Winter is a time of events and social quandaries. This year I have been kinder to myself about ensuring I get some recovery time. It’s so important. Such a huge part of self-care.
At a party I’m often coping at my limits. I suddenly feel like I’m made of corners, I’m aware of every angle of my body and it’s all wrong. I stand, awkwardly, trying to make myself fit into the scene. I struggle to understand what people are saying to me.
Every once in a while conversation crosses into something I have an interest in, and I can feel this light come on behind my eyes. I speak, animatedly, about my passion. It isn’t about me fitting into the scene anymore, I shine out of it. I glow. I feel a part of it all.
Then it passes, and I step back.
Sometimes I take refuge in talking to children. Maybe my bluntness works better with them. I don’t stare into their eyes, I don’t touch them and demand hugs or contact, I smile and listen. Sometimes I dance with them. Not for them, but to let my body move its angles away for a while.
It’s socially acceptable to be me around children, because there is no judgement.
When things throw me, when people arrive who I didn’t know were coming, when things change, I will find a pattern to fall into. There are always patterns, especially at this time of year. The shadows from the lights throw a web of fingers across the ceiling. The pictures on the wall are a mottled pattern of squares against white that I can chase a route around. I will give myself a small chunk of time to just stare at it. It will soothe me, it will anchor me.
It is hard. It’s hard, and at the same time I know that there is no one there who understands just how hard. I wonder if they all have the tangle of sound and light and laughter knotted in their heads. Untangling only when pointed at something I can hold court on.
I watch them and it all looks so easy. Words slide from them smoothly, there’s a gentle back and forth that makes my practiced small talk look stunted and lumpy. This is it, this is my weakness all laid bare.
I don’t connect to people like that. In a crowded room, gripping my glass of mulled wine, I will suddenly feel completely alone.
If you have a friend or family member who is autistic, coming to an event this Christmas, there are things you can do to make it easier.
Make sure they know that there’s somewhere they can retreat to if they need to.
Explain where food and drinks are and when and how they will be served. Ask if there’s anything you haven’t explained that they would like to know.
If possible make sure that they know who will be there, and if changes happen, explain what is happening as soon as possible.
If they’re looking lost and silent, ask them about something they’re interested in. I always appreciate someone focusing me on something safe. It makes me feel included.
In the right circumstances I love socialising. I will talk and interact and glow. This tells me that the right circumstances do exist for me. There are situations where I fit. I will still suffer the social exhaustion that always follows events. I will still need a few days of minimal contact afterwards, but during those times I will think fondly of what happened and how it was worth every ounce of my energy.