It was always going to be an interesting weekend.
For someone with my sensory issues, going to a family restaurant in the middle of a busy shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon was never going to be a pleasant experience.
For someone with my social communication difficulties, who doesn’t like large groups of people, being in a large group with people I don’t know well (even if most of them are technically family) was always going to be a challenge.
It’s a difficult balance to strike. Other than my parents, none of the rest of my family know about my diagnosis. So I’m not quite sure how to act around them. I could choose to mask and pretend that nothing has changed – but that’s starting to hurt me too much now I’ve come to more of a state of acceptance about my condition. I could choose not to, and be completely myself, but that would need a lot of explanation and would focus attention on me – which I don’t want, and wouldn’t be appropriate anyway for someone else’s birthday party.
So I took the compromise position of minimising interaction with the people with whom I’m less familiar. And I found unlikely allies in my parents in respect of maintaining this position. Although with them it’s still the condition that dare not speak its name – we haven’t discussed my diagnosis and its implications, or the work that’s still ongoing, and I doubt we ever will. But we seem to have come to an unspoken agreement about how to deal with the condition: I will say when I need certain accommodations – for instance, to sit where no-one can walk behind me, and where I can leave the table if I need to – and they will try and help me make that happen. They just won’t ask for any details.
I can live with that.
It’s not an easy situation. I would prefer to be as open with them as I am with everyone else. But that doesn’t seem to be what they want. And I’m not sure that forcing them to discuss my condition would be what I need either. Not until or unless they’re ready – I have no desire to force myself or my condition where I – or my condition – am not wanted.
But… no meltdowns this weekend. A bit of sensory overload, but that was manageable with the strategies I’ve been working on.
The party wasn’t enjoyable for me. It was never going to be. But I managed to fulfil a social obligation. With everything that’s gone on over the last year, I’m counting the fact that I can actually manage to do that as a minor victory. I want to be able to continue operating in the real world – it’s not helpful for me to just sit in my little autistic bubble doing whatever I feel like.
Yes, people will have to make allowances for me – like they did this weekend. I will start stimming when I become overwhelmed, and people will have to learn to live with any embarrassment that causes. I will need to be a bit fussy about where I sit, and people will have to go along with that. In exchange, I will try to hold up my part of the social contract. I will – as far as I can – make polite conversation. I will – again, as far as I can – make sure I remove myself from public view if I think I’m starting to get too anxious or overwhelmed.
Because this is important to me. I need to feel included; to feel part of something. I’m not prepared to sacrifice what I need to make other people feel comfortable any more. But I’m not expecting all the flexibility to be one-sided. I will continue to do what I can, even if sometimes it doesn’t seem like a lot.
But I am glad there won’t be another family event for a few months…