Disconnect and Effort

Sometimes (a lot of times) (all the time) I feel like there is a vast gulf between me and the rest of humanity. Or at least neurotypical humanity, which seems to be most of them. I’m sure there are many reasons I feel such a disconnect – I am not silly enough to try to claim there is only one “real” reason that is the cause of it all. That said, I think I have figured out one of the reasons I feel such a disconnect.

That reason lies in the effort it takes me to socialize. When it comes down to it, very nearly all human interaction requires HUGE effort on my part. It is extremely normal for me to spend all of my resources managing social interaction to the point of complete and utter exhaustion that requires over 24 hours to recover from. This is the life I live, and it will never change. Going to a religious observance or a LARP takes literally everything I have.

“Simple” things like conversation also take intense effort. I constantly run things through in my head, trying to detect codes or metaphors, decode those codes or metaphors, figure out replies, and how to take the concept of the reply and turn it into words, and how to arrange those words so that they make sense, and how to arrange my facial expression in an appropriate way, and I have to do it all fast enough that the conversation seems normal to them. It’s HARD. Even when I can manage it, it is exhausting and sometimes downright painful.

While I like to socialize one-on-one, even that is often extremely draining. The demands of conversation, of facial expression, of managing the constant bombardment of PERSONNESS that is right there all wears on me. It’s a lot of effort. It’s work.

But the primary point I am trying to make here is that putting lots of effort into socialization and friendship and even just acquaintanceship is normal to me. It’s standard. It’s just what I need to do if I’m going to interact with people.

And here’s the important part – it’s NOT normal to neurotypicals. I think in much of my past I kinda knew that, but it didn’t really sink in. I would ask for a level of effort from other people that was really only a fraction of the effort I put in all the time, and the response would be anger! How dare I ask so much from them! Nor has this been a one-off occurrence. While the response is not always anger, I have definitely gathered over the years that asking people to put in even some of the effort I put in is just asking too much. It’s being unreasonable and demanding.

Sometimes people will speak of putting in lots of effort. And I get confused, because at the very least, what I see is still less, or maybe equivalent to, my standard effort in socialization. I’ll wind up thinking something like “that is a special effort? but I do more work every time we interact.”

I know that socialization isn’t necessarily easy for neurotypicals. “We all find it hard” would be a very predictable but extremely horrible response to this post. Yes, we all find it hard. What I hope you can take from this is that I find it *much harder* than your average neurotypical. I have learned to no longer be shocked when a neurotypical can go to a LARP, and then go do a thing the next day. I cannot. I probably never will.

So yeah. I feel a disconnect. I’m over here and y’all are so far away, sometimes I think it’s no wonder I can’t bridge that gap. And neurotypicals have so many people who are so near, I suppose it is not surprising that most of them have no interest in doing the work required to build a bridge and meet in the middle. (on a side note, neurotypicals have also told me that I should not try to connect with other autistic people, because autistic people would be too rigid and I need people who can flex to my autistic weirdnesses, or something like that. apparently I’m doomed)


Filed under personal, social skills

12 responses to “Disconnect and Effort

  1. Dan

    We had a two-car garage when I was a kid, and the garage door was rigid. It pivoted up on hinges to lay horizontal up by the ceiling, and was supported in that position by tension in two sets of great coil springs, one set on either side of the door.
    On the odd occasion when the springs became dislodged (I’m not sure what happened, I was a kid) the door could only be held open with an enormous effort by some person, else the car was stuck in the garage.
    That’s very much like what it’s like for me to hold up conversation – holding up that great wooden door. As soon as I look away or quit concentrating on the person or the conversation, the door comes down and I’m inside again, in the place of my preference. Being “inside” is the most comfortable situation for me; like the garage, it’s is cool and dark, and has many interesting things, and I prefer it to the harsh sunlight of interaction. I forget about the conversation and the topic doesn’t come to mind; my mind is free to wander down the corridors of theory and math, of color and art, or whatever.
    But then they pull me back into the conversation and I must heft that great door up again out of an earnest wish to not offend, and hold it against the force of so much weight, so I can participate. Because I want to? No, because it’s what NTs expect. And while I hold the great door open (no one sees the effort expended), I am kind and gracious to those around me.
    One time I was (shall we say?) “encouraged” to go to a party hosted by the company’s customer. It was a very civil event with no loud music, no speeches, no drunks, etc. Folks from the embassy were there – about as tame a party as you could hope for with 40 or 50 attendees. But when I got home, I got lost in my apartment building; putting forth that level of effort for such a long period completely drained me.
    I do understand. Many NTs enjoy that stuff, and many cannot see the effort.

    • Possum

      This is a great description, too.

      I can understand that people enjoy interacting with others, but I completely don’t understand the need to force it on the unwilling.

    • Oh, that is an awesome metaphor. Conversation is just so much work!

  2. Possum

    “the constant bombardment of personness” – Yes. What a good phrase and descriptor.

    I don’t think conversations are quite as difficult for me as you described (for one thing, I don’t have difficulties with facial expressions, either mine or decoding others – though I do often have problems making my speech understandable to others). But it’s still not a NT experience and never, ever one that I crave, which clearly most NT’s do.

    I thought your use of LARP as an example of socializing was apt. I had to look it up, then thought, this describes just about every conversation.

    • Why thank you! It really does feel like people just constantly blast themselves outward and being around them can mean bracing myself against that bombardment. Though I also find that different people “push” in different amounts, and I find the people who push less to be far more comfortable to interact with than the people who push more.

  3. I’m extroverted and do get a lot out of socialising, but it is and will always be draining to me, exactly for the reasons and processes you describe. I like connecting with other autistic people because at least there is a mutual understanding there that it’s a huge effort. And just the simple fact of that understanding and acknowledgement makes things easier to bear, sometimes.

    • > I like connecting with other autistic people because at least there is a mutual understanding there that it’s a huge effort.

      This makes a lot of sense to me. As you say, just having people understand the work I’m putting in can make things better somehow.

  4. Kaleido Bloom

    I discovered your blog three days ago and have read every post you’ve written since your first. I would like to say “Thank you” for putting your experiences out into the open. I am an undiagnosed female-ish person of color, but have started to research AS and have been considering the possibility (though I recall rejecting it completely in my younger years). I have found some of the academic sources helpful, though I connect more strongly to some of the personal experiences of those whose blogs I’ve read.

    I have recently committed myself to getting out of the house and trying to make practical use of my obsessions and preoccupations. I recently joined a cooking/gardening class and I have been determined to socialize in a way that makes me most comfortable as opposed to putting on my “social face”.

    Interestingly enough, it took a significant burden off me and I felt better overall. It also helps that the class is interest-centric. I can talk on about the health benefits of lemon water, healthier sugar alternatives, or how to properly harvest without damaging the plant, and people are *genuinely* interested.

    It’s at the same time each week and I only have to see those people during those hours. It’s a great way to put my mind to work, make me feel valued for my knowledge, and exposes me to new ideas relating to my interest (which benefits me), in a setting that ends at a specified time with a specified goal. I sit back and chime in when I think I have something of value to add to the class and keep the focus solely on adding value to the class (treating it in a task-specific way takes the stress off). I have found comfort in my new style of selective communication.

    In the past my biggest communication struggle has been that I put in so much energy into making a good impression and relating to others that I often ended up giving people too much of a “false” impression. This caused people to have certain expectations of me and ended up in unsatisfying friendships.

    My first impressions were very charismatic, at times almost like a move-character. I took great great care in my presentation. It took me 4 hours to leave the house some mornings. My parent had to ban me from being up before a certain time since I was waking up the while house trying to pick out what to wear and figure out what I was going to talk about at school that day.

    Despite this effort, my “eccentricities” were eventually noted by many (lack of eye contact, no inside voice, a tendency to be critical etc.). Even so, many just figured these things were “quirks” and I managed to avoid serious bullying.

    My real struggle was when it came time for the friendship to “deepen” beyond the superficial. When I found myself unable to empathize in an acceptable way, instead being “too honest”, trying to fix the problem, or even worse not toning down the light-hearted “social face” since I didn’t know what the appropriate response was and that just made me look shallow to others. Being a well-known klutz did not help.

    This judgement would cause me to pull away from most relationships. I figured that it was better to have more acquaintances than friends and avoided deep social bonds.

    I accidentally managed to maintain two friends from middle school into high school, and even through college. They are my friends to this day.

    But they were “easy” friends. They weren’t big on “feelings” or “touching”, and were perfectly satisfied if we only got to hang out away from school every couple of months. I would describe them as “expressive through action”. They were practical-minded people who showed their value in tangible ways such as offering to help me study etc. which I greatly appreciate to this day.

    I did falter a little bit after college , becoming more and more absorbed in my depression. But my partner convinced me to call them a few months ago after a year of not speaking with them and it actually cleared the air for me to talk about my struggles (doing poorly in college, the anxiety, poverty etc.) as well as for them to talk about what they desired out of our friendship (surprisingly I found these requests low maintenance; they are both very introverted folk). It was the first conversation about “feelings” that my friends and I had in our 10 years of friendship and I was finally able to admit that I was struggling.

    I think it’s just a matter of finding people who work. I used to think that if I didn’t have 30 communications then I was lacking something. I recall having that many (sometimes more) and I recall being a neurotic shut-in outside of school hours who never invited anyone over, immersed in her online role plays for 12 hours at a time, never could get on a constant hygiene schedule and was always one anxiety spike away from a meltdown (and boy…did I meltdown). Forgetting to eat, forgetting to sleep, snapping at family etc.

    I just realized that there’s a certain amount of socializing that I’m happy with and that there’s nothing wrong if that number is lower than others. I’ve got two local folks. I’ve got two long distance folks. I’ve got my romantic relationships (I’m polyamorous and have two partners, one of whom I see once a month), and I’ve got my gardening/cooking class/hobby.

    I’m still neurotic. I’m still a shut-in. I’m better about the hygiene thing. Well. Better. I wore flip flops while gardening today and my feet are still dirty because the dry to wet shower transition disturbs me. I eat the same thing every day (and have for the past few years) because it’s easy. Little things like being “too hot” can cause me to gripe at whoever is around and I won’t even realize what the issue is, I correct people too much sometimes etc. I could really go on.

    But things are better. I’m happier overall.

    Thank you for writing. Your writing is encouraging me to continue to work on my life and relationships. I was pondering over my past this week and feeling a bit sad, but just reading your blog over the past few days has kept me going.

    Thank you.

    • Wow, that was quite a post. Thank you for telling me so much about yourself! I am glad my blog has made a positive impact for you. I write in the hopes that people will find what I write beneficial, and it’s wonderful to know that I am succeeding.

      I’m glad you’re getting to a better point in your life. That is wonderful. I hope things continue to improve for you.

  5. Miss Kitty

    For years (until I was diagnosed with Asperger’s), I always felt there was something wrong with me. I just always felt so exhausted, and I never seemed to be able to connect with others. Even though we both spoke English, there was a huge gulf between us. After getting my diagnosis, I realised it was body language and other social cues I was completely missing. And I also realised how much more effort I was having to put into having a conversation than my NT parents and siblings were. They couldn’t understand why I would absolutely dread any social interaction. These days, I find I simply can’t be bothered to make the effort so much. I don’t want to completely cut myself off from everyone, but it IS an effort to socalise, one that most NT people don’t understand. I tried to compare it to walking for them – if you had to consciously think about every movement you make when you walk, you would be exhausted before you got out the door. You might be able to keep going for a block or so, then you would collapse. That’s the kind of effort we have to put into every single social interaction. I find if I can use analogies like this, it helps others to see just what we go through. They still don’t always understand or care, but it helps.

    On another note, have you r anyone else reading this ever been to an autistic function? I never have, but I have been thinking about it. It seems to me, as autsticcook says above, that at least people know how much effort it is and can acknowledge that

    • Oh, I like your walking metaphor. That’s a good one!

      I have never been to a function for autistic people, but if you like I can ask for you on my blog’s facebook page and see if anyone replies.

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