Aspie Moments #3: Mind the (massive) gap

Being me takes a lot of time. One of my most prevalent characteristics is that I’m slow. I just do things at a slower pace than other people. Maybe because I do them more thoroughly. Maybe because it takes me longer to figure out how to do them. Or maybe because I think too much about them instead of doing.

This little drama plays itself out every morning: My house does not have a parking space. In fact, most houses in the street don’t have parking spaces, because they were built long before cars were even invented. So everyone parks on the street. By the time I get home from work, most spaces are already taken (mostly by cars which didn’t even leave in the first place), so I end up parking half a mile from my front door. It also doesn’t help that I can’t parallel park unless the space is at least 3 times the length of my car.

This means that in the morning, the first thing I have to do is trek out to my car. Once I arrive there, I put my bag in the passenger seat and attempt to get behind the steering wheel. This is where things get tricky. The car is parked facing in the direction of traffic, and the street is already very busy at that time in the morning.

First step: unlock the car door. (I have no central or remote locking.) I have to spot a gap in the traffic, nip out, fumble the key in the lock – always takes me a few seconds, that – unlock the door, and then the next car is already going past and I have to nip back to the kerb.

Next step: actually get into the car. This means I have to wait for another gap in the traffic, so I can open the door. I wait, watching five cars go past, six, seven, eight. There’s a gap! But it’s too small. By the time I have gripped the handle and opened the door, the car will be right beside me. So I have to wait for a gap that’s big enough, until I can finally manage to get into the driver’s seat. Phew.

Next step: leave the kerb and drive off. This means I have to wait until there are no cars coming from behind, but also no oncoming traffic, because I have to wiggle round the car parked in front of mine, and that means swerving into the other lane. This can take a while. I sit there for five minutes, six minutes. Ten cars go past, twenty, a bus, a van, a lorry. Then the bus stops at the bus stop further ahead, causing traffic to back up right past my car and beyond. By now I’m seething with resentment and anxious about time passing, and I still haven’t even started my commute. Resentment at all the other cars around, blocking my progress – why are there so many cars? What are all these people doing driving around, keeping me from getting on? But also anger directed at myself, because I can’t do things like other people.

This morning, the man getting into the car next to mine had managed to stuff two small children into the back seat, get in and drive off, while I was still hovering insecurely, waiting to open my car door.

Why does everything take me so much longer? Why do I stand there and think, observe, weigh up, instead of just doing? Because that’s what is delaying me. Other people just go and do. They open their car doors into the traffic, because that’s what they need to do at that moment, and they trust that everyone else will go round them. They just nip out into the traffic, right in front of someone else’s nose, trusting that the gap will be just big enough.

I can’t do that. And that’s for two reasons, I think. One is overthinking, the other is catastrophizing. Of course, I can’t really know what other people think because I can’t look into their heads, but I imagine, for most people it goes something like this:

Thought: get into car.

Action: open car door.

Whereas for me, it goes like this:

Thought: must get into car. Must open car door. But if I open the door, it will be in the way of traffic. The next car might not see the door and bump into it. Or it tries to swerve, can’t because of oncoming traffic and then the driver gets angry and honks their horn at me. What if I think the gap is big enough, but it’s not, and then the next car comes while my door is still open, and they can’t get past and honk their horn at me? (Honking horns loom very large in my imagination. I expend a lot of energy and brainpower on strategies to avoid honking horns.)

Action: none. Or delayed until it’s 100% safe.

I think too much. I observe too much, deduce, project, analyse the situation and predict possibilities. All instead of actually doing. And that’s why everything takes me so much longer and more effort.

There is another factor, which I think has to do with visual perception or processing difficulties. While I’m okay at estimating how close or far away something is, I’m very bad at judging how fast something is moving. I always leave a big gap between myself and the car in front when I’m driving, because when they brake, I can see that they brake (obviously, because the brake lights come on), but I can’t see whether they are slowing down gradually or coming abruptly to a halt. Similarly, when I try to cross the road, I hover at the kerb and wait for a massive gap in the traffic, because when I see a car coming, I find it very difficult to judge how fast it is approaching and how much time I have to cross the road. So I wait and wait, until I’m absolutely sure it’s safe.

Similarly, when I’m waiting for a gap so I can get into my car, I look at the car approaching in the distance, and if it’s not really far away, I can’t risk it. So I stand there, looking like an idiot, while everyone around me simply gets into their cars and drives off.

Yep, it takes a lot of extra time being me!

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