The Social Interaction Versus Mental Wellbeing Dilemma

As I have mentioned before in this blog, those of us with Aspergers have to learn social skills the same way that the average person learns intellectual skills. As a 27 year old, I have had many years of learning social skills and I am fortunate in that I can get by pretty well with the social skills I have learned. I can make and attend my own doctors appointments and I can cope very well with every predictable scenario that I get involved in. If there is a conversational rule that has to be stuck to in a certain scenario, I am fine and most people who don’t know me would probably be unlikely to realise that I have a social and communication disorder  because I have memorised the route that the conversation will take and I play my memory back and recite the same words as I did last time. This is how we come across as functioning adults.

However, as these are intellectually learned social skills, they disappear when I have the misfortune to be tired, ill, anxious or stressed. Currently I am suffering with hayfever which mean that my eyes and nose are constantly streaming, I have a constant headache as a result of my congested sinuses and my ears are blocked, again due to sinus congestion. Antihistamines have little effect. I feel extremely lethargic and this affects my social interaction as well as other skills (you’ll probably notice that this blog post isn’t written as well as some of my others because my brain doesn’t work as well when I am ill). When I feel as ill as I do, I am unable to maintain social interaction to the standard I normally can do. I know that a lot of people lose the motivation to socialise when they are not feeling at their best but, with me, it’s not a case of not wanting to socialise-I physically can’t because I lose the ability to recall the social skills that I have learned. As a comparison, I could ask someone who’s not on the autistic spectrum to think about how difficult it would be to hold a conversation in a foreign language that they have a good knowledge of usually but that is not their home language when they are extremely tired. Most people would probably agree that they would find it very difficult to string their sentences together in this other language because of the way that tiredness has affected their ability to recall this language and speak it coherently. For me, this is what happens with my social skills. Social skills are a foreign language to me, one I have worked hard to remember and use in everyday life but one which does not come naturally. When I am forced to interact socially when I am not in the best state, I find it extremely difficult and any bystander would probably see me as rude because I tend to speak as little as possible and avert my eyes because I don’t have the energy to maintain eye contact.I would go so far as to say that it damages my mental wellbeing when circumstances force me to interact when I am not in the right mood-it often puts me in a stressed mood for the rest of the day. 

This is one of the areas where I feel those of us with Aspergers are misunderstood the most. People don’t understand the intellectual approach that we have to make towards learning enough social skills to survive in society because it is alien to them. To most people, being able to socially interact with other people is as natural as breathing. Even when my friends without Aspergers are going through a tough time emotionally, they still manage to interact socially on a basic level with other people. I guess the other factor here is that most people can hide their true feelings and still interact with others. When I am stressed, it is not uncommon for me to remain silent for an extended period of time even when there are other people around. I know that they probably consider me to be rude or stand offish but I just cannot force myself to interact. In my opinion, this is one of the most disabling aspects of Aspergers. We do know that we need to interact to live in society but our neurological makeup only permits us to interact with people in a “normal” way when we are in a certain state of mind.

I am sure that there are people with Aspergers who can interact better than I can just as there are other people with Aspergers who have more issues with social interaction than I do. I have come across people with Aspergers who live completely solitary lifestyles with extremely limited interpersonal interaction. For me personally, I am too much of a people watcher to opt for such a lifestyle but I can understand why certain people opt for it. Above everything else, I urge my readers who aren’t on the spectrum to try and think how hard it is for us and please don’t assume that we are just being rude or difficult when we can’t speak with you-sometimes our brains are just too overloaded with other issues that are going on in our lives and we just don’t have the energy for interaction. It is not a personal rejection-it’s just one of the more disabling aspects of this condition.

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2 Responses to The Social Interaction Versus Mental Wellbeing Dilemma

  1. maximusaurus says:

    For me, speaking as someone with Asperger’s, social interaction was like exercise; it might be uncomfortable and difficult in the short term, but in the long term it was good for me.

  2. I’m wondering about this at the moment too. In the UK it’s forced and I make myself do this but in greece or the cayman islands it doesn’t seem to matter?

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