them.

I haven’t liked my psychology class as much, but I attribute that primarily to the structure of it as an online class, and to frustrations with the textbook. It’s also a little too basic, given my earlier familiarity with a lot of the material; a psych class in high school got me hooked on learning about how humans work, and it’s been a fascination for me ever since.

That’s mostly because explicitly learning about this stuff has really helped explain so many things that didn’t make sense to me intuitively. I feel like I’ve always been something of a social scientist, making observations, forming hypotheses, and testing out different approaches. Other autistic people have expressed similar feelings; perhaps the most famous is Temple Grandin’s description of herself as being “an anthropologist on Mars,” trying to figure people out. Many of us analyze our every interaction, looking to crack the code.

The thing that strikes me most about that right now is how much effort we put into this whole human interaction thing. And it really is a ton of effort: the amount of processing that goes into even casual social interactions can be exhausting, and the mental strain that results is often a big factor in autistic burnout. Plus the time it takes to get things “right” can easily lead to social anxiety, as the cumulative weight of failed interactions starts to add up.

So why is there still a pervasive stereotype that says autistic people are not interested in social interaction? Certainly, some of us aren’t; we’re a varied bunch, after all. But as a generalization, it falls far short of the reality, and I think the sheer volume of effort we put into every interaction gives an indication of how short it falls. And given that some new research shows that neurotypical people are less interested in interacting with autistic people based on superficial first impressions and social judgments, it’s past time we stopped placing all the blame for social difficulties on the autistic side of the interaction. We are putting in the effort. I think we should get some credit for that.

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Still Flowing

Well, it’s going to be another short-post week this week. I said last weekend that I expected this week to feel long, even though the workweek was short, but it actually flew by, and the weekend was no exception. I got almost everything done that I wanted to do, but now that it’s Sunday evening I don’t have a whole lot of brain space left for thinking up a blog post.

I’m actually really looking forward to Thanksgiving week, because my husband and I stay home, and it’s a nice long weekend to catch up on things. Things usually get hectic again after that, and now I’ve got end-of-semester stuff to look forward to, on top of holiday preparations, so…yay?

But for now, things are still flowing. Onward!

Water swirling down a waterfall and past bare rocks in late-afternoon autumn light.

Recharging My Batteries

…is not something I did this weekend. In fact, I need a weekend after this weekend, but I’m not going to get one. At least I do have this Friday off (for Veterans Day), so it’ll be a short work week, but I expect it to feel long instead.

I visited family this weekend, including going to a wedding reception for my cousin. I hadn’t gone to any family functions in a while, so it was good to see people (although everyone’s kids had grown roughly six feet taller, so I didn’t recognize any of them) but it was also very loud, the food arrived late, and everyone was very huggy. Focusing on conversations against a background of loud music and lots of other conversations took a lot of energy.

Overall, though, it was a really good visit — I got to spend time with my parents and sister, and the dogs were really well behaved. I even got some study time in, so I’m not too far behind my usual weekly schedule. I’m just wiped out now, after the three-hour drive home in a rainy drizzle.

Last week I was actually very good about being aware of my energy and anxiety levels, and postponed starting on a new work project that could have started on Thursday, because I had a lot of things to get done before heading out for the weekend. Of course, that project was postponed until tomorrow, so I can’t really take the same steps this time, but at least I did get a lot of things wrapped up before the weekend so they won’t be hanging over my head this week. Just the usual load of work, school, and personal projects — but I’ve gotten used to managing that, and I can find little ways to recharge as I go.

And that starts right now, with a relaxing rest-of-my-Sunday. Hope you’re having a good one! 🙂

Long Week

Time for another blog post! And…I’ve got nothing. Seriously. My mind is blank.

Actually, it’s more like my mind is full, too full of schoolwork, work work, household tasks, and miscellaneous reading, to the point where nothing coherent is, um, cohering. It’s been a busy weekend after a busy week, so now I am going to take the dogs for another walk on this gorgeous fall day, and then play video games before starting all over again with another Monday.

Hope you’re having a good one!

Outside My Comfort Zone

I’ve been wearing my MIT class ring again lately, as a reminder to myself that I Can Do This. And by “this,” I mean…everything. Everything has just been a lot lately, including a lot of new things and new challenges that I have taken on. So a little reminder that I have met some pretty big challenges before has been welcome.

And to be honest, I need that reminder in part because I have a tendency to underplay my past accomplishments, especially if they don’t have a direct and obvious impact on my present circumstances. Yes, I have a physics degree from MIT, but I’m not really using it right now, so it’s almost like I forget about it. And it’s not even completely true that I’m not using it; no, I’m not working in the field of physics, but I use that education every day. I use it when I employ critical thinking, and when I confidently dive into a new learning experience. That degree taught me how to think, and (being me) when am I ever not thinking?

Similarly, I have a black belt, but it’s from a school that doesn’t exist anymore, and I’m not actively training right now, so I almost forget about that, too. I think of myself as someone who has been a martial artist, not someone who is one right now. But the fact is, my experiences in the martial arts have shaped huge parts of who I am and how I move through the world, and I do still use the lessons from it that go beyond the physical training aspect. It is part of me.*

So this post is to tell myself that I can remember these things when it seems like a big deal just to leave the house and deal with people, or to make a phone call, or when I am waiting on pins and needles for a reply to an email that might not have been received well. I can take on new challenges with the knowledge that I have met challenges before — and when I have days where everything is too much of a challenge, I can take a day off without feeling guilty.

And lastly, when someone sanctimoniously suggests that I “just need to step outside my comfort zone” on one of those days where things are just too much, I can reply, “Whelp, I live outside my comfort zone. Why don’t you try that for a while and tell me how it feels?”

* Also, I am about to try out a new karate school just opening in my town! I am very excited, because it’s a style I have enjoyed in the past, and the instructor is happy to let me just learn without worrying about rank, since I have that black belt from a related style and have trained in his before. I am really hoping it works out, because I would love to be training again in a way that makes me happy.

What Are My Interests?

I never know how to answer that question. Granted, I dislike open-ended questions in general, but I find I particularly freeze up at that one. And when it comes in a context related to autism, I feel doubly awkward about it, because I find people expect me to have a narrow range of obsessive “special interests,” but I’m just not like that. As the name of this blog implies, I’m…eclectic.

At the highest level, I’d say that I like to learn things, and I like to create things. A look at my shelves will show numerous books related to:

  • psychology and sociology;
  • history;
  • politics;
  • religion and spirituality;
  • martial arts;
  • mythology;
  • nature: birds, mammals, insects, trees, minerals, climate, astronomy, and more;
  • technology and programming;
  • arts & crafts;
  • gender;
  • physics;
  • and of course, autism.

Considering that many of those are umbrella categories, in which I have multiple sub-interests, that’s really just scratching the surface.  And that’s not counting the science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, poetry, and comic books I enjoy.

My creative endeavors end up spread out all over the place, so even I forget about some of them. I recently wrote down a list, though, because I was brainstorming how I could bring all of my creations together, and where I might do that. The list includes:

  • writing fiction, poetry and essays;
  • photography;
  • increasingly, videography as well;
  • making jewelry, mostly chainmail and beads;
  • crochet, including amigurumi;
  • drawing (still rather rudimentary, but improving);
  • making music;
  • programming;
  • cooking increasingly delicious meals;
  • and miscellaneous crafts (leatherworking and woodburning, for example)

So what are my interests? How can I possibly answer that question?

Sticking to Small Talk

It’s often remarked by autistic people that we don’t “do” small talk. We’d rather not talk at all, or talk endlessly about one of our interests — there is no middle ground. We’re all different, of course, so this isn’t an absolute, but it does resonate with me. But I’ve been thinking about one way in which I sometimes prefer small talk, because it’s more comfortable than self-disclosure.

I don’t necessarily mean disclosure of my autism; I just mean any kind of revelation of who I am and what is important to me. Small talk isn’t my strong suit — I’d much prefer a deep, intense conversation about one of my passions — but it’s safer to stay on blander, neutral ground.

And that’s because all too often my excitement or intensity about a subject has put people off. I’ve learned how not to totally monopolize the conversation, so it’s not that; it’s just that a lot of people seem to get “spooked” by too much enthusiasm. (Their definition of “too much,” that is.) Similarly, the specific thing I’m enthusiastic about has often led to rejection: it’s too nerdy, too arcane, too incomprehensible. I’ve learned to introduce those parts of myself slowly and deliberately, and only to people I expect to (read: want to) interact with again in the future.

So I get impatient with small talk in a social setting, but I also get nervous that someone will ask a deeper question and try to get to know me when I’m not ready for that. The specifics of the setting matter, too; I am very conscious of people around me who might overhear what I am saying and take things out of context. There’s also the question of whether we have enough time (and enough mutual interest) to really get into the subject and truly understand each other, because most of my interests, beliefs and opinions do not make good soundbites. They need some shared context, in many cases.

But mostly it’s about trust, and that takes time to build. In the meantime, I’m likely to stick to small talk until I figure out where we stand.

(Addendum: I should add that I do have some go-to subjects that function well as small talk with most people, but are also strong interests of mine. I can talk about my dogs all day, for example, as well as just about any aspect of nature. Luckily this includes the weather, which is a common topic most people bring up. 🙂 This makes it easier to handle these sorts of conversations while feeling out what else I could go into detail about.)