Tag Archives: Social Events

Tolerance and Triggers

I think in some ways as I get older I’m actually getting less tolerant of things that irritate or upset me.

Or maybe I’m intolerant more these days because I know I’m autistic, therefore my intolerance has (to me at least) a valid justification or root cause so I’m more inclined to allow myself to feel it and give in to it rather than try to miserably soldier on?

Take today for instance. I had been persuaded into acting as a witness for the marriage of a friend of my partner. Unfortunately this meant attending the celebration as well, which took the form of a sit-down dinner for 10 at a local hotel. Normally I would just say no to anything resembling a gathering of more than about 4 people, but I didn’t really have a way to back out of this one, having already been at the registry office to attend the ceremony and sign on the dotted line when required to do my witnessing.

Unfortunately there were two aspects to the event which conspired to bring me to a near-meltdown situation.

Firstly, the bride’s sister was there with her husband and children, and I know for a fact that her husband physically and emotionally abuses her and the children. There’s no way on earth that I’m going to be civil with such a monster, so the only option was for me to ignore him, which gave the event an awkward flavour right from the start.

Secondly, the dinner was a buffet, which itself just rubs me up the wrong way. Why would anyone opt to help themselves to rapidly cooling dishes of congealing food, just so they can have more than one plate of it, and overeat themselves sick, when down the road there are perfectly good restaurants where they actually, you know, cook the food specially for you and bring it to you at the optimum freshness and temperature?

Sadly buffets are very popular in Malta, where the skinflint populace seems to favour quantity over quality and feels they’ve saved money when actually the experience is vastly inferior to, you know, a proper restaurant, and all they’ve done is binge on crap when a moderate freshly cooked meal would be so much healthier and tastier.

And the worst thing about today? Having to watch my fellow diners continue to go back and back to the buffet tables and stuff themselves silly long after I’ve finished my single plate of indifferent main course and sickly-sweet dessert. It got to the point where I was at risk of banging my fists on the table and shouting “Enough! Don’t they feed you at home? Or are you all fucking bulimic and heading off to vomit later?”

My rapidly deteriorating mood must have given me away to my partner (who inevitably knows my ‘tells’ better than anyone) and she made our excuses so that we could leave early. That put me temporarily in the doghouse with her because we missed the cake (MORE fucking food) but in the end she knows that when I have to leave a situation, I really have to leave it, otherwise I’m liable to lose it completely.

So, a pretty horrible day all in all. But I wonder whether I might have stuck it out a few years ago, before I was aware I was autistic, or whether the outcome would have been just the same and I would still have been heading towards a meltdown – but without knowing why.

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Knowing your limitations

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.

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