Too Many Voices

If you’re like me, you probably know how it feels to get overwhelmed when too many people are talking at once. Maybe it’s a relaxed group conversation, or an animated classroom discussion. Maybe you’re trying to have a conversation in a crowded restaurant. But whether or not the majority of voices are directed at you, just the sheer volume — both the volume of noise and the volume of words/thoughts/ideas — begins to overwhelm any single voice, any single unit of information being conveyed.

Sometimes the internet feels like that to me. Especially when it comes to social media, and particularly when it comes to Twitter: whether people are directing their words toward me or not, there are just too many voices for me to process.

And when that happens, I lose my own voice.

I lose my voice because I have to pull back. Otherwise I get lost in the forest of other people’s words, and that makes me lose track of what’s important in my life. Sometimes I really want to reach out, but I can’t figure out what to say. I don’t always want extensive interaction, or help solving a problem — I just want some connection. But then I pause, because I don’t want all the voices focused on me, even though I dread being ignored as well.

So all of this is to say that I have been pulled back lately. Right now I am starting to reconnect with Twitter after nearly a week off, but I am still not feeling ready to share very much. I am woefully behind on reading all of the wonderful blogs I follow, too, and the thought of trying to catch up is daunting. I will be visiting family this weekend, which has its own trials, and we’ll see how “peopled out” I feel after that.

I do want to say, though, that generally things have been going well. 🙂 In fact, that’s probably part of why I’ve needed to pull back from online interaction — there has been a lot going on, and my focus has been pulled into new projects and areas of study. But I’d like to find a balance that allows me to maintain the connections I’ve made in the online world while also not getting overwhelmed by the flood of voices.

Finding My Voice

Sometimes language eludes me.

It’s not usually the ability to speak that is a problem. I sometimes speak quite a lot. Writing is admittedly easier, and things like email are usually the best way to convey my thoughts and/or plans. But the ability to put together complex themes into a coherent whole — such as an essay, a story, or a blog post — seems to get blocked sometimes.

This has been happening more and more lately, and I find it distressing. I have self-published two novels and several short stories, and for a while there I intended to make writing at least a part-time career. But I have been finding it harder and harder both to start new projects and to maintain enough momentum to finish them.

Maybe it’s an executive function issue. I’m still learning how to identify those as they come up. Mostly I just end up feeling overwhelmed, and my head goes fuzzy instead of…whatever un-fuzzy thing it was supposed to be doing.

As a current case in point, there is this blog. I have always had difficulty keeping blogs going, despite many attempts. With this one, I promised myself I would impose no deadlines, no expectations on my own ability to produce words. But I did promise a follow-up to my last post, about telling my parents that I am Autistic, so this time it’s been weighing on me that it’s taking me so long to put something together.

The talk with my parents went remarkably well. I brought all my plans, my script and my articles…and then I didn’t use any of them. Instead I just launched into the topic shortly after arriving, and didn’t stop until I felt I had said enough to reach some initial level of understanding. They asked some questions, and made some observations that helped them put what I was saying into context, and while they seemed surprised at first I could sort of see it settling in.

That conversation was also meant to be a prelude to discussing the topic with my wider social networks of family and friends, primarily via Facebook. So after I got home, I spent the rest of the week crafting that initial announcement and choosing what information I wanted to share.

I posted it on Friday morning, then went for a walk. The rest of that day was nerve-wracking, as I waited for reactions and got very few. Even things I posted after that got very little reaction for a while, which is unusual. Chatting with other Autistic people on Twitter helped me keep things in perspective for a while, particularly with the suggestion that many people probably just didn’t know what to say, but I spent the better part of two days second-guessing everything I had said and generally feeling anxious about having said anything at all.

Then over the weekend I got a private message from a friend. This is someone I have known for a few years online but have never actually met, and we had had a private conversation a couple of weeks earlier about the autism spectrum and late diagnosis. She realized at that point that she was probably on the spectrum as well, and began pursuing more information. She was writing this time to thank me for my public post, and to tell me that that previous conversation had helped in ways she hadn’t foreseen at the time.

And that is exactly why I wanted to start talking about this. In the weeks since that initial post, however, I’ve been finding myself at a loss for what to say next. My family in particular has a tendency to just not talk about uncomfortable subjects, and I still don’t have much of a sense of how they feel about this whole revelation. In addition, I get very anxious about extended conversations on social media; I find a lot of people are more interested in exchanging sound bites rather than thoughtful comments. Conflict is always difficult for me, and I am even more reluctant to risk conflict centered on the matter of my still-new identity as Autistic, which feels increasingly important to me and is also frequently misunderstood.

So I am still wrestling with language as I consider how else to be my authentically Autistic self in various facets of my life. But for now, I have managed to pull together this blog post, and I will consider that a decent next step. 🙂