This weekend was the middle one of three in a row when I have to socialise and “do things” for long periods of time. Last weekend was probably the most stressful. It involved driving 200 miles to an unknown place, meeting up with 15 people, spending all Saturday afternoon and evening with them, staying overnight in a hotel, spending the Sunday with the group as well until I could finally get away at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I knew all the people, and they are very nice, but still it was very stressful. I survived with only a couple of wobbles (those little crying fits that I get instead of meltdowns). Fortunately I had Monday off work to recover. I needed it!
This weekend involved only one evening event. I was kind of observing myself as I went through it, so here is what went down:
I was invited to a birthday celebration, and I was actually given two weeks notice that this would come up. The birthday person was actually joking about it, they know that I struggle with spontaneous plans. I like the person, so I said I would come.
Last week the birthday person told me that they were only planning to go to a pub on Sunday night with some friends, not have a big party. They told me the name and location of the pub, and also the address of their house, saying I could park in their street. The pub and the house are in the next town, but I have been to the area before and know where it is. They’d be in the pub from 7.30 pm. Turn up some time from then, they said, the pub closes at 10.30, and we’ll all go home then, because some people have to work on Monday. Thoughts about the events are intruding during the week, but I can still manage to fend them off.
Saturday morning I wake up with a slight feeling of dread, but I can suppress it as the event is still more than 24 hours off. I have resolved to leave the house at 7 pm on Sunday, which should get me to the pub between 7.30 and 8. The event is starting to prey on my mind. I’m not dreading it too much so far, but the funny thing is that the looming event messes with my perception of time. Because it is on my mind so much, it always feels imminent, even though it is a whole day off. I can’t really do anything, not start any activity, at least not anything involving, because I always feel that it’s not worth starting anything as I have to leave soon anyway. I feel like that all Saturday, so I just potter round the house a bit, go into town and buy a few things (it’s a small town, so that took about half an hour). Otherwise I just sit around, reading books, having a bath etc. Still feeling okay-ish, except for that feeling of not having the time to do anything.
Sunday morning I wake up with a stronger feeling of dread. I put off getting up as long as I can. Eventually I do get up, eat breakfast, read the paper. It’s already very late, so I will have a late breakfast, and a late big lunch, and then I will only have a snack before I go out. I sit and read the paper until about 2 pm, have the big lunch, read some more. I’m thinking about the event more and more.
4 pm. I can’t distract myself with reading any longer, I no longer have the brain power to take anything in. I turn to my jigsaw puzzle instead.
5.30 pm. My heartrate speeds up and my stomach starts churning. I feel trapped. I don’t want to go, but there’s no way out. I want to cry.
6 pm. The birthday person texts me, telling me to go to a different pub than the one specified before. Fortunately I know where that is as well, so it’s not a big disaster. They also ask if I want to park in front of their house. I text back that I’ll park in their street, but if right in front of their house I don’t know (obviously, since I can’t predict that there’s going to be a space). I get a text back with three laughing tears emojis: “I didn’t mean literally!” Ah. Also they tell me to meet at their house at 7.15 so we can go to the pub together. Aaahhh! That means leaving half an hour earlier than planned. Also they recommend a route to their house I don’t know very well, but they are probably right that it’s the better route. And it’s dark outside. At this point anxiety overwhelms me and I cry for real. The new schedule means I have no time now for eating a snack, but my stomach is so tight I couldn’t eat anyway.
6.30 pm. I dry my tears, get dressed, go to my car. I’ve decided to rely on the satnav to guide me to their house. Driving is difficult, I haven’t got used to driving in the dark again yet, and I’m dazzled by the headlights of oncoming cars. I start to get a headache.
7.20 pm. I arrive at their house without having got lost and only 5 minutes late. The headache dissipates.
The event itself passes okay, but it feels like I’m on high alert all the time. I’ve brought a little rubber toy along which I surrepticiously squeeze under the table. The pub is quite noisy, and it’s difficult to hear what people are saying. At one point party poppers are going off at another table, making me flinch and cower. My group is about 10 people, and they are all foreigners (myself included) – I only mention this because they speak with accents, which can make things even more difficult. Most of them seem to be the noisy, extrovert kind, prone to intrusive teasing – grabbing hold of you, reaching for the present you have just opened, or “help” with the unpacking, steal food from your plate etc. No one does this to me, but I marvel how my friend puts up with this. I only know the birthday person. Two other people I’ve met once before, the others I don’t know at all. They are all nice people, though. We drink and eat, and it all passes quite well, even though tension inside me is running high.
Another change of the original plan: after the pub, we are all to go to their house to eat some birthday cake. A new environment, new social pitfalls, and any sort of schedule or time plan has completely gone out of the window. I’m coasting on a wave of uncertainty. Still, their living room is cosy, the cake tastes good, and everybody is still very nice.
At 11 pm I manage to leave. All in all it hasn’t gone badly.
I get to bed around midnight. At about 4.30 am I wake up, worrying about various things, mostly a phone call I’ll have to make the next morning. I can’t get back to sleep. At 5.30 traffic starts rolling past my house. I give up on sleep, switch on the light and read a book.
At work I feel tired – obviously, because of lack of sleep. I wonder, though, if I’m still paying the costs of last night. I never thought that events had such a big after-effect on me, but now I think I was wrong. I finally steel myself to make the dreaded phone call. It doesn’t have the desired outcome, which means another phone call in the near future. Suddenly my heart starts beating fast, I have to take deep breaths, and my hands are trembling. Normally a phone call doesn’t have this effect, but I think I still have a deficit from the night before. I hadn’t observed this reaction in me before, but that was because I wasn’t looking, or because I didn’t make the connection. Before I started looking into this whole autism thing, I just didn’t think about these things. But the signs are there.
So, that’s the story of the middle weekend. That means another heavy one is coming. Oh yes, next Saturday I have to go to London for a meeting. The meeting is only from about 1 to 4, but it takes me hours to get there, then there’s the pub afterwards, and the long trip back. I’ll leave the house at 9 am at the latest and be home about 11 pm. In between are hours of performing, of peopling, of maintaining my public face.
Will I ever get any respite?