Before I knew I was autistic, I have many memories of agreeing to do things way outside my comfort zone, because I guess I figured I had no excuse not to do them.
Things such as attending parties, going to work social events, dinner parties, group activities – they were what normal people did, and I didn’t feel I had a valid reason to say no, so more often than not I said yes and then had a thoroughly miserable time at whatever the event was, usually feeling awkward and out of my depth, hating everyone around me and hating myself for having failed to find a good excuse to get out of it, or for not being strong enough to just say no without giving a reason.
It used to take me days after each event to recover, after having spent days or weeks before the event dreading it, with my anxiety levels building almost to breaking point.
Now, as a self-aware Aspie, I understand why these occasions were so unbearable for me, and I know that, despite what some people say, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to be gained by trying to do something outside my comfort zone. “Oh look, I did something outside my comfort zone!” “Oh wow, how do you feel?” “Like shit.” “But it must have been good in some way?” “Nope, can’t think of anything.” In fact I think autistic people don’t have a comfort ‘zone’ so much as a reinforced concrete barrier, through which it is pointless to try and go.
Why would I put myself through that hell, when I could simply, you know, not do it?
So I say no. No to dinner parties, no to group barbecues on the beach, no to New Year’s Eve gatherings. Being self employed now means that work events are a thing of the past thank goodness. I don’t mind eating out with a friend, or even two friends at a push, but they have to be good friends – friends who know my character and accept it. And I don’t have many of those.
I was almost persuaded to attend a big event later this month (a school reunion some 30+ years after we all left school) – and I even bought flights – but several weeks after saying to an eager friend that I would go, I took a look at myself and realised that my anxiety levels were through the roof, my skin was breaking out like a teenager, I was having nightmares about the event, and other aspects of my life were suffering. So this is now a no, too. It’s just not worth it. And to be honest, out of the 200+ people in my year at school, I only wanted to talk to a handful of people anyway. The rest I either had no wish to talk to or hardly knew. And me, as a former alcoholic, in a room with possibly 100 people, almost all of them drinking to excess? No way in hell. A small sacrifice for peace of mind, and a lesson re-learned and reinforced.
POSTSCRIPT: It’s now the day of the event and I know I made the right decision. My skin has cleared up, I’m sleeping better and my anxiety levels are back to normal (which is to say, I have always lived with anxiety but now it’s manageable again). There’s a small part of me that’s a little sad about not getting to see two or three people in particular, but the sadness doesn’t translate into regret. And maybe I’ll get to see them in the future, in an easier situation.