Socially clueless

Had another bad meltdown today. Worst I’ve had for a while – about an hour of near-hysterical crying, and that was with access to all the helpful things I have at home. Ended up curled on my bed wrapped tightly in blankets just to try and feel enough pressure to make me feel safe. Because it’s only when I feel safe that I can calm down and think through the issues.

What seems to be happening at the moment is that I keep hitting issues that my strategies can’t deal with – and I don’t have the ability, on my own, to think of new strategies that will address the issues. (I’m hopefully getting help with that soon.)

One of the main issues that seems to trigger meltdowns at the moment is not being able to pick up on social cues. Before I got my diagnosis, and before I started reading more about autism, I was blissfully ignorant that I was just ignoring any social cues; blundering my way through with people. And most people – at least once I left school! – were kind enough not to point out my cluelessness. It was treated as bluntness, a dry sense of humour, a lack of confidence…

But now I’ve gone from ‘unconsciously incompetent’ to ‘consciously incompetent’. Now I’m aware that there are cues that most people pick up on – and that I can’t. So I’m second-guessing almost every interaction, wondering whether there are things that I should be picking up on that I’m not. And sometimes (often!) I see cues that aren’t there – but that could be in a different situation or set of circumstances. The problem is that people don’t come with a rigid set of rules that I can learn and apply.

I suppose an analogy would be showing a completely colour-blind person a picture of a tomato and asking what colour it is. They’d probably guess it was red – as that’s the ‘normal’ colour of a tomato. But today, I was eating yellow tomatoes. Unripe ones are green. And the colour-blind person would have no way of knowing whether the tomato in the picture was one of the outliers or whether it was the standard red colour. It’s the same with me picking up on social cues. I can sometimes make an educated guess. I may appear as though I am picking up on the cues if I guess correctly. But it is just me making the best guess I can on the information I have available. I can’t understand the social cues any more than the colour-blind person in my analogy can see what colour the tomato is.

And now I’m aware of doing this, I’m also aware that getting it wrong could have consequences. So that adds in another layer of anxiety. All of which opens up more and more ‘windows’, meaning that a system crash becomes more likely.

The good news is that both my resilience and recovery time after a meltdown are definitely improving. The strategies and techniques I have in place are at least helping with that. I just wish they weren’t needed.


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